Fruit and Vegetables
When we first put a house on our quarter-acre section some ten years ago, almost the first thing I did was to plant fruit trees. So, we have crab-apple, mulberry, lime, mandarine and a couple of lemon trees, a damson, several feijoas and yellow and red cherry guavas, and about 6 different varieties of plum including a plum/apricot cross. There are also cranberries and cape gooseberries and strawberries, both alpine and ordinary, and a boysenberry. In season, we have a lot of fruit, and we make jam and sauce, and we also freeze a lot of plum, guava and feijoa pulp as iceblocks.
In the case of feijoas, we scoop the flesh out, throw it in the blender and then make the iceblocks. Feijoas and guavas come in at the same time, and I often blend them in the same mix, as their flavours do well together.
Plums are a bit more labour intensive and it's usually the Billingtons and a late red-fleshed seedling plum that we pulp, cutting the flesh off the stones, and then bringing it gently almost to the boil in a stainless steel saucepan, and using a hand blender to pulp it. Let it cool, into the iceblock moulds, and finally into ice cream cartons in the freezer.
These iceblocks can be used for desserts, or mixed with yoghurt for a smoothie, or whatever you want, but from a tramping perspective, one of the best ways of using the stored fruit is leather.
Now, if you have the recipe book that goes with the drier, there's heaps of ideas for drying fruit and vegetables. This is one that caters to our particular surpluses. For about three trays of fruit leather, you will need:
6-8 good-sized and ripe bananas - the ones from the specials bin are just fine, so long as the flesh hasn't started to go transparent in a big way.
250-500g plain unsweetened yoghurt, to taste. Less yoghurt for a sharper taste.
400g feijoa or feijoa/guava iceblocks
200g plum iceblocks
Allow the iceblocks to thaw, or give them a few minutes in the microwave. You can put them in the blender direct, but it's extremely rough on the blades. Add the sliced bananas and the yoghurt, and blend, blend, blend. Depending on the size of your blender, you may need to divide this amount into a couple of batches.
The bananas and yoghurt add sweetness and body, and the plums and feijoas provide flavour. If you try and make leather from the plum flesh alone, it will taste uncomfortably concentrated and quite sour, what current year sauvignon blanc afficionados describe as "in your face". As well as being extremely sticky.
Put a drying tray on the bench with its solid plastic inset in place, and first off all wipe over the upper surface of the inset with a lightly oiled paper towel. This will assist later when it's time to remove the dried leather. Pour the mixture around the tray, using a spatula to spread it evenly.
Place the tray on the drier and repeat for two more trays. Set the drying temperature at around 55C and leave it for about twelve hours. When it is time to remove it, you may need first of all to run a round-ended knife blade around the edge of the tray to "start" the removal process. Once you have it free, roll up the leather into a cylinder and cut into 2 cm rolls. Place in a sealed plastic bag for storage. We make it more or less as we need it, a day or two before any planned expedition, so extended storage is not a problem.
These are not the hard plastic discs that go as "banana chips" in the shops.Take ripe bananas and peel them and cut them in half crossways. Lay them out on the mesh inset in the tray and set the drier to about 55C. These can take up to 24 hours to dry, and when finished will be leathery in texture and deliciously caramelly and intensely banana flavoured. If well-dried they will store for months, with the concentrated sugar acting as a preservative.
There's a couple of weeks in the average seasom when you can often find tomatoes for less than a dollar a kilo. To make things even better, these are usually outdoor, sun-ripened tomatoes with a ton more flavour than the average hothouse variety.
Slice them in approximately 5mm discs and lay them out on the mesh trays. Set the drier to about 50C and give them about 8-10 hours, longer if it's humid. When you pop a slice in your mouth, at first there's nothing much in the way of flavour, and then suddenly it's all there, intense concentrated tomato.
These will keep well sealed in plastic containers ie, for months and months. Keep half an eye on them as if they are not dry enough to start with, they can go mildewy. They go with us on tramping trips as part of the gear for tarting up instant mashed potatoes, of which more elsewhere, or as part of a soup with or without noodles.
Celery is simple to dry. Slice it crosswise about a centimetre thick and spread it across a drying tray. Use a temperature of around 50-55C. Reconstitutes well, and retains its flavour. Stores well. Used for tarting up instant mash potatoes and for soups as above.
These too can be purchased at the right time for around 20c each for green capsicums, and are worth drying. Remember to cut out the white inner pith and discard all seeds. They are a little more trouble than celery as the dried vegetable retains its leathery chewiness even after some time soaking. I'd keep them for soups when there's a fire in the hut and the pot can sit for a while brewing on top of the fire.
I've tried these and for very short term storage, fine, but I reckon they start to go off inside the first couple of weeks. They are magnets for the slightest trace of moisture in the air, and start to taste musty. You would need sealed separate daily rations, not one bag you dipped into along the way.
As for mushrooms
Green Peas and Beans, Carrots
Buy Surprise freeze-dried peas and beans, and also Surprise mixed vegetables. Can't go past them. They make a fine third element once the meat and carbs are sorted.