Turning Fall Harvest Into Healthy Backcountry Snacks

Buying lightweight, healthy snacks to pack along on outdoor adventures can seriously break the bank. Even then, you may find weird ingredients on the labels and worry how those mystery substances will hinder your performance out there.

Dried fruit can be one of the biggest offenders. Even organic dried fruit at grocery stores often contains sugar and other additives.

Many of those expensive packaged foods can be made at home to save money and give you control over the ingredients – and dried fruit is a good one to start with because it requires minimal kitchen skills.

Kyle Merritt, a Spokane native and avid backpacker, dries fruits and vegetables at home for his hiking trips. Merritt’s list includes zucchinni – which he slices thin to make chips – onions, carrots, apples, plums and bananas.

“All the veggies, I end up throwing in when I am about halfway through cooking a dish,” he says. The vegetables rehydrate as they cook and add nutrients to simple meals like ramen noodles. The fruit, he sprinkles over oatmeal in the mornings and eats for snacks along the trail.

Merritt uses a dehydrator, by far the most efficient method for drying food.

Higher quality and longer lasting food dehydrators average about $250 at big box stores and online. Sun People Dry Goods, a locally-owned natural living supplier, sells two models in the same price range. That’s a lot of money for a kitchen appliance, but drying your own stuff sure beats the price of packaged organic, all-natural foods at the store.

“[The dehydrator] appeals to people who, one, are cost conscious and two, those who like to do it themselves,” says Sun People owner Juliet Sinisterra. Many of her customers use dehydrators to make a variety of products. “People want to prepare their own dried fruit. A lot of people want to dry their own herbs. You can even do granola in there.”

Sticker shock shouldn’t be a deterrent from drying your own food. The locally owned General Store in Spokane also has several less expensive models of dehydrators ranging from $50 to $150. Quality used dehydrators can also be found online and at garage sales. Almost everyone I asked about their dehydrator said they found theirs second-hand. Merritt found the one he’s been using lately in the basement of his house when he moved in.

As an alternative to a dehydrator, you can also use your kitchen oven and supplies you already have on hand. It can take several hours to most of a day to dry different fruits and vegetables in an oven set around 100 degrees, depending on what you’re drying and how thin you slice the food. Cracking the door and setting a fan nearby can help simulate a dehydrator.

Whatever method you use will require three elements: warm temperatures, low humidity and airflow. Your fruit should be ripe (not overripe), pitted or cored, and evenly sliced for uniform drying.

Dipping the fruit in citric acid or lemon helps preserve the color of the fruit, but Merritt says he likes his fruit just as it is.

For him, the only drawback to drying with a dehydrator is that you can only make so many dried snacks at once. He’d like a solution that uses less power and has a larger capacity – and he’s found instructions online for building just such a thing. “Someday, I strive to make a solar-powered dehydrator for the backyard.”

Check out Sun People Dry Goods (sunpeopledrygoods.com) or the General Store (generalstorespokane.com) if you’re looking to buy a new food dehydrator from a locally owned store.

Where to Find Fresh Fruits & Veggies for Drying

Cole’s Orchard
Cole’s is a certified organic, small family farm/orchard up at Green Bluff that offers apricots, prunes, pears, and apples, as well as a variety of vegetables. They are open Fri-Sunday and by appointment. More info: 509-238-4962
www.greenbluffgrowers.com/map/15.html

Spokane Farmers Market
Many types of fresh, local, and organic fruits and vegetables. Located downtown on 5th Ave. between Division and Browne on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8am to 1pm.
www.spokanefarmersmarket.org

Sandpoint Farmers Market
Downtown in Farmin Park Wednesdays from 3-5:30 and Saturdays from 9-1.
www.sandpointfarmersmarket.com