Tuesday, April 8, 2014
(If you just want to look at the pictures and read about the foods, you can scroll down past the text)
For the past few winters we've left NW Montana once winter has been well under-way long enough that we get tired of looking at snow and having below-zero weather. Up on the mountain where our cabin is located it starts to snow any time after mid-October. Most years it starts sticking on the ground by early November and we don't see bare ground again until late April. Some years it's been into the first week of May before the last of it melts.
To break up the monotony of long Montana winters we started going to southern Nevada and "boondock camping" for a few months. We decided to tie the practice of survival preparedness skills into these trips, since like all things in our life, things are only possible if we don't have to spend money. Money is a scarce commodity. So the first year we challenged ourselves to leave Montana with pretty much all the food we would need for those 3 months. I had about thirty 2-gallon buckets full of things like flour, sugar, beans, rice, corn, oatmeal, and other dry foods. We took a lot of can goods, mostly home-canned, and all the spices and such that we use in cooking and baking.
We also challenged ourselves to learn about foraging and using edible food from the desert. The Mojave is abundantly blessed with edible plants and animals. The only "animals" we were able to harvest legally was jackrabbits. No license is required for either residents or non-residents in Nevada for jackrabbits or coyotes, but we weren't hungry enough to try coyote-burgers! The jackrabbits are lean and tough, but they make a tasty stew (with fresh warm homemade biscuits) or potpie.
Edible plants were mainly cactus this time of year. Later in the year there would be fruit from the cactus flowers and yuccas, mesquite beans, pine nuts from the Pinyon pines at higher elevations. We did a lot of reading about how the Paiute Indians and their predecessors, the Anasazi, lived from the land in this area. I'm happy to say that we spent almost nothing on groceries the whole time we were down here. The only "expense" of the trip was the gas to get down here and back. We probably saved money in the long run because our phone company let us put the phone/internet on "vacation" since we'd be gone longer than a month, and there was no expense for heat during those few months.
The next time we came south we brought a bunch of home-canned and home-dried food. I spent weeks back home cooking up beans and rice and potatoes on the woodstove, since we had to heat the house anyway. Then I dried those foods on racks placed on shelves behind the woodstove. I dried fruits and vegetables and dairy products (sour cream, cottage cheese, yogurt). I also canned meat, cheese, and butter. Again, we brought the buckets of dry food. Also again, we spent almost nothing on food. I have to admit to the occasional pizza from the grocery store, and something they call "sticky chicken", which is like boneless sweet-and-sour wings, from the grocery store deli.
This year we came similarly stocked, but the local grocery store here has started carrying freeze-dried food in #10 cans, which are those cans that are about a gallon in size. We bought a few cans of things that would make our life without refrigeration more comfortable, like the scrambled eggs and cheese powder, but mostly we just eyed the cans when we were in the store,
shying away from the cost.
Then they had this wonderful thing called a "Stock-up and Caselot sale" and included were all the cans of freeze-dried foods! Most were about $5 off the regular price, and we bought quite a few of them. The veggies were the cheapest, usually under $10 a can. The fruits were mostly in the $15 to $17 range. We blew pretty much our whole winter's food budget on those cans, but we have plenty of dry foods and canned goods, so even if we don't get to spend another dime on food down here, we'll still eat well.
I'm not promoting this company in particular. It just happens to be the one the store carries. I have used other freeze dried foods from companies like Pioneer Foods and Mountain House and find them all to be comparable in quality. However, Augason Farms is the company these foods in this post are from. Here's a link to their products on Amazon in case you want to look at or try any of these things yourself:
I did notice while browsing that the prices were higher than at our local grocery store, and especially higher than the sale cost was. You might want to check your local grocery store or even Wal-Mart. The Wal-Mart on the east side of Flagstaff, Arizona carries the largest supply of Augason freeze-dried foods that I've seen anywhere on a store shelf. They even have cool stuff like freeze-dried Turkey tetrazzini and Chicken Alfredo, with real meat! They also have cans of real dried chicken and beef. I've seen the TVP versions of "beef" and "chicken" in many grocery stores in freeze-dried and other forms, but this Wal-Mart carries the real freeze-dried meat.
We stared at our cans for a few days, wondering if we should use them or just keep them in case the SHTF while we're down here and we needed food for a longer period of time. Finally we started opening and using them. Some cans haven't been opened yet, but some have and we've been using them. Here is a rundown on our experiences.
These are freeze-dried raspberries. Sorry the pictures don't look very clear. They did when I took them, but I uploaded them in town at the library since our mobile wifi doesn't have enough data to do it out here in the boondocks. I didn't notice at the library that they were fuzzy, and we're back out in the middle of nowhere now.
The freeze-dried raspberries are delicious right out of the can. They're dry and have a texture similar to stryofoam, or Cheetos, but have a strong raspberry flavor. They've even more delicious after re-hydrating. These and all of the freeze-dried food we've been using are best if you use almost-boiling water and just cover them. They don't swell up as much as dehydrated food sometimes does.
After about ten or fifteen minutes you have a product that is very similar to thawed frozen berries. We've used these in oatmeal, pancakes, muffins, and once on vanilla ice cream.
These are freeze-dried blueberries. They're practically tasteless out of the can, and only somewhat more tasty after soaking in hot water. There is a good but subdued blueberry flavor. They're good in oatmeal, pancakes, and muffins.
Our favorite! Freeze-dried strawberry slices. If you like strawberries at all, you'll have a hard time not eating the whole can just as strawberry chips! They, too, have a texture like Cheetos right out of the can but with a strong and delicious strawberry flavor. They're similar to thawed frozen strawberries after soaking in hot water. We've used them in oatmeal and pancakes, and also stirred into vanilla ice cream, on a different occasion than the tie we used raspberries.
Freeze dried strawberries without my hand in the picture!
That packet is an oxygen absorber, which comes in every can.
Freeze-dried raspberries without my hand in the picture.
This is that the cans look like. Again, I apologize for the grainy picture.
Blueberries on top.
Strawberries on bottom left, raspberries on right.
This is freeze-dried Cheesy-Broccoli soup. It's delicious.
To make it you mix the soup powder with hot water and then heat it for a few minutes
in a pan on the stove.
Freeze-dried vegetable stew. It has carrots, celery, cabbage, potatoes, onion, and peppers in it. I thought it would be bland but it's very flavorful. I add rice to it and cook it all at once, and the stew rehydrates as the rice cooks.
Vegetable stew on top.
Cheesy Broccoli soup on bottom left, Creamy potato soup on bottom right.
We haven't opened the potato soup yet. I have fresh potatoes left from our garden
in Montana that we are finishing up first.
Freeze-dried carrots on top left, Broccoli florets on top right.
Corn on bottom left, peas on bottom right.
None of these are open yet. We're using up home-dehydrated and canned
Breakfast anyone? On top we have freeze-dried butter, which could be used on homemade bread or toast. We haven't opened the butter yet because we brought home-canned butter.
Freeze-dried whole eggs on top left, Freeze-dried bacon bits on top right.
Feeze-dried onion bottom left, freeze-dried red and green peppers bottom right.
The bottom four cans are all open and half gone, except the bacon bits which seem like
they'll last forever!
This is what the freeze-dried bacon bits look like. They're actually imitation made with soy tvp stuff, but they're flavored nicely. Almost a smoky barbeque flavor reminiscent of bacon but not quite. They did pretty good with it though. We soak them right in the hot water with the onions and peppers when we're using them in omelets. They're good on salads right out of the can.
This is the freeze-dried whole egg powder. They also make a freeze-dried scrambled egg mix that we like even better than the whole eggs. Both work great in baking and help cakes and other foods rise wonderfully. For scrambled eggs or omelets we whisk the egg powder (either kind) in hot water and let it sit on the counter for about five minutes. Once it's in the pan and cooking, we add the bacon bits and veggies. Before the cheese powder ran out we would mix and pour some of that on the eggs when they were almost done.
If I'm baking with the egg powder I put the measure of dry powder in with the dry ingredients,
and just add the measure of water it would call for, to the wet ingredients.
Freeze-dried red and green peppers. We use them in just about all of our dinners and in eggs when we have them for breakfast. They are nearly like fresh chopped peppers when soaked about ten minutes in hot water. I drain and air-dry them, fluffing them apart with my fingers every few minutes.
Freeze-dried onions. These have a strong onion-y smell, more so than the ones I dehydrate at home. But they add a terrific flavor to everything I cook. Normally I give them the ten-minute soak in hot water, but I have just tossed them in while I was making casseroles and they rehydrated while the casserole cooked.
Not pictured here, and I don't know how I missed it, is a can of potato cubes. The can isn't open yet but I plan to use it with some of the vegetables above and some home-canned meat to make pot pies and stews.
Freeze-dried apple slices. I soaked some in hot water for about fifteen minutes and made a pie out of them. The apple slices were just slightly rubbery, so maybe I could have soaked them longer but the flavor was great. Sometimes we use these along with a bit of cinnamon in oatmeal. I just cook the dry slices right in the water with the oatmeal, then cover and let sit about five or ten minutes,
then we eat it. It's delicious.
The can of apple slices.
Hmm..this one says dehydrated. I thought the were all freeze-dried? I just looked and most of the
other cans say freeze-dried.
Banana slices. These are hard and crispy and they don't "reconstitute".
They're a delicious snack though.
Here's the can of banana slices.
The freeze-dried chili mix on the left is Augason farms. It has everything in it: beans, meat, tomatoes, the works. It's not open yet so I can't tell you more about it yet. I'll have to either update this or make a new post about this and the others as we open them.
The Mountain House beef stew is not open either. We got it from a neighbor. It was part of a Y2K stash. We have used other mountain house dried foods and they were exceptional in quality, for ease of use, taste, and texture.
This "Morning Moo's" milk alternative tastes a lot like the product "YooHoo", a chocolate drink that you can buy at most grocery stores in small cans or in boxes with straws. It says "milk alternative" on it but it contains whey and powdered milk. If you have a true milk allergy, this isn't for you. If you want a product that is tastier than mixing nesquick with powdered milk, this is definitely tastier. I forgot to take a picture of the contents but it looks like any cocoa powder.
This raw diced beef was also part of that Y2K stash that our neighbor gave us.
Here's a picture of the beef pieces. They have a texture like Cheetos or Styrofoam, but a strong beefy smell. We soak them in hot water and then make them into gravies, stews, and casseroles. We fried them in a bit of olive oil once and while they tasted good the texture was kind of chewy. That chewiness goes away while they simmer in gravies and stews and casseroles.
A delicious meal is homemade egg noodles with some of these beef chunks, some dehydrated mushrooms, dehydrated onions, dehydrated celery, and dehydrated sour cream. Sour cream dehydrates wonderfully. Use a fruit leather tray and spread it thin. Dry it until it's brittle.
This picture is to show a #10 can next to a standard 15-oz. can of peas, in case there are readers who aren't sure what a number-ten can is.
It's been a fun adventure trying out these products. I look forward to using the ones we haven't tried yet and I'll keep you posted when we do. We're only a few weeks away from returning to our cabin in the north and getting the garden started, so we may not open any more of these cans before then.
For the most part we plan to continue growing and preserving our own food. This has been an interesting experiment and it's been fun seeing what it's like to buy and use commercial food storage products. These foods aren't organic, so possibly it's not any more healthy than the rest of the food in the grocery store. For the best health and long-term food storage plan, learning how to grow your own food, using heirloom seed and saving seed for the next year, and preserving your own food using any of the food preservation methods, is the best way to insure a healthy meal on your table and long-term survival of you and your loved-ones
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I'm way behind on answering emails and I apologize to those of you who are waiting. I've been getting a huge amount of emails from people with questions and sharing their experiences, and I enjoy getting them, but I'm having a hard time tracking down some answers and I've gotten behind on reading and answering letters, along with all the other tasks of the day!