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We’re planning a short weekend trip for our birthdays this year. As long as the weather cooperates, we’ll be heading to Assateague Island sometime in late March for a backcountry camping trip with a couple friends. We stayed on the Island one night for our vacation last year, and it was such a great camping spot, that I really wanted to go back. This time, we’ll be staying two nights, which means we have to carry double the food, and since we’ll be hiking in, we need it to be as light as possible.

The problem, however, lies in the cost of backpacking food. A little pouch of dried camp food runs about $5-$10 for just 1 or 2 servings. That adds up with 4 people over a few days. So, after a little research on the world wide web, I decided to try drying my own food. Of course, dried fruits and even veggies are easily found at the grocery, but as it turns out, once it’s cooked, pretty much anything is safe to dehydrate. You can make complete dishes and put them right in the dehydrator, or you can dehydrate the ingredients separately and just mix up small amounts at a time.

I started out with some very lean ground beef. It’s the fat in foods, that makes it go bad. Start with lean, and drain off as much grease as possible. You can also “rinse” it by pouring a little water over it while it’s cooking to help drain off the excess grease. I also read that ground beef sometimes becomes chewy when rehydrated, but if you mix some bread crumbs into the raw meat before you cook it, it rehydrates better. (Backpacking Chef – Dehydrating Meat)

I dehydrated 1/2 lb. ground beef by itself. It dried very quickly. With the other half-pound, I made a sauce and cooked some pasta and dried the finished food. The mistake I made with it was trying to use wax paper to cover the dehydrator trays because I only had one fruit leather tray. Take my advice, and don’t try it. The wax paper didn’t want to let go of the dried food. I also tried aluminum foil, which worked OK, but took longer to dehydrate and plastic wrap which worked very well, but heating plastic wrap up in the dehydrator doesn’t sound like a healthy idea to me. So, I think the best thing is to get the fine mesh or fruit leather trays that were made for dehydrating.

I also made a second batch of pasta that should be plenty to feed 4.

Download the pdf recipe card (cut and fold to make 5×3 recipe card)

1 lb. elbow macaroni
1 lb. extra-lean ground beef
1/2 cup Italian-style bread crumbs
1/4 cup flour
1 pkt. taco seasoning
2 cups milk
2 cups frozen spinach
3 mushrooms, chopped (I used the regular, white, buttons)
2 cups shredded quesadilla cheese
1-1/2 T DRIED onion (OR 1/2 FRESH onion, diced)

Cook noodles per package instruction. Drain and set aside.

Thoroughly mix together bread crumbs and beef. Don’t be afraid to use your hands, and make sure you get the bread crumbs mixed throughout the meat. In a large skillet, brown the meat mixture until cooked through.

Reduce heat and stir in flour and taco seasoning just until the meat is coated. Add the milk and bring to a light boil, stirring constantly. Add the spinach, mushrooms, cheese and FRESH onion, and continue to cook until the sauce thickens.

Once the mixture becomes a gravy consistency, remove from heat and fold in pasta.* Allow to cool slightly before filling dehydrator trays with thin layers. Dehydrate on high 6 hours or overnight, breaking up or turning occasionally, if possible. (Not necessary, but it will help it to dry faster.) Once it is mostly dry, break into pieces and reduce heat to low for 2 hours to finish drying and cool down. Once it is completely dry, break up the rest of the way and add DRIED onion. Store in a tightly sealed container in the freezer for optimum shelf life. (Or use vacuum sealer, if you have one.)

*I opted to dehydrate my pasta separately, mainly because until I get another fruit leather tray, I have limited dehydrator space, and the pasta, by itself, will sit on the regular trays. I also placed it on higher trays in the dehydrator because it will dry much quicker.

Some other foods to try:
Sausage Gravy for biscuits
Fresh Fruits for trail mixes, granola or oatmeal
Tomato Sauce for pasta or rice dishes
Veggies for soup

Safety Disclaimer: Please practice safe food handling and common sense. I do not claim to be an authority on dehydrating food, this is merely what worked for me.

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