I'm absolutely in love with this machine. Between the abundance of YouTube videos that provide inspiration to the numerous social media outlets that offer personal experiences to help guide the process. And then, there is the fantastic Harvest Right customer support staff. There hasn't been an issue that they haven't known what to do. They truly care about ensuring your experience both with the Harvest Right team and (more importantly) the investment of a freeze dryer is positive.
THE FIRST RUN:
Once I’d assembled everything (corrected the alignment of the shelving, screwed in the hose, plugged everything in) it was time to do the ever-popular “bread run”. This is where I ran into my first problem.
“But you gave it 5 stars! What’s up with that?”
Oh, fret not, gentle reader. It turns out I needed to perform a procedure known as de-gassing. The unit was, in fact, so new… so fresh off the line… so young and innocent that the glue used in some of the components inside the chamber had not fully cured. This resulted in an inability to achieve a proper vacuum. Remember that Harvest Right customer support? We chatted on the phone a few times, diagnosed the issue, and since then, the machine has been spinning like a top!
HOW I USE IT
Since purchasing the machine, I’ll buy meat that is discounted at the store then freeze it until I can cook it up and place it onto trays. I’ll do the same with broth and stock! Turning food that would be tossed out the next day into something I can keep for 25 years or so. I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. What you can expect from a reconstituted strawberry compared to reconstituted pulled pork.
“What does a normal freeze-drying session look like for you?”
First, I’ll do a little research. I’ve started to get more and more fond of MRE-style meals. Grab n’ go meals. I recently just cooked up and freeze-dried a bunch of fajitas (meat and veggies). After going through the freeze dryer, a 10oz portion turned into 2oz! I will and have freeze-dried single items. In that same session with the fajitas, I had a ton of garden bell peppers that went into two other trays. These will find their way into stews and other recipes.
But back to your question. Yes, I’ll do my research. What do I want to freeze dry? What do I have in the fridge that is looking like it will have to be tossed in a week? What has the garden been doing? And what do I think will just plain be fun?
I then prep my food. If it is a whole meal like arroz con pollo or cajun chicken pasta, I’m cooking that up! If it’s a veggie, I’m checking to see if I need to blanch it (like green beans or corn). Then I’m laying the items on the trays. The machine will take 15 minutes to begin cooling the chamber.
For me, I have found a good SCALE is invaluable. Something that you can set your tray on and see a readout. Just because the FDer says it’s done doesn’t mean it’s done. It’s a great machine, but it doesn’t have to eat the food, so make sure you’re double-checking. A scale can help keep a record of how much a tray weighs, continue the freeze-drying process for a few hours, and see if that number has changed. If it remains consistent, there is a great chance that it is ready to be packed away. A thermal camera (something like a FLIR One Pro) is great for finding those spots that are still frozen. (Frozen = moisture.)
KEEP A LOG! Note when you freeze-dried an item. The weight going onto the trays. The weight coming off the trays. Do the math that tells you to add 8oz of water when you rehydrate your fajitas and not just 3oz or 5 cups! Most of this is simple math. There are lots of support channels that offer spreadsheets and logbook templates to help you with the process.
Final thoughts I tell people about purchasing the Harvest Right freeze dryer:
It is an appliance. Most appliances in your house are expensive. When you spend $20 at the store for ingredients to make dinner, that meal probably costs ~$20. You don’t factor in the $600-$800 oven in that recipe. Similar to a Freeze Dryer. The barrier to entry is steep, but if you care about food security, minimizing food waste (saving those leftovers), preserving the nutritional value of your food, have an eye for deals at the grocery store, this is a great investment.
Recently, there was a family at my church who was dealing with some medical issues that made it very difficult to put food on the table. So people would bring dishes, casseroles and pastas and things. Knowing that it was just the two of them, I was afraid their fridge was probably overflowing with food at that point. So, I cooked up two dishes, freeze-dried them, and took it over. The idea was, “Hey you can eat it now or in 25 years. Just add water. Follow the instructions. Enjoy!”
Point is: This machine can be a blessing if you use it correctly.