CAMDEN — Ana Antaki, on her farm in Montville, said she aspires to "live gently on the land, and grow a garden and an orchard to fill our dietary needs. In that vein we learned not just how to grow our food, but equally as important, how to preserve it. Dissatisfaction with conventional canning and preservation techniques led us to explore ancient methods of successful food preservation."
Her research led her to ancient techniques of dehydration and fermentation. Antaki's presentation, Preserving the Harvest with Dehydration Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. at the Camden Public Library is part of the Library's History Month series.
The following is from a The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener article by Hannah Kreitzer, used with permission.
Roy and Ana Antaki of Weeping Duck Farm in Montville believe that when it comes to food preservation, basic is best. The Antakis employ four main food preservation methods: dehydration, lacto-fermentation, steam canning, and freezing, with an emphasis on the first two. At their 2012 Common Ground Country Fair talk, "Preserving the Harvest with Dehydration," they explained how this practice is a low-impact, waste-reductive approach to keeping food.
Why dehydrate? As Ana says, it's "probably the simplest way to preserve food." Dehydrated foods undergo minimal nutrient loss and even maintain their vibrant colors and appealing aromas, making them a nourishing part of a sustainable lifestyle with the added bonus of a colorful, fragrant pantry. The fact that produce tends to shrink during dehydration can also be an asset for compact long-term storage that requires no energy consumption.
Multiple ways to dehydrate are available, including air drying, using an electric dehydrator, the oven pilot light, solar dehydrators, a warm, dry, dark attic, or exposure to a wood stove. In the past the Antakis used screens over open rafters, placing beans, peas and herbs between layers of unbleached muslin on the screens. They found these methods to be adequate but not ideal, and eventually transitioned to using an electric Nesco/American Harvest Gardenmaster dehydrator, which allows precise temperature control in a contained environment, yielding what Ana calls consistently "excellent" results.
Properly dehydrated vegetables should keep their color and aroma; they will be crisp and produce an audible snap when broken. Only a very few products will lose their color during dehydration – a notable example being pears, which require sulfuring to maintain a fresh appearance. Skipping the sulfur does not impact taste or scent, however, so the Antakis avoid sulfuring as a personal dietary choice.
Creating a meal from dehydrated food is a simple matter of assembly and rehydration. At the most basic level, preparing dehydrated foods means putting whatever goods you're using into a pot, adding a liquid such as broth, water, sauce or milk, stirring, covering and simmering for an hour or more. Rehydration occurs during cooking.
Remember that vegetables will more than double in weight when rehydrating. The Antakis say that 4 ounces of dehydrated veggies will satiate two people (although that may depend on the appetite of the diners). Use more liquid than the dish would usually call for with fresh ingredients, and allow ample cooking time for full absorption. Simmering at a low, slow heat provides an ideal atmosphere for rehydration.
For the Antakis, dehydrating their food is a mindful practice of making best use of time and resources, and a commonsense approach to sustainable living. Throughout their presentation at the Fair, they emphasized the lack of waste entailed in this method of food preservation. Although it requires a certain amount of energy to run the electric dehydrator, subsequent storage is absolutely energy-free and very compact, given the amount of dehydrated goods that can be compressed into a single container.
In terms of longevity, some claim that food preserved this way can be kept for up to 30 years. The Antakis can't personally verify that claim yet, but Roy promises, "I'll be here in 30 years if you have any complaints."
View the article in its entirety at MaineOrganicFarmerGardener/Winter20122013/Dehydration.