We’ve entered into a brave new world of preparing food for camping trips: freeze drying! Home freeze drying is still a pretty new method for preparing food here in Canada, so our experiments and taste tests have raised a lot of questions from my fellow outdoors meal preparers.
I’m going to try and answer as many of the questions I received as possible in this post. We’re always happy to answer questions, so ask away if you don’t see the info you want here.
1) Why did you buy a freeze dryer?
A few months ago, I met a lovely lady who sells Thrive foods. Thrive is a company that specializes in freeze dried food and meals for personal use. I was really interested in her product, because it seemed to offer a lot more options than the freeze dried food we’ve found in outfitter’s stores. We have tried a number of pre-packaged freeze dried meals and really enjoyed them – especially the ones with chicken in them. But the stuff from an outdoors store is expensive and only feeds one or two people per package. Thrive’s offerings can be bought in bulk, or are designed for family-sized meals. Julliette gave me a few samples, and they were really tasty. I could totally see how freeze dried Thrive products could fit into our meal planning for camping trips.
Around the same time, a good friend of mine had purchased her own freeze drier. This was an option we didn’t even know was available to home cooks. While we loved Juliette’s pre-packaged Thrive foods, the idea of doing our own home freeze drying REALLY appealed to us.
With a bit of research and a good hard look at our budget, we decided to take the plunge and purchase our own appliance.
So I guess I should say “thanks” and “sorry” to Juliette for giving us the idea to do our own freeze drying. With that being said, you should really check out Thrive Life Foods with Juliette. Julliette is incredibly enthusiastic and knowledgeable about Thrive and would LOVE to chat with you about food options. I “e-introduced” her to a few other outdoors folks, and I know she has some exciting stuff in the works for the outdoors community.
2) Where did you buy your freeze drier.
It turns out that there is only one manufacturer of freeze dryers for home or small-scale use. It’s a US company called HarvestRight. We could only find one Canadian distributor – Juicerville.
We did see a few for sale on Kijiji, so if you are considering buying a freeze dryer, you might consider looking at the used market.
After weighing our limited options, we purchased our freeze from the US. We found that there was a significant cost savings for us to buy it over the border and have it shipped to a UPS store in New York State. We took a lovely Saturday drive and traveled around 1.5 hrs to the UPS store to pick it up.
3) Was it hard to bring it across the border and did you have to pay extra?
It was super-easy to pick up the freeze drier and bring it across the border!
We chose a UPS store that wasn’t far from the border, and found that it was as simple as picking up a package from Canada Post here at home. NOTE: Not all UPS stores have this this service. So do a bit of research before you start giving out UPS locations as your shipping address!
We knew that we’d be required to pay taxes. But duty was waived because it came under a “Made in USA” exemption. To make sure declaring the freeze dryer at the border went smoothly, we had all of our emails with the manufacturer regarding the sale printed, along with a print of the receipt that had been emailed to us. We declared the value of the appliance at customs and then spent about 10 minutes in the customs office where we had to pay the taxes. It was just another day on the job for the customs agents.
4) How much did you pay for your freeze drier?
I’d rather not give that information out here on Facebook. But, if you follow the links above you’ll get an idea of the prices. I will say that even with the exchange, taxes, and cost of driving to the US, we still saved a good chunk on the total cost of the freeze drier.
5) What’s the big deal about freeze dried food? Isn’t it the same as dehydrated food?
We love our dehydrator and think it’s awesome for certain things, like making jerky. But a dehydrator has its limitations in terms of the quality and texture of certain foods once it is re-hydrated. You can’d dehydrate a whole chicken breast, pork chop or steak for example. With freeze drying, meat in particular will reconstitute back to a texture and quality that matches it’s pre-freeze dried state. The idea of being able to eat grilled steaks or pork chops on the 6th day of a canoe trip in the sultry days of mid-August is pretty exciting!
We can also have fun with some things you’d never take on a canoe trip, like ice cream sandwiches. You don’t get the cold, but you get the flavour and fun!
6) How big is your freeze dryer and where did you set it up?
We purchased the smallest size available for home use. It holds three trays of food. It’s approximately the size of a bar fridge and comes with an external vacuum pump. According to UPS, it weighs around 150 lbs. This is not a unit you can easily pick up and move around!
We set it up in our basement, close to our chest freezer and in a spot with enough room to accommodate a table that holds the freeze dryer and the vacuum pump. We had also been told that when the vacuum pump is working, it’s noisy. That was good and accurate advice. Listening to the pump going for days in our main living space would drive me crazy.
7) Can I borrow your freeze dryer?
It turns out that freeze drying is a bit complicated from the mechanical perspective. We did a lot of reading on how to use the equipment properly and I can guarantee that using a freeze dryer is not as intuitive as a dehydrator or small, counter-top appliance. In addition to understanding how to run the machine, the oil must be filtered after every batch of food – another process that takes a bit of knowledge, time and effort.
Aside from the mechanical aspect, freeze drying takes a lot of time. For example, It took 36 hours to process 15 ice cream bars. We put some chicken breasts in on Friday night. They might be ready on Wednesday. No joke.
So basically, the unit and its vacuum pump is in its permanent home and we won’t be lending it out. Unless you want to move in for a while and maybe clean my house, cut the lawn and bath the dog…. we’re going to decline doing a batch of whatever in the freeze dryer for you. We have to schedule our own production, never mind anyone else’s request.
Like I said earlier, we’d love to answer your questions. This is a whole new world for us, and there is a lot of research going on to make sure we do it right.