Freshly harvested plants typically have a window of time when they taste best. For a few days or a few weeks we have more than anyone could possibly eat and then nothing for the rest of the year. The only way to get that fresh picked flavor is to preserve the excess.
For centuries canning, including making pickles and making jams, was an essential food preservation technique. In the 21st Century, canning, has become an artisan craft. I do not happen to like the flavor or texture of pickles. I also do not like the mushy texture and dull color of canned vegetables.
Portlandia notwithstanding, most people are not aware that canned foods lose their nutritional value, texture and flavor after two years in storage
Dehydrating is another time honored option, with the added benefit that dehydrated foods can be kept for years if stored property.
Dehydrating is my favorite way to preserve food for many reasons, including:
- It's easy to do.
- Dehydrated food takes up less room on the shelf.
- Dehydrated food can last much longer than two years, unlike canned food.
- Dehydrated food can be made into snack chips or dried for future soups or stews.
Foraging is ultimately an individual experience. My small apartment forces me to maximize space. Based on my non-scientific observation, I can fit at least five times more dehydrated food than non-dried food in the same size container.
Winter is the perfect time to enjoy the flavor of rehydrated fungi fruits and vegetables. Rehydrated morel mushrooms with baked pasta is a true comfort food for mushroom lovers. For years, I never understood all the fuss about morels, which are tasty when eaten fresh. When dried and rehydrated, morels are a feast for all the senses, which may be why some
mushroom lovers consider morels rehydrated (especially in cream) even more satisfying than sex.
Dehydrators range from the simple to the complex. The simple, bare bones model fits in my tiny apartment. The high-tech model is convenient because you can dehydrate more food at one time, but it generates a lot of heat. When I tested a high tech dehydrator, I had to set it up on my deck to use it at all.
My second favorite preservation technique is deep freezing. When given the choice to purchase a 5-cubic-foot freezer or a flatscreen tv, I chose the freezer. The freezer cost only $200 and I don't have a monthly cable bill. When my hunter friends come through with deer, I have some place to put the meat so I can enjoy it in a number of ways, including dehydrating it for jerky. As soon as the deer becomes venison, even the jerky meat is frozen; it's much easier to slice through frozen meat for even, thin slices.
I'm one of those stubborn people who insist on eating food that tastes really delicious. In the dead of winter, vegetables picked ripe in season and immediately frozen or and dehydrated have a stronger flavor than the same vegetables sold in the store.