When at home Harvest Right freeze-dryer units started showing up a few years back I really questioned if it was worth buying one. I’d think to myself “for the initial cost we could buy a lot of already freeze-dried food“. I said that over and over.
I wasn’t wrong though for thinking that. A freeze-dryer is an actual investment. It’s not like buying a dehydrator for your counter, where you might spend $65 to $500 dollars. Instead, to get a freeze-dryer unit, it is thousands of dollars. That might sound like a humble brag, and it’s not meant to be one. We saved up, using money the business made, to invest into it. But even with that, it was hard for me to sign off on getting it. Dropping nearly $4,000 is a lot of money (we bought an extra set trays, tray covers for the freezer and silicone liners for the trays. Then you add in extra oil, oxygen absorbers, mylar bags….and you really start wondering if it was the right choice!)
A couple months ago, after a very long wait (we ordered right when they were backed up with orders), our machine showed up. We purchased the Large unit, knowing we would easily fill all the trays to run a batch.
Now here’s something to ponder. The units are not small. They come very well packed. We live rural, on a country road. This particular FedEx driver would not back up our long driveway (many 18 wheelers have to drop off farm equipment). It was good we had a tractor with fork lift tines, as Kirk had to get it off the back of the truck and take it up the road. If you live in town, they dump the pallet the unit is on in your driveway. You will need a couple helpers to get it into your garage or house. Especially if it is raining. So keep that in mind when they call you for delivery.
Finally we got it set up. If you buy the Small or Medium unit, it’s a simple plug into the wall and go. The Large unit requires 110 volt (NEMA 5-20) outlet and a dedicated 20 amp circuit is required. For us, this came down to Kirk having time to install that on the panel. If you are not handy with that, you will need to get an electrician out to do it. So the smaller sizes will be far friendlier for those who don’t want to mess around.
We had to run an update before starting (the update has the fabled candy setting).
They suggest you do a first run of bread or something cheap. Ironically I had found chopped fresh broccoli that week, and it was cheaper to use that than bread. This first run you toss. Then the gates are wide open.
A suggestion though: Don’t jump into the deep end. Learn the basics first. We did a lot of fresh vegetables, trying to get the homestead harvest processed.
For these we didn’t pre-freeze. We let the machine do the work. It takes a lot less time if it goes in pre-frozen. We hadn’t gotten the tray covers yet – I HIGHLY recommend them. Then you can stack the filled trays in the freezer and be ready to go. This changed our efficiency.
The computer screen walks you through.
Close-up of the products freezing.
It’s done. Or at least you hope it is. Sometimes it has to go back in for a bit longer, but most times the machine senses it right.
We do our research online for each new item, and look at what others are saying about dry times, does it need more time from the start. Usually we hedge it’ll be 24 hours or more for a batch to go through. Candy as noted down below goes quickly, and is only a couple of hours.
How do we store our freeze-dried food after it is finished?
We split it up.
Some of it will fill 1 quart mason jar, wide mouth preferably. We add an oxygen absorber to each jar. Then we vacuum seal the jars to ensure it stays fresh (see below for the sealer we use).
The rest we pack into mylar bags with an oxygen absorber, then we seal the bags using an Avid Armor Ultra Series Model USV32 Chamber Vacuum Sealer.
Carrots, these were sliced thin.
Sliced green bell peppers.
Now where it gets really easy is finding frozen vegetables on sales. We can get 5 pound bags for around $5 at the restaurant supply store. Frozen vegetables are blanched, so pre-cooked. Spread on thickly, and pop in frozen. It takes minutes to do.
And the product is exactly the same as the ones you buy commercially freeze-dried. We did petite sweet peas, which are so good to just munch on.
Sweet corn, blanched and frozen.
Long green beans, blanched and frozen.
Tri-colored carrots cut on the bias, these were blanched and frozen.
For fresh we freeze-dried many cherry tomatoes. Opinion is split on this. There are some who argue about the seeds (because yes, seeds can hamper the drying process). We put them on for extra time at the start to combat this. They came out perfect and have not changed since.
Tucked away for storage.
Chopped green bell peppers. I found chopped was a better than sliced for packing up.
Mixed vegetables, blanched and frozen.
Egg noodles, for truly “instant” pasta. They just need water to soak in – you can throw them right into soup and are ready in a few minutes.
Precooked chicken strips.
And yes, the fabled Skittles. They are fun to do, to just watch the candies split in front of your eyes. Candy goes quickly as it isn’t frozen like other foods.
Gummy bears…while cool to do, I’d not again. You have to get them VERY dry or they collapse overnight and become sticky again. If dry though, they are freaky to eat as they are crunchy.
Sliced olives. We bought a number 10 can and just drained/froze and then freeze-dried.
Vanilla yogurt frozen into silicone molds, then freeze-dried.
Strawberry yogurt, frozen in silicone molds, then freeze-dried.
And the trashiest snack that is far too good? Thinly sliced pumpkin pie. It’s like biscotti after. Crunchy and sweet.
So is the freeze-dryer worth it?
Yes, it is. It is fun for sure, and I can dry quite a bit for each load. Is it necessary? No. But it is far better than dehydrating for many things.