Meat, fish, fruits and some vegetables and herbs were traditionally dried to keep them edible for months or even years, and to allow them to be shipped greater distances to be sold. Here in Newfoundland, cod and capelin were dried and salted for export and local consumption, but many other methods of drying have been used by various cultures over past centuries.
Pemmican is a concentrated mixture of fat and protein used as a nutritious food. Historically, it was an important part of indigenous food in certain parts of North America, and is still prepared today. The word comes from the Cree word pimîhkân, which itself is derived from the word pimî, meaning “fat, grease.” The Lakota (or Sioux) word is wasna, with the wa meaning “anything” and the sna meaning “ground up.”
Pemmican was widely adopted as a high-energy food by Europeans involved in the fur trade and later by Arctic and Antarctic explorers, such as Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, Fridtjof Nansen, Robert Falcon Scott, Roald Amundsen and our own Bob Bartlett.
Pemmican was prepared from the lean meat of large game such as bison, elk, deer, or moose. The meat was cut in thin slices and dried, either over a slow fire or in the hot sun until it was hard and brittle. About 5 pounds (2.3 kg) of meat is required to make 1 pound (450 g) of dried meat suitable for pemmican. After drying it was pounded into very small pieces, almost powder-like in consistency, by using stones. The pounded meat was mixed with melted fat in an approximate 1:1 ratio by volume. In some cases, dried fruit, such as blueberries, choke cherries, cranberries, or saskatoon berries, was pounded into powder and added to the meat/fat mixture. The resulting mixture was packed into rawhide bags for storage. It could be kept for a maximum of 10 years.
Meat and Fish
A basic requirement for drying meat or fish is to cut it thinly or at least into fillets or slabs and then expose it to sun, or heat of a fire or oven or other heat source, to extract water from the flesh. Not only does it become drier but the proteins coagulate and become more resistant to spoilage. Once dried, it can also be frozen.
Lori McCarthy of Cod Sounds leads workshops in some of these methods of preservation.
Fruits and Vegetables
Drying of fruits, vegetables and mushrooms is much easier and more widely practiced. Dried apple slices can be made by coring them, slicing them into thin rings and stringing them then hanging them up to dry, either outdoors in the sun or indoors in a cool, dry room. This approach
can be applied to other thinly sliced fruit or vegetables.
Dehydrators are the modern way to dry vegetables and fruit, but thinly sliced meats can also be dried in a dehydrator. Mushrooms dry very well, and very quickly. If you don’t have a food dehydrator, you can use your oven, set on its lowest heat with the door open, to dry foods.
When drying fruits such as apples, peaches or any thicker fruit or vegetable, slicing thinly will speed up the drying process. Mushrooms can be dried whole, as well as berries or leaves such as kale, which turn into dried kale chips. Drying times can vary from a couple of hours to a full day or over night.
Method 1: Outdoors on a clean surface, shaded from direct sunlight
Spread fresh herbs on a tarp, cloth, or other clean surface on the ground. To keep plant material out of direct sunlight, choose a naturally shaded area or create shade with a canopy, shade frame, or hoop house.
Method 2: In layers on drying frames or screens
This method maximizes available space much like an urban skyrise: spread herbs on screens or drying racks that can be stacked on top of each other in a frame. If your drying room is small enough, use a dehumidifier to speed up the drying process (this applies to any indoor drying method, including the next method below).
Method 3: Bunched for hanging or drying in paper bags
Collect herbs into small, loose bundles, and hang from nails or a string (much like a clothesline) in an out-of-the way location away from light. Bundles may be tied with string, twist-ties, or elastic bands (to keep individual stems from slipping out of the bundles as they shrink with drying). Alternatively, bundles may be placed in paper bags to prevent contamination by dust or other particulate matter. When drying herbs in paper bags, the bags should be left open or have holes cut into them to allow air to circulate.
Method 4: In dehydrator
Layer herbs on racks in an appliance designed to maintain air flow and control temperature. Dehydrators range from standard home food dehydrators (choose one with an adjustable thermostat) to larger, specially designed cabinets.
Method 5: In an oven at a very low temperature
Spread herbs on trays or oven sheets, and place in an oven that can be set to a temperature below 100 degrees Fahrenheit (gas ovens can be kept off with only the pilot light lit; the light bulb in some ovens may provide enough heat), and monitor for dryness. If needed, the oven door can be left ajar to increase air circulation and ensure that the temperature doesn’t rise too high.
Shawn Dawson’s Kale Chips
Pick a good bunch of kale. Wash and clean away any debris or other forms of life. Shake the water off or wait for them to dry. Place on an oiled cookie sheet and turn to oil both sides. Sprinkle on sea salt and Parmesan cheese. Bake in oven at 250 degrees Fahrenheit until they turn crisp, checking to make sure they don’t burn or overcook (about 15 – 20 minutes).
Oven Dried Tomatoes (Old Farmer’s Almanac)
Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash about 5 pounds of tomatoes. Peel the skins, if desired. Remove the stems and blemishes. Cut the tomatoes in half, take out the seeds, and then cut the halves into ½ to ¾ inch slices. Place the tomato slices on cookie sheets so that they do not touch each other. Sprinkle with seasonings or salt, as desired. Place in the oven and bake slowly for 6 to 10 hours, depending on the variety, size, and moisture content of the tomatoes. Use an oven thermometer to monitor the temperature and make sure that it is correct; adjust as needed. Check the tomatoes every so often and switch sheets from top to bottom racks and back to front. Turn the tomatoes over occasionally.
The tomatoes are done when they turn dark red and are leathery and dry; they should be flexible, not hard or brittle. If they are tacky or moist, just keep baking. When they are ready, remove the sheets from the oven and cool to room temperature. Place in plastic bags, squeeze out the air, and
store in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 weeks or in the freezer for 8 to 12 months.