Last week I was on holidays. So, the first thing I had to do Monday morning was sort through the mail that arrived in my absence. Among the items piled on my desk, though no longer a big pile thanks to digital mail, was a new book. My first thought when I saw it was, ugh, another self-help book that doesn’t help. Then I opened the package to discover Teresa Marrone's, "The Beginner's Guide to Making and Using Dried Foods" (Storey, $16.99) and proceeded to lose a good portion of my morning delving deeper into its pages. The book is not only well-written but interesting.
Each section offers a food-by-food guide with clear preparation instructions - whether you choose to use a fancy schmancy dehydrator, a home oven or the sun. It all starts with the basics of drying foods and then moves on to cover a variety of topics organized according to food type and equipment. Each chapter contains a pantry of information on everything from turning fresh fruits into wholesome baby food purees to instructions for drying fresh pasta and making vegetable snack chips and all-grain crackers. How about a DIY plan for building and assembling their own dehydrator?
What I love about the idea is being able to pick blueberries in July that can be used for a lemon-blueberry muffin recipe, come a snowy day in December?
Naturally, there's a section on that, which is probably the first thing people think of when it comes to dried foods. Also known as "Ch'arki" a word derived from the Quechan language of the Incas that translates into "dried meat" the discovery of jerky not only served as food that could be stored for long periods of time but as a source of nutrition that could be packed in a saddlebag for easy transport. Every kind of meat - except pork - can be made into jerky. By adding dried berries and fat one can also make a variation of jerky known by Native Americans as pemmican.
As Marrone points out, jerky also can be used as an ingredient for stew and she provides the recipe to do it. There are also recipes for while-muscle jerky, which is made of strips of lean meat that have been marinated in a flavorful liquid or sprinkled with a salt mixture. In some marinades, the salt comes from a condiment such as soy sauce or teriyaki sauce. What's also nice about Marrone's book is all of the recipes can be made without the use of curing compounds or chemicals perceived by many researchers to be possible carcinogens.
Why practice the ancient art of food preservation?
As Marrone notes in her book: drying food from your garden or bought in bulk is less expensive than buying prepared products, saves on the space that canned preserves take up (four-times less) and is considerably lighter. That can make a huge difference to those packing it for a trip or hike in the woods.
It's also healthy alternative. "Drying preserves more nutrients than canning or freezing and offers variety to raw food diets," according to Marrone. "Cooks who dry at home can also better control the amount of sodium and gluten in their foods."
Lastly, it could be a lifesaver. Dried goods are a recommended source of emergency supplies in case of adverse weather, power failures and other catastrophes.
For those of you excited to start the process the following is Marrone’s recipe for muffins.
Lemon-Blueberry Yogurt Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
1 cup dried blueberries
1 cup lemon yogurt
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin plan or line with paper liners. In a bowl combine, dried blueberries, yogurt and lemon juice. Set it aside. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and set it aside. After 15 minutes, add the sugar, butter, honey, salt and eggs to the blueberry mixture. Give it a good stir with a wooden spoon. Then add the flour mixture and gently stir until moistened. NOTE: Do not over mix the muffins. Spoon the batter into the greased muffin tins or paper liners and bake for 15 to 20 minutes (until golden brown). Serve with lemon curd and a hot cup of Earl Grey tea.
Gina Joseph is a multimedia journalist and columnist for The Macomb Daily. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ginaljoseph on Twitter.