Several readers have asked how I used freeze dried strawberries. This blog post, and the next blog post will be a little summary of what I’ve learned in the three years we’ve been freeze drying. Remember that there are freeze dryers for home use and commercial freeze dryers. The huge commercial freeze dryers can do more than our home freeze dryers so I’m only speaking of what we can do with a home freeze dryer.
The Cost of Freeze Drying:
Aside from the cost of the freeze dryer (which can be seen here), there’s the cost of electricity to use them and a place to store them. In Texas, mine was in the sewing room. Here in Missouri, it’s in a large pantry in the basement. They can be a bit noisy. Even upstairs, I can hear the hum of the vacuum pump running downstairs. The pump generates heat so you need to have it in a room that is air conditioned. They do not recommend putting them in a non-climate controlled garage or really, any room that doesn’t have air conditioning in the summer.
The freeze dryer comes with an oil pump, which is what we use. You can upgrade to a Premier Pump or an oil free pump. My freeze dryer arrived in late summer, 2018. I use it a lot. We had to replace the pump in about April, 2020 so I’m assuming with a lot of use, the pump has to be replaced every two to three years. I think it was about $300 to $350 for the new pump. There’s oil that has to go into the pump. I change the oil with every load. I do filter the oil and re-use it.
Also, the food can be stored in sealed mylar bags with oxygen absorbers or desiccant packets. I use Mason jars and vacuum seal them with a vacuum chamber Vince built from an old pressure canner and a vacuum pump. So, depending on how you store your food, you’ll either need mylar bags, oxygen absorbers, desiccant packets or jars and lids.
In addition to the electrical cost of running the machine, since they do produce heat, some amount needs to be considered for the extra cost of cooling the area. The machine in Texas was in an 8 x 16 closet and even with the door open, that closet stayed probably 10 degrees warmer than the rest of the sewing room when the machine was running.
My guess is that the cost of most freeze dried loads runs about $5 when paying .13/kWh for power. That does not include the cost of keeping the room cool.
By the time something freeze dries for 40 to 50 hours, including defrost time, I figure the most I could do is about 15 loads per month so that’s about $75 added to a monthly electric bill. Having said that, there were few times I ran 15 loads in a month. When the garden was producing something I wanted to freeze dry (peppers, okra, squash) and there was fruit from the fruit trees (peaches and figs mostly), I would have it running almost non-stop but that’s about the only time I had loads waiting to go in as soon as one load was finished.
Foods That Do Not Freeze Dry Easily:
Any fruit (or veggie) that has a thick skin or lots of seeds isn’t going to freeze dry well. Blueberries either need to be mashed or have several small holes poked in their skins – yes . . every single blueberry. When I’ve done blueberries, I mash them with the potato masher – not totally to a creamy mix but just enough to crush them, then pour them into the trays, freeze dry them, then break them apart kinda like peanut brittle, where you just pick up a piece and eat it.
Raspberries and blackberries (tame ones for sure) have seeds large enough to interfere with the freeze drying process.
Tomatoes have a lot of water and the seeds, skin and juicy parts should be removed before freeze drying.
Pineapple can be done but takes forever and sometimes, it’s just too hard to get it dried because of the high water and high sugar content. According to Harvest Right (the makers of home freeze dryers) “sugar binds to free water molecules, preventing them from escaping the food.
While freeze dried pineapple is certainly one of my favorites, I rare do it because of the time it takes to freeze dry it.
Potatoes and other starchy veggies should be blanched before freeze drying. I have not freeze dried potatoes because (1) we never grew enough and (2) the cost of potatoes is about the same all year and so far, they’ve always been available.
Greasy foods do not freeze dry well at all and even if they do, grease goes rancid quickly. I freeze dried a tray of pork jambalaya and when we first ate it, we loved it but it was only a few months that we opened a bag and knew it was no longer good.
Favorites From the Freeze Dryer:
My favorites are: Strawberries, Apples, Bananas and Okra
Strawberries – I simply slice and spread on the tray
Apples – Peel and slice. I will sometimes soak them in a solution of Fruit Fresh but I also like to sprinkle them with cinnamon. I have not had apples turn brown when I did not soak them in Fruit Fresh.
Bananas – I love bananas and like dipping them in pineapple juice before freeze drying.
Okra – I love adding Cajun Redhead seasoning and then eating it as a snack but it’s also great to dump into soups or even rehydrate and cook anything I would cook with fresh okra.
Eggs – When we had chickens and had an abundance of eggs, I freeze dried them. We like them better than fresh eggs. When Addie’s here, she always asks for freeze dried eggs for breakfast.
Peppers – Anything we could grow or get for less while in season was great for freeze drying.
Onions and Garlic – We were growing those so it was nice to be able to freeze dry them for using much later.
Asparagus – Freeze dried asparagus is a great snack and it works well in cream of asparagus soup.
I would say that if you can grow it, or if you can buy it for way less while it’s in season, it’s worth freeze drying. If you don’t grow asparagus and it costs about the same year round, there’s not much advantage to freeze drying it. Same with onions – if we hadn’t grown a ton of them, it would make no sense to buy them for the same price they are all year and freeze dry them.
Now, I wouldn’t go out and buy eggs and freeze dry them. When I had chickens and had eggs coming out my ears, it made sense to freeze dry eggs.
Our food supply that we keep in the safe room where we go for storms consist totally of freeze dried foods, beef sticks, vienna sausage and water.
I keep several jars of freeze dried foods in my car and if we’re going on a long trip, I have at least a 12 pack of pint jars of freeze dried foods in there. You never know when you’ll need something like that. When Chad and Nicole were camping a lot, I would put the equivalent of five eggs in a mylar bag. They would mix in water, pour it into the skillet, toss the bag and be done.
Is the freeze dryer worth the cost? Of course, we each have to make that decision based on our own circumstances. In my opinion, if you have access to foods that are priced lower at certain times of the year and those foods are good candidates for freeze drying, yes. If you’re going to have to buy items that are about the same price year round, no.
Here, we have a wonderful Farmers’ Market but things are not inexpensive. Often, the veggies and fruits are more than in the groorecery store. Often they taste better and are organic. I’m not complaining. But, for me, it isn’t cost effective to buy in bulk at the Farmers’ Market. Last summer when they had okra, it was outrageously expensive. It would have cost me over $100 per four trays just to buy the okra. When it’s like that, I can buy frozen okra in the grocery store for way less. If I can grow it, yes . . it’s great to freeze dry.
The next blog post will discuss how I use freeze dried fruits and veggies.