Monday, July 14, 2008

In Search of Food Preservation

For all my whining about the lack of fresh produce and local food, I am paying the price now. It's not sprinkling beans, tomatoes and potatoes, we've got a right good downpour going on right now. Which leads me to yet another dilemma - how to preserve and store all of this food. I have been freezing as much as I can, but like Heather, my little chest freezer is filling up quickly.

I decided, based on a comment from Green Bean during my berry crisis, to scout out a dehydrator. I looked high and I looked low. I visited three different thrift stores in my local area, no dice. I responded to two ads on Craigslist - neither of which had the courtesy to either reply back or just take the dumb ad down off the site. I was reading Causabon's Book and Sharon had a great review of dehydrators, just my luck! She had a great recommendation for a solar one which isn't quite in my time or money budget at the moment. And, I really liked her idea of an Excaliber, but again, not in my price range.
Then I decided to cave and visit a big box retailer - Target. I needed to pick up an prescription, so I thought if I can find a decent one in my price range, I image it will be worth it's weight in gold. Imagining all of the delicious dried fruits and veggies I would make and preserve with my new purchase, I set out for Target with high hopes.

Those hopes were dashed, rather quickly I must say. Up and down the aisles I went looking for the display of food preservation items. I saw them online, so they must be here I think to myself. I pass a cotton candy maker. I pass a sno cone machine. I pass a crepe maker. I pass an egg and toaster oven?!?!? Not sure what that was. Sandwich squisher, smoothie maker, bread maker. What in the hell is going on here? I just want a dehydrator and don't tell me that if you have room on the shelves for a freakin' cotton candy maker, there isn't room for food preservation items.

Not a single dehydrator in the store. Not a single canner. I did find a Food Saver, which would be great if I had space left in my freezer. And, of course, if it wasn't $100. So, we ended up eating ALL of the strawberries with the exception of a couple squished, moldy ones. Which wasn't all bad, we had strawberry shakes, pancakes and heaps of fresh cut ones for breakfast.

Now that strawberry season has passed - for the second time - I don't have an immediate, pressing need for a dehydrator. I am still on the hunt for a good, cheap one before cherry season unless I can find a neighbor as nice as Green Bean and I can borrow one. That is, if my neighbor might actually have purchased one instead of a sno cone machine.

Which makes me wonder... What will our country do if we are faced with a true food crisis? Will families all over town be breaking out the cotton candy maker to feed their families or opening bags of dried cherries and popping open jars of beans? Or will they be consulting Chile to find out where the closest food bank or soup kitchen might be? It worries me, really, where our priorities about food are in this country - sno cones or dehydrated strawberries anyone?

Chile's series of posts on hunger not only made me reflect on how lucky I am to be able to choose healthy and nutritious foods on a regular basis for my family, but also how that all could change with simple crisis or stock market crash. Am I prepared? Not well enough I'm afraid. Now, who wants to lend me their dehydrator?


Green Bean said...

I felt just like you last year. I searched high and low for a used dehydrator and eventually bought one off of Ebay. Of course it can reeking of smoke (NOT from smoking beef jerky but from cigarettes). I ended up caving and buying one online. My Target didn't carry them - or any canning equipment - either.

I'd lend you mine if you were in the area! That reminds me, though, that I should offer mine up to my green mom friends - one of which asked to borrow my canning equipment today. I'm so happy to save her the money, space and environmental hole in the ground and happy too that my canner will get a good work out.

Honestly, I think those dehyrdators are worth their impact. If you can't find one locally, you're totally justified in buying one online. Last year, I dehydrated tomatoes, berries of all kinds, apples, persimmons, cherries, prunes, apricots, the list goes on.

Or I suppose you could pick up a cotton candy maker instead. Those will be SO valuable if there is a real food crises here in the US.

arduous said...

I LOVE cotton candy!!! But ... I'm not sure it really provides me with essential nutrients. Is pink a nutrient?

A dehydrator seems like so much fun! It's not the kind of thing I'd ever use (I'm lazy) but if you would get a lot of use out of it, I don't see much harm in buying one new online.

Chile said...

When I was looking for parts, I was told - by the box stores - that they only carry them during the holidays.

Then I happened to go to an Ace Hardware store. Now, there are small Ace stores and there are large Ace stores. This one was HUGE; half the store was "Home Goods" and more than half of that space was kitchen stuff. An entire wall of kitchen gadgets. (Damn, I just drooled on my keyboard!) They had all the canning equipment, jars, and supplies. They had dehydrators, extra trays, and fruit leather liners. They carry them year-round. In my city, there are 2 of these larger Ace stores. If you can find one near you, you can probably get a new dehydrator.

I was on the hunt for additional trays since my American Harvest model (cheap plastic crap according to Sharon, sure to kill me with biphenol-A poisoning) can handle up to 12 trays high. By that time, however, I had picked up two additional dehydrators by the same company, each with 4 trays, at a couple of yard sales. $5 each. I sold one machine to a friend, but only gave her two trays. I'm sittin' pretty now.

So, check out Ace or spend a month cruising yard sales if there are a lot in your area. Or, order online and specify from a non-smoking home.

I'll bet this is the longest comment you've ever gotten. Do I get a cookie?

Chile said...

Oops, forgot the link.

eco 'burban mom said...

Green Bean - A dehydrator smelling of cigarettes? Now what were they drying in there? Maybe it came to you from a bunch of teenagers? I am sure your friends would love to borrow your dehydrator, but they might fall in love with it and not return it! I keep thinking of all the dried fruit and how my kids actually would eat it!! Though, they might really, really like a cotton candy machine. Really.

Arduous - My kids would agree and say pink and blue especially and occasionally apple green are nutrients and very beneficial to their growth and development. The little store on the corner gets their hard earned babysitting cash for bright blue Faygo pop. Which, they tell me is local. Smart little buggers, aren't they??

Chile! :o) I appreciate the Ace idea, my hubby haunts hardwares stores for fun, I can put him on the lookout. He is so helpful, he was calling people off of craigslist for me and was really peeved they didn't call back. We have a rather large ACO (which I think is related to ACE) two towns over and he is often that way for work, so I will have him pop in. And yes, I am probably getting a piece of plastic crap, I know, I know, but I can't justify a big purchase at the moment. And, if it makes fruit leathers, I will be completely in LOVE. My kids actually, really, truly like that stuff!

Two cookies for you! I will send them c/o your publisher of the new cookbook! If you don't get them, they probably ate them while waiting for recipes. ;o)

Heather @ SGF said...

I've never used one and I'm curious. What do you put the fruit in to keep it fresh? Once it's dried does it need to be sealed in one of those food savers or just ziplocks. How long will they keep. I never thought about drying all those berries taking up room in my freezer...

Jena said...

I've got a dehydrator you could borrow! I haven't brought it here since we've moved but I'm pretty sure it is stored at my parents' somewhere. I don't think we're too far away, I'm up in the Thumb. I don't think buying one would be a bad investment either but I'll see if I can dig mine out. Let me know if you're interested!

Bobbi said...

Sometimes I'll dry things in my car during the summer. The backseat or the trunk are great places to dry herbs and some fruits and it takes very little time!

Wendy said...

You can use your oven to dehydrate foods.

Joan said...

You made some good points. I don't have a dehydrator though my daughter just mentioned she wanted one.

Melissa said...

I have to second the Ace recommendation - they have some really awesome stuff there! I wonder about those people buying the cotton candy machines too; I mean, the economy is in shambles but people are still shelling out cash for this stuff? We went to the mall this weekend (my husband needed work clothes and didn't want to look secondhand, so be it) and I felt like my soul was being sucked out of me. I couldn't believe how many people were in line when we passed Abercrombie. It made me sick. I'm glad I've reprioritized things in my own life, it really makes me feel lucky to not be caught up in all of that anymore!

eco 'burban mom said...

Heather - I am going to ziploc most of it, but I am looking for a food saver on craigslist. I was also thinking of trying vacuum seal bags or plastic containers. I haven't gotten my hands on a dehydrator, so I hadn't thought too far ahead!

Jena - Oh, you are too kind! If the thumb was closer for us to meet to pick up and drop back off without costing a million dollars in gas, I would be pleased to borrow from you! Nice to finally find another michigan blogger out there. I thought I might be the last of the species!

Bobbi - how do you dry things in the car without a) them spoiling or b) kids eating it all??

Wendy - My oven does have a dehydrate feature, yet my oven is a total energy suck. It's new and energy star rated, but still seems like a waste to run the whole thing for four hours for two trays of berries!

Joan - Funny what kids want, if your daughter wants a dehydrator then I say she's on a good path there!

Melissa - Yes, I agree!! What in the heck are people doing buying cotton candy makers when gas is working on $5 a gallon. I was in Costco a month or so ago and people had carts loaded down with landscape lights, beach towels, candy and handbags. ?!?!? Huh?? I was so confused.

Condo Blues said...

I only have room for a small pottd herb garden. But that doens't mean that I'm letting everything die once the summer is over. I dry picked herbs in paper bags to keep the dust off of them (my husband tends to forget the cloth reusable wine bag when he buys wine so we sometimes have paper bags if I don't compost them first.)

I'm also experimenting with drying Thai basil in a shallow pan covered with a napkin to keep the dust off of it. So far, it's working and the room I have it in smells like Basil - bonus!

jennconspiracy said...

You know - you mentioned hubby rescued the plastic sheeting from a job site. If he's as handy with tools as this lady's sweetie, you should be able to get him to cook up a solar dehydrator with four shelves. They even link to a proper diagram! One of my friends says this is no problem and he promises to help me knock it out in an afternoon.