Dehydrating Mushrooms

I love mushrooms of all types and I particularly enjoy foraging for them. The problem is they just do not keep for very long in the fridge. With the effort needed to find them in the wild or the cost to buy them in the store so great I long ago started dehydrating them.

Baby Bella Whole

The nice bonus with drying mushrooms is that with some things dehydrating enhances the flavor, mushrooms are definitely in that category.

I recently bought a good deal of Baby Portabella mushrooms on sale for $0.99 a pound and thought I would do a separate small batch  to show the process of drying them as well as how much weight and volume they are reduced by for those new to dehydrating. I started with 150 grams of  small mushrooms that you see here on the scale for a nice even number.

Weight of just the caps
Baby Bella Stems
Stems cut in halves and quarters








I weighed the caps by themselves (above) just to see what percentage of the weight was lost by removing the stems, as many people throw the stems away. Even though the mushrooms were well trimmed as to the length of the stems, I was surprised to see that almost a third of the weight was lost.

Baby Bella Caps
Sliced mushroom caps spread out on dehydrator tray

After slicing the mushroom caps I spread them out on one tray and the stems on another. There is nothing fancy about the dehydrator I used, its only temperature control is actually just a vent that you can adjust as to how much air can rise up though the unit.

Mushroom caps and stems completely dry
Mushroom caps and stems completely dry

I let the mushrooms dry for about 36 hours at about 95 F. To check them for dryness just bend a few pieces to see if they will snap in half crisply. If they do they are dry enough to store in an airtight container such as glass canning jars. Just like storing other foods, it is best to keep them in a dark, dry, and cool place for maximum shelf life (maybe an unheated room/pantry or dry basement).

You will notice on the scale here that both the caps and stems together only weigh 10 grams now, or just a little over 6% of their original weight.

Just the dried stems
Just the dried stems

After weighing the stems by themselves we have some beginning and ending weights for each.                                           Fresh Caps                 107g Fresh Stems                 43g Dried Caps                      6g Dried Stems                   4g                                                         The caps lost 95% of their weight, and the stems lost 91% of their weight.

Baby Bella stems (left) and caps (right) in half pint jelly jars

Here you see them in 1/2 pint jelly jars, and I would estimate they lost about 65% of their original volume.

Ok we have dried mushrooms, now what do we do with them? I use them almost like fresh more often than not. I decide how much I need and let them soak in warm water for a half hour or so to reconstitute. I will use them this way in omelets, on cheese steak subs, and beef burritos or tacos.

If I am using them in a soup or a stew I do not bother to re-hydrate them. I just toss them in and let them re-hydrate while cooking. Speaking of which, never throw out the water you use when you re-hydrate your mushrooms. Dehydrated mushrooms make some of the best broth you have ever tasted! One of the things I like to make with the broth is french onion soup. Mushrooms in french onion soup? Yes indeed! I know that most recipes do not call for it, but mushroom broth is rich enough that you can actually cut the beef bullion almost in half for a french onion soup and not even notice it.

What about those stems? They are fine in most anything despite many throwing them away. Do you think all those little cubes in Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup are premium mushroom caps? There are dishes that you do not want meaty chunks of mushroom in however, but you do want that mushroom flavor. As an example I like making my gravies that way.

The solution I use is to make my stems into mushroom powder for those recipes. Being so brittle the stems readily grind to a fine powder in a mortar and pestle. I then run them through a fine screen sieve to be sure I did not miss any larger pieces. If you do not have a mortar, they crumble rather well with a little help through a screen. For those of you that like electric, one of those little 1 cup food processors is what I use for herbs and seasonings as they clean out so easily.

Mortar and Pestle

For a short video of making a powder out of the stems you can see it here: Making mushroom powder with a mortar and pestle

I now have a nice supply of healthy mushrooms for all those hearty soups, stews, and roasts I will be making this winter.

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Forum Topic: Dehydrating Mushrooms

Foraged Garlic, Onion, and Chives for Thanksgiving

There is nothing like bringing in a bit of the outdoors to garnish a holiday meal. Friends and family may look at you askew if you let them watch you pick part of their dinner from the lawn, but what are family dinners for, right!

Allium vineale AKA wild garlic out in the lawn

If you live in the central or eastern North America you most certainly will find this wonderful weed growing in your yard or nearby field. Native to Europe it is also found along the coast of California up into Alaska as well as in Asia and North Africa.

Allium vineale L. or (wild garlic) is a member of the genus Allium which also contains onion, chives, scallions, shallots, and leeks. It is a biennial growing up to 2.5 feet in height. The root is a bulb that has a brown paper like layer surrounding it like a store bought onion usually not over a 1/2 in diameter. The leaves are slender and hollow towards their base, and attach to the stem at up to half the height of the plant. The leaves and bulb have a strong garlic odor when crushed. The flower head is round up to 3/4″ and covered by a papery sheath. The flowers are typically a mix of red-purple-pink-white.

Wild garlic pulled from a field ( left) and from the lawn (right)
Wild garlic pulled from a field ( left) and from the lawn (right)

Closely related and found in the same areas in the US is Allium canadense L. (Wild onion). The leaves of Allium canadense are flat and solid in cross-section as compared to the round, hollow leaves of A. vineale.

Both are found in waste places, pastures, forest edges, and front yards. The fall and spring of the year makes a particularly good time to find these in your yard. They will start growing in the spring before your grass does, and will continue to grow after your lawn no longer does. Identification is simple as if you cut it and smell a strong onion/garlic you know you have the right thing or at least a member of the Allium genus, all of which are edible.

Same two bunches up close with a quarter for scale

The whole plant is edible, however I seldom use the bulbs as it is a fair amount of work cleaning them for such small bulbs, but I would like to try pickling them sometime like a cocktail onion. More often than not I just cut the tops and use as a fresh chive or green onion tops in recipes. The chopped tops dry very easily laid out on a plate left in an oven on pilot. The flavor in the bulbs is rather strong, but the tops are just slightly stronger than chives as to onion flavor. As with most plants the smaller parts are more tender than the large leaves and bulbs.

One of the things I like to use wild garlic for when camping is for stuffing fish. Small pan fish or trout dressed, cleaned, and bellies stuffed with wild garlic is good eats.

Garlic chive

Well I am off to Thanksgiving Dinner, and you should be too. Have a little fun if you see this out in the yard and pick a little to chop and put on top of your potatoes. You might get a few looks, but your food will be the better for it.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Questions, comments? Join the topic on the forum here
Forum Topic: Foraged Garlic

Prepping To Make Maple Syrup

I know it’s a bit early for making maple syrup, but for those of you who are new to this, you are running out of time to easily identify your trees in advance of spring. Now maple syrup is indeed made in the spring, but very early spring. Anyone but a syrup maker would still call it winter as in my area the sap can begin to flow in late January into February. There will be no leaves on the trees, nor will there even be buds. The past years leaves will be blown and scattered about from under the trees they fell off of and snow will likely cover the rest. The time to mark your trees is now!

Just so you know a bit about what goes into this, last year when I made syrup I drilled 11 taps and got 74 gallons of sap that ran about 2.5% sugar content. When boiled down this gave me 14 pints of fine homemade maple syrup. This will not be a full tutorial on making your own maple syrup but I will put up a full tutorial as the season begins. I am in the southern regions of where you can get good syrup making weather so I will be ahead of most of you if you follow me through the season and process.  What we will cover here is identifying your trees, and the tools and equipment you need with a brief explanation of their use so you are ready when the sap starts to flow.

Sugar maples are what most people look for when wanting to make maple syrup, but most other maples make fine syrup as well. The best differentiating trait that identifies the sugar maple trees from the other maples is that they hold their winged seed through the summer and drop them in the fall, whereas all the other maples lose theirs in the early summer.

Grown in the open you can see why often sugar maples are called Sugar Bush
Sugar Maple Path
Grove of sugar maple trees on the old dirt drive behind the house
Close-up of sugar maple leaves
A 3 foot plus diameter sugar maple tree. See how small the old picket fence looks at the base of the tree

Having said that many of the people that I have talked to over the years tap a mix of maples and make fine syrup. I personally have made syrup from silver as well as red maple trees, but they do contain about ½% lower sugar content in the sap than the sugar maple. One year I used all red maples and was pleasantly surprised by a syrup that had a buttery flavor to it. That is one I would like to try again just to see if it was the fact that all I used was red maples, or if it was the geographic location and soil conditions that gave the unique buttery flavor.

Last years tap hole
Note last years tap hole healed over in the center of this mature tree

Properly tapped trees will suffer no ill side effects as long as you choose healthy trees and do not tap any smaller than 10 inches in diameter. Trees 10-18 inches in diameter should have no more than one tap. A tree 18-25 inches in diameter should have no more than two taps, and at 25 inches in diameter and larger you should have no more than three taps. I have seen trees with over a half dozen buckets hanging off of them looking like they were being bled dry. Be kind to your trees so they outlive you and are there for the next generation of syrup makers!

On to the tools you will need and a brief description of their use. To tap the trees you will need a cordless drill or hand auger with a sharp 5/16ths or 7/16ths drill bit (depending on the size of the tap/spile that you choose) to drill into your trees and insert your tap (also known as a spile) with a mallet or hammer.

This is a tap and a tee with hosing attached
Maple spile
Older style tap for a bucket or a bag to be hung off of instead of using tube
Maple syrup tap
Plastic tap and drop tube on tree

You will also need sap pails, bags, or buckets to catch the sap. As you can see above I use 1 gallon HDPE jugs from store bought juice to catch the sap. I also get 3-5 gallon HDPE buckets from my local bakery for free after they have emptied the frosting from them. They are food safe and very convenient if more than one tap will be going into a tree or for storing medium quantities of sap through the week for boiling down on the weekends.

To boil down your sap I like to use food service stainless steam table pans and a stainless spoon or ladle to skim the foam off from the sap as it is boiling.

Stainless pans

These are the pans I use for the main evaporation. I like the square corners for setting down on masonry hearths when using a wood fire for heat. As the sap concentrates I ladle some of it to the smaller pan near the cooler front of the fire then add more preheated sap to the main pan where the fire is hotter. Typically you can find these pans for pennies on the dollar at your local scrap yard.

This is a round corner pan that is preheating sap
Almost syrup
It’s just about syrup!

Here is a pan of sap finishing on the stove top. You can see the extra small bubbles forming instead of the large bubbles when evaporating. These start to form as the sugar content is just about at the syrup stage.

I do not remember the last time I used a candy thermometer as I have just learned over the years how the bubbles should look and how the syrup sheets off of a spoon (like when making candy) when it is syrup. For your first few times however I would suggest you use a candy thermometer and an endpoint of 7F degrees above the boiling temperature of water. Test your thermometer as well as your altitude by calibrating your thermometer in a pan of water at a rapid boil. Whatever temperature it reads when in a pan of boiling water, add the 7 degrees to that number and you will have the correct temperature for finished syrup at your altitude and with your thermometer.

Candy thermometer and filter basket

Now for filtering small batches of syrup I just use a well cleaned coffee filter basket with regular coffee filters. If it is a dark colored basket be sure to clean it very well as any coffee residue could end up contaminating your syrup. Filtering is all about surface area and these baskets have ridges on the bottom and sides so the whole filter is used. I filter sap this way before evaporating, once more a bit before syrup stage, and finally at the syrup stage pipping hot as I bottle it. You will never get it through a filter cool once it is syrup, trust me on that.

Quart of maple syrup
Vintage 2014 maple syrup

What jars to use for finished syrup, you can use almost any glass container with a good lid however I find canning jars work well for me. This is a quart to the left, but small mouth pints are actually more convenient if you wish to pour directly out of them. I also like to seal my syrup by canning it in a hot water bath. If you do not water bath can your syrup, you can just store it in your refrigerator as is for over 6 months with no problem.

A brief word about wood as a heat source for boiling down sap. First, now is the time to gather it so it is dry enough to use come syrup time. You must not use any wood that you would not want the flavor of in your syrup. Just like smoking meats, some of the wood smoke flavor will come through and for that reason I try to use maple wood as it is milder that hickory or oak. How much smoke flavor comes through in your finished product depends greatly on how your evaporation rig is designed. Some like a little smoke flavor, some do not. Just be aware, and by no means use pallet wood for fuel as it has poisonous chemical preservatives in it!

Well I hope you enjoyed the little primer and look forward to you joining us as we go through the process this spring step by step in more detail. If you want to try something novel find some black walnut or sweet birch trees to make syrup if you do not have maples available near you. If I am feeling ambitious, perhaps I will cover how to make some black walnut or birch syrup as well this year.

Get out there and mark your trees and I will be back with you to walk through the whole process as the season starts!
In the meantime if you have any questions or comments join us on the forum Forum Topic: Prepping to Make Maple Syrup

PS; a one stop website for syrup making supplies

Cell Phone USB 5V Battery Back-Up Power

Have you ever considered your cell phone an emergency tool beyond calling 911 or a tow truck? Forget for a minute that a phone is used to make calls, with smart phones you have a small computer in your hand. We often lose power out here in the country with the smallest of storms. With a reliable way to keep my phone charged I have access to the internet for news in the event of a blizzard, hurricane, flooding, or even a nuclear power plant problem (I live in the shadow of one). Cell towers have back-up batteries and typically generators for when those get depleted and will stay up and running for weeks. I also keep password protected files on my phone that include my medical files, insurance papers, and financial documents.

Cell phones have become so commonplace, indeed almost considered an essential item these days. We carry them around everywhere we go so we can always be available and plugged in to services. How often have you found yourself looking for a place to just get a smidge of charge for your phone?

For the last year I have been using a back-up battery on steroids. The battery I have been using is the Anker 2nd Gen Astro E5 16000mAh capacity with my Samsung S5 cell phone. When I first went to test this battery’s capacity I fully charged my phone as well as the Anker battery. The phone was left on 24/7 and I averaged 2 hours of streaming video, 1 hour of internet web viewing, and 30 minutes of talking per day. Nothing was recharged, I only used the capacity of the battery and it lasted for 10 days. Your mileage may vary a bit as my phone was only 1 month old having a good condition battery and not too overloaded with apps.

Now some of you might think this capacity is over the top for just a phone, however the popularity of cell phones being charged by 5volt usb chargers has caused a great number of products to be made that make use of them. USB powered flashlights, wi-fi hot spots, external speakers, fans, cameras, Bluetooth devices, and chargers to recharge all those AA and AAA batteries it seems we need for everything. There are always losses when charging a battery to charge something else, but having that ability when power is otherwise unavailable is priceless. I will be writing an article in the near future that will go into detail as to how to use your phone as an invaluable resource in the event of unforeseen circumstances.

On to the battery, it is an Anker 2nd Gen Astro E5 16000mAh capacity measuring 5.9” X 2.5” X 0.9” and weighing 10.88 ounces. Now all that capacity does take a bit of time to charge, but with a 2amp car or home charger it will be accomplished in 8 hours from dead flat while you sleep. Anker has what they call PowerIQ Technology that detects your devices fastest safe charge rate. What this means for me is that my phone charges faster with this battery than it does off my car or wall charger. It has 1 micro USB input charging port and 2 full size usb out ports capable of 3 amps output between the 2 ports. There are 4 LEDs that indicate the charge remaining on the battery as well as charge progress when charging. As a nice little bonus there is a white LED flashlight build into the unit. It is not super bright, but it is enough to find your keys in the grass if you drop them or find your way down a path without tripping.

Anker E5

Anker E5 end

All in all I think this unit is great bang for the buck typically selling for under $30 with an 18 month warranty. I have several friends that have bought and used this based on my recommendation and they all love it.

In the near future I will be writing articles to further make use of your phone including…
Solar charging of 5v systems
Your phone as a data storage tool
Preparedness apps and tools for your Smartphone

As always, I hope you found some value in this article. I look forward to your comments here or join the conversation on the forum here Forum Topic: Cell Phone USB 5V Battery Back-Up Power

Buying Groceries on the Cheap and Food Security

No matter if you dine out at fine restaurants or have potatoes and beans at home, we all must eat to survive. Food is one of the most basic preparations one can make. I do a fair amount of gardening and raise small livestock, so this time of year I’m busy putting up the harvest from the garden and minimizing the number of animals that will need be fed through the winter. For those of you that do not produce a significant portion of your own food at home (or any at all) there are other fantastic ways to economize on your food budget. Amazingly many of the best deals out there happen to be long shelf life foods with expiration dates that are 2, 3, even 4 years without the need for freezing or refrigeration.

Despite producing some of my own food I take full advantage of the grocery stores for simple economic reasons. A case in point, I have the ability to produce my own wheat and eggs. I even have the equipment to mill these grains, mix in some eggs and water, and I have my own fresh pasta. Some would say my cost is zero, but in reality I have spent a whole lot of labor to produce what I can currently get for free from my local grocery store (yes free, see below). Now I still advocate knowing how and having the tools to make your own if for no other reason than the security of knowing you can if you have to. At the moment though, I will take the free premium brand pasta from the grocery store.

Now if you want to buy groceries on the cheap consistently, you need to get them when they are on sale and in a quantity that you think you will need until the next sale comes along. Beyond just saving some money it is also worth considering having a food supply on hand that will last your household for a given period of time. How long you might ask? That depends on what you are preparing for. If you just want to be prepared for a weather event, then 2-4 weeks should get you through most events, even severe storms that can leave utilities out for extended periods of time. If you want to protect against job loss you might want to consider 3 months as a reasonable time frame to secure new employment. Are you worried about a full on economic collapse? Then you would want 6 months stocked up, with seeds and livestock set to grow and raise your own come spring. Even if you have the skills and equipment to produce your own food, fall would be a bad time to find yourself with a near empty pantry.

Getting started, one of your first steps is checking out what kind of gimmicks your local grocery stores have. And almost all of them have a gimmick to get you in their door. Here are the gimmicks for the 3 stores closest to me.
#1 has a card that gives $0.10 off a gallon of gas for each $100 spent.
#2 has double coupons up to $0.99
#3 has double coupons up to $1.00

I prefer the double coupons, as just 1 coupon doubled saves me more than I would save on a full tank of gas. Now it is important to note that there are many $1 coupons out there that at store #2 would only save you $1, but at store #3 it saves you $2.00 due to doubling.

Now as for getting coupons, by all means take advantage of your local papers and any inserts from friends or family that does not use coupons themselves. There are also great sites for Internet coupons that you can print, as well as places you can buy them for pennies on the dollar. Why buy a coupon? My number one reason is that if there is a great deal on an item that I use a lot of or a particularly good price on a long shelf life item it becomes cost effective. After all, printing at home still costs you paper and ink and the time to cut them all out. Many coupons cost 8-12 cents yet save you $2 each when doubled.

One of my favorites is getting and leaving coupons at local community centers. Many people think of community centers as places for old people to congregate or just for people on welfare. While some may have devolved to this point, you can help change that with your presence. Stop by and give your surplus coupons and spend a few minutes helping others learn how to be self-sufficient. Many dependent people are in the position they are, just for the lack of someone taking the time to give them the tools needed. But be careful, you might make a few friends.

Where you get the really good deals is matching your stores sale items with the coupons currently out. It is worth going online and checking you stores sales flier. My store has a preview that is available 3 or 4 days before their flier hits my mailbox. This allowed me to order coupons for $0.10 each that were $1 off 1 can of coffee for when the sale started. Can of coffee $2.49 each on sale, $1 off coupon doubled minus the coupon cost meant I bought half a years worth of coffee for $0.59 a can. Regular price is $3.98 so you save 85% off of retail.

Here are a few other recent examples:
1. Progresso soup regular retail $1.99 on sale for $0.99 each
$1 off 3 manufacturers coupon once doubled gives a final cost of $0.32 per can

2. Chicken of the Sea Chunk Light Tuna 12oz can on sale for $2.69
$1 off coupon doubled gives a cost of $0.69 a can. That is the same as paying $0.29 per 5oz can of tuna most buy for a dollar on sale.

3. Dreamfields Pasta (elbow macaroni, angel hair, lasagna, and spaghetti) is normally $2.42 a box.
It is currently on sale 2 boxes for $4.00. Dreamfields has a coupon for $1 off, so 2 coupons give you 2 free boxes of pasta.

(Take note that all 3 of these have a shelf life of 2 or more years.)

Here are some good places to get coupons. Always check expiration dates when buying in bulk as sadly many grocery stores do a poor job of rotating product.

Printable coupon sites
(most printable coupons can be printed twice by using the back button)

Coupons for sale

Join us on the forum and share the deals you have found!
Forum Topic: Buying Groceries On The Cheap and Food Security