A key component of self-reliance is having a replenishable and sustainable source of protein, so when I moved to my home in Utah, I took advantage of the coop that was on the property and started my own flock of chickens. The birds thrived, and soon we had more eggs than we could eat, so I needed a way to preserve them. Because my girls take a break during winter, I wanted to avoid having to buy eggs, because, hey, I still have to feed them when they are not laying, and because we're typically under a blanket of snow during winter, free range foraging is not an option.
The first year I froze surplus eggs, but I wasn't pleased with their consistency and it was hard to avoid freezer burn. Next I started water glassing them, a process I described in a previous article. I recently purchased a freeze drier, so I decided to see how the glassed eggs could be preserved so they would last even longer. Freeze dried foods, done and stored properly, maintain their nutritional value longer than frozen or canned goods.
What is Freeze Drying?
The FDA explains the process as follows: “Lyophilization or freeze drying is a process in which water is removed from a product after it is frozen and placed under a vacuum, allowing the ice to change directly from solid to vapor without passing through a liquid phase. The process consists of three separate, unique, and interdependent processes; freezing, primary drying (sublimation) and secondary drying (desorption)”
One question I have seen asked in preparedness forums is “can you do this to food using your freezer?” The answer is, of course, no. The freezer simply freezes foods, it does not remove all the liquid. The freezer also will not get the food to temperatures well below 0 degrees, which makes the second stage, vacuum drying, more effective. When the process is done properly, food can be shelf stable for up to 25 years without refrigeration.
How Do I Get Started?
The only product available for home use is made by Harvest Right and it is not inexpensive. I found one for a good price in Salt Lake City and also took advantage of an 18 month 0% financing offer. I purchased the large size, and the challenging part was getting it set up. It is cumbersome and you may need assistance so you don't damage it. I put it on a small appliance stand with castors so I could easily move it for cleaning and maintenance. Once set up, I did a test batch using inexpensive ingredients in case there was a mishap. I made a batch of Cowboy Caviar, which consisted mostly of canned beans I'd had in my pantry. (Read this article for more information on how to have a well-stocked pantry.) All went as planned, so next I decided to process all the eggs I had been preserving in the glass vessels in my pantry. They were taking up a lot of space! I will do a separate write up about how I got the machine up and running. It's pretty straight forward, because I was able to do it without adult supervision!
Preparing the Eggs for Freeze Drying
First, get organized! You will need a large container for the unshelled, raw eggs. I always advise my egg customers to open the eggs and put them in a bowl one at a time, before adding them to whatever they are preparing. If you crack open a bad one, and it goes into whatever you are making, it will contaminate the rest of the ingredients. Have a small bowl, put the eggs in one at a time. If all is well, add each of them to the larger container of eggs that passed inspection. Some eggs may not be gathered in time, or may have cracked; another way to test freshness is to put them in water and see if they sink to the bottom, or pop to the surface. The freshest sink to the bottom, and there is a range of freshness in the middle, but the more they float, the less fresh they are. I chose only to freeze dry the freshest of eggs, which, even after months of glassing, was all of them – not one popped to the top or was buoyant in any way.
I used an electric hand mixer to scramble the eggs so they would have a smooth consistency. The trays are large, and shallow, so I used large beakers to pour the eggs into the trays while in the freeze dryer so avoid spilling.
Once the trays were full and in place, all I had to do was push a button and the machine did the rest. The entire process took about 36 hours and when I removed them they were perfectly dry. Next I turned them into a powder. I first attempted to do this with a counter top blender, but that really didn't work so my trusty food processor did the job quickly.
Once the vacuum is released in the machine, it is important to get your freeze dried items in containers with oxygen absorbers as soon as possible, as they will absorb the moisture in the air. I decided to store the egg powder in quart-sized canning jars. That way, I could take what I needed a little at a time without having to get the heat sealer out and reseal the mylar bags every time I used them.
Raw or Cooked?
Either are acceptable for freeze drying, and both have their pros and cons. I did not cook this batch, because I wanted flexibility in how I would use them. If I need them for baking, I can simply measure the amount needed, roughly 2 tablespoons powder equals one egg. Experiment with rehydrating, starting with less than an equal amount of water and adding more until it gets to the desired consistency.
If I were to cook them, then the options for use wold be scrambled eggs and any variation, but I couldn't use them for other recipes. The benefit to cooking them before freeze drying is I can pack them in mylar pouches (don't forget the oxygen absorbers!), making them convenient ready-to-go meals for camping trips or emergency situations.
A Few Words on Safety
Food that has been properly freeze dried and stored is absolutely safe to eat. Be sure to always label what you process, including the name of the food, date of processing and whether it was raw or cooked.
Usually, it will be obvious, but extra steps to prevent food-born illnesses can't hurt, especially if you are in a situation where medical care is unavailable or difficult to get. Proper care must be used when using the raw product, as freeze drying does not destroy bacteria, so treat it as you would fresh, raw food.
Make sure to always replace the oxygen absorber in the container you are using and that the food is completely dry. Failure to do the latter will allow bacteria that thrives in anaerobic environments to thrive, and the consequences can be fatal.
Cross contamination also presents a health risk when getting everything set up. Think about the steps involved: after cracking the egg, your hands will have the raw eggs on them. The process is messy, and you will get raw egg on your counter top, on the bowls, on your faucet handles, etc. You will also have a pile of egg shells to deal with and we'll include some suggestions on what to do with them in another article. Be mindful of everything you touch and be sure to disinfect all food preparation areas.
In the next installment of this series, I will reconstitute the eggs and make a variety of dishes, so please subscribe to my website if you would like to continue this journey with me. Donations would be much appreciated and there is a donate button on the Home Page of my website.