Thursday, 17 May 2012

Hermitcraft: Dehydrated Beans

Click on photo for a closer look
There is no food as perfect as rice and beans. It's nutritious and filling (if the rice is brown), simple to make, endlessly variable, and cheap. Especially if you buy in bulk.

When I went into the woods last summer, I bought fifty pounds of each from a restaurant supply store. Total cost for 300 meals: around a hundred dollars Yank. Or 33 cents a-piece. (I only sat for a hundred days, but you want a cushion. No pun intended. Also, I ate zenola, a cereal invented for ango, for breakfast.)

Beans have one major drawback, however: they take forever to prepare. First they have to soak for hours, then simmer for an hour more until tender. It requires a lot of water, which is a labour-intensive resource in the forest, even where water is plentiful. This puts unprocessed beans out of reach of anyone living alone outdoors, especially if that person expects to do anything besides cook beans. (Such as travelling, meditating, bathing, sleeping...)

But dehydrated beans cook in the same amount of time and water as rice, which makes rice and beans a one-pot meal on the mountain.

I've found a fair amount of nonsense online about the relative impossibility of dehydrating beans, so for the benefit of all who need good food fast, here's the drill.

1. Procure beans. To determine what kind, I use a scientific formula: (all available beans) minus (all except the cheapest) equals (my beans). Where I am now, that leaves pinto beans. When I lived in Québec, I mostly ate Iroquois (white or navy) beans.

2. Cook as usual. (Soak in cold water overnight, drain, add new water to cover, and simmer gently until just tender but not mushy, 30 minutes to an hour, depending on bean and heat.)

3. Spread the cooked beans on a flat surface to dry. If you have a food
It takes weeks to dehydrate 50 pounds of beans
dehydrator, proceed as normal. If not, or you need more beans than the device can efficiently produce, place them outside. A baking sheet will work as a rack; a window screen propped up on something for airflow is better. Then subject them to sun and/or wind until dry. In a pinch you can also dry beans over a radiator or furnace register, near a woodstove, or in a warm oven with the door cracked. Unlike most foods, beans actually dry pretty well that way, but don't use a convection oven; the beans will come out beautifully uniform, but impossible to rehydrate.

4. The beans are dry when they resemble split baked potatoes, powder when pounded, and jingle when poured into a container. (Seriously. Check it out.) They'll take up about the same space as when raw, and be slightly lighter in weight. You can store them in anything, but something airtight is safest. For my 100 Days I poured most of them back into the large paper sack they came in and cached it in a garbage can in the barn. In spite of an interminably rainy summer, they kept just fine.

To reconstitute, put beans and about twice as much water in a pan, cover, and bring to a boil. Simmer for about ten minutes, or turn the heat off and let stand for twenty minutes or so. You can also pitch a handful in with rice, increase water accordingly, and cook as usual. Or use them in soup.

So not only is it possible to dehydrate beans, contrary to what some websites say, but they're actually one of the most effective foods to preserve that way. They keep well, rehydrate well, and eat well. Very well, when you're sitting under a piece of Tyvek in the jungle, and it's cold and pouring rain and you just by God need something to work.

And by the way: I'm still eating my surplus from last summer. And they're still just as good.

Drying by the stove fan

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