Day 46: The Art of Dehydrating and Family Love
Speaking of technology, there is another piece of equipment that’s entered the house of late and has taken over an honored spot on the kitchen counter. (Now that I think of it, there are two, actually. The first is a gift from our kids: Alexa, Amazon’s Echo persona who does everything from insure we don’t burn the rice to remind us that we’re out of lemon juice–something we seem to be out of every time it’s needed. She also introduces us to a brilliantly-random selection of easy listening music we’d otherwise never enjoy. She dialed up a Roger Whittiker song from my childhood the other night and took my breathe away. I love Alexa.)
The second wiz-contraption in our home is a food dehydrator. It’s a gift from my sister Rachel to Michael, in preparation for his great trek. Being a vegan herself, she shared my horror at the sight of boxes of Pop Tarts, Reese’s Cups, Snicker’s Bars and Instant Mashed Potatoes. So she had delivered to our door a shiny new Westinghouse WFD101W Food Dehydrator
Michael, of course, said “this will be great!” (hopefully called to thank her) and promptly moved on to other things. Not to be deterred, I dug in and began producing pounds of dehydrated, nutritious food for what I was sure would be a fraction of the cost of packaged dried produce, in order to stave off my’s son’s impending scurvy.
Since April, I’ve become a wiz at determining how long it takes to dry a raspberry (you won’t believe it–longer than an apple), and how to slice a mango without covering oneself in a really unappetizing slime. On any given day, you’ll find me slicing bananas, pineapple, kiwi, apples, pears, strawberries, and any tropical thing I can get my hands on. Never mind it takes literally hours to dry this stuff–I mean, like 12 hours or 15 hours. Set on a temperature of 135 for 12 hours, I figure these fiber-packers are costing us about $243 a pound.
|Prune Plums||22-30 hours|
Enter my husband. A Texan, born and raised, he’ll have no part of this fruit drying thing. For him, its jerky or nothing and he comes from pretty fine jerky territory. There’s a place in Post, Texas (a little town about as big as the post office in our neighborhood) out in his West Texas stomping grounds that makes, I have to say, something that bears absolutely no resemblance to the stuff you’d buy in a bag in a convenience store. This stuff is steak. So his standards are high.
So as I am squeezing pears in the produce department, Greg is scouring the meat case for what he’s discovered is the key to good homemade jerky– expensive beef. He slices it, marinates it for 24 hours, and dries it for five. Run it through the vacuum sealer and just like that, Michael has a steak dinner.
Did I mention that both my sisters are vegan?
I’ve come to understand that there is a whole world of dehydrating people just like us out there. There are cookbooks and websites and dehydrating communities with names like The Survival Mom and Modern Survival Blog. And there are great backpacker sites, too, dedicated to preparing trail food using a dehydrator. My favorite is BackpackingChef.com
Black Bean Bark Stew, Chili Mac, Easy Cheesy Rice & Beans, Ham & Cheese Macaroni
And there are keys to dehydrating success. For example, diligent tray rotation is essential. So that means, if you start your pears at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, you’re going to need to set your alarm to get up every two hours until 6AM to turn your five plastic trays a quarter turn, and reshuffle the stack so the suckers on the bottom get moved to the top and everybody shimmies down a row for even heat distribution.
I think one could say I’ve developed a bit of an obsessive fixation with the dehydrator. I understand why, really. I have a similar fixation with buying food to slip into Mike’s resupply boxes. It’s a way for me to feed my kid. There isn’t much I can do for him these days, other than pray, frantically check my phone for SPOT messages, buy Clif Bars and packets of organic peanut butter, and dry some food to feed him in the hopes of keeping him healthy and making him happy and preventing him from starving in the Mohave Desert. So I cut, soak, dry, rotate, and bag it all up, unceasingly.
Last week, Mike said to me “You may be overdoing it on the dehydrator, Mom.” I thought, well would you look at me! I’m knocking it out of the park here, filling his proverbial pack to the brim with healthy snacks that are sure to keep his system in check!
“Oh, do you want me to cut back a bit on the fruit?”, I say, chuffed with myself and my impressive production.
“Uh, no. But perhaps just cut back on the time a little. I’ve tried some other people’s stuff and it’s a little bit less, um, tough.”
Tough does not seem to be what you want said about your dehydrated fruit.
So like everything else about the Pacific Crest Trail, I’m learning and actually really enjoying it. I’m not a vegan (although I am on a ridiculously restrictive diet), I’m not a survivalist and I’m certainly not a back packer or thru hiker. But I’m a 50-something woman who’s never before tried her hand at making dried fruit, nor have I cared about the protein value of various food bars nor shopped for $35-a-piece non-chafing underpants. I’m learning. My world is expanding and I like that.
If it weren’t for Michael, there would be so many things I’d know nothing about. I realize now that its been that way all his life. He’s always challenged me because he didn’t follow the path I’d set for my kids. He didn’t take to school or sports or books like my his brothers and sister, and all three of those things were huge parts of our lives when they were kids. Michael has been steadily forging his own way his whole life and I must confess, I’ve been resistant. Not because I didn’t want to support him. I think because I didn’t understand how to. This PCT hike may be the first time I’ve really understood how to support him the way he wants to be supported, for his dream and his journey. Thank God I’m still here to do it.
I’ve spent the past five days at the beach, blissfully away from worry and responsibility, with my sisters and cousins and family, in the embrace of my broader story. Every one of them were brilliant comfort to me. They asked about Michael. When I expressed surprise that they were following along on this journey, my cousin Jo Ann jumped in and said “Of course we are! He’s family!” and I felt it through every bone of my body. Family love.
And then, there’s my sisters, who convince me every day that I can do this and he can do this, who aren’t afraid of the outdoors like I am–they spread their vegan-eating, boat-sailing, river-floating, wave-jumping, critter-loving confidence my way, and I feel stronger.
Family love. It’s shopping for the best steak and spending 24 hours making jerky. It’s watching the back order supply for Amazon Echo every day, right down to Christmas Eve. It’s having a dehydrator delivered to the door, unannounced. It’s wrapping your warmth around and saying “of course. we’re family.”
Together, we got this. Keep walking, Mike. You’ve got family love behind you.
Though death and darkness gather all about me
My ship be torn apart upon the seas
I shall smell again the fragrance of these islands
And the heaving waves that brought me once to thee
And should I return safe home again to England
I shall watch the English mist roll through the dale
For you are beautiful, I have loved you dearly
More dearly than the spoken word can tell
Roger Whittaker » The Last Farewell