Getting Started Using The Harvest Right Home Freeze Dryer
The Harvest Right user manual covers the basics of hooking up the home freeze dryer – as well as providing an “overview” of the generic steps to freeze dry food.
However, over the 4 years – that I have been ceaselessly using my home freeze dryer – I have picked up a few tricks that may help new users and “old hands” alike when running their freeze dryer machine.
Come along with me – step by step – to see a more detailed presentation of the features of this miraculous home freeze drying machine!
Loading The Trays
No matter what you freeze dry:
Try to cut the solid foods into workable sized chunks – and give them a little air space between pieces whenever possible. When doable, thinner is better – because the thicker the slice, the longer it will take to finish the freeze drying process.
For liquids – milk, raw eggs, soups, etc. – don’t completely fill the trays. Leave a bit of open space along the top lip.
Also, for liquids – as well as sticky, sugary solid foods – I wholly advise using the Harvest Right Silicone Mats in the trays – so that the freeze dried foods can be easily removed from the trays. The mats are 1mm thick – a little thinner than other silicon mats (necessary to allow the shelf heat to better penetrate the foods during the vacuum drying process.
In the long run, you’ll save a ton of cash – because, you won’t be using disposable parchment paper.
Just toss these mats onto the top shelf of the dishwasher and they’ll clean up just like new – shipshape – spick and span!
I know how hard it can be to remove hard, stuck-on foods from bare metal trays – especially, since you really can’t use any kind of abrasive cleaners or scouring pads – they will scratch the trays – which will cause even more sticking problems. Trust me – you don’t want to have to buy a new set of trays – to the tune of a whopping $89 plus tax and shipping. That’s the cost of replacement trays for a medium (standard) sized freeze dryer!
Running A Load Of Food In The Freeze Dryer Machine
NOTE: Since my freeze dryer has been around the block a few times, the LED screen shows signs of wear and tear – so, keep that in mind when looking at the following screen menu pictures.
Customizing The Home Freeze Dryer
For folks with brand new Harvest Right Home Freezer Dryer equipment, you may want to go directly to “Starting The Home Freeze Dryer.” But, for those of us who have older freeze dryers – my equipment is 4 years old – you may want to see a simple change I make to the freeze drying program.
The heating pads on the shelf unit of my older freeze dryer is beginning to wear out – and, as such, the heating pads seem to get a bit warmer than the 125 degrees Fahrenheit “default setting.” When this happens, some foods – especially when loaded on the 2 middle shelves – which get a little hotter than the top and bottom shelves – tend to get a slight brownish-yellow tinge. For instance, at the 125 degree setting, my freeze dried onions come out a bit yellowish. If I drop the shelf temperature to 100 – or 105 – degrees Fahrenheit – the onions have a characteristic bright white color when they finish freeze drying.
To compensate – at the main screen – I “CUSTOMIZE” the freeze drying machine before each load by changing the shelf temperature. I keep it between 100 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit – depending on what I am running in the freeze dryer.
I would not advise lowering the shelf temperature below 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Plus, don’t go any higher than the default of 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Doing either one of these can affect the quality of most foods during the freeze drying process. Do so at your own risk!
You can also adjust the length of freeze time in the customization menu – but, I rarely need to do that unless I have something really light and airy to freeze dry.
When finished, tap on “DONE.” And, the main screen will pop up again.
Starting The Home Freeze Dryer
This is a very straightforward process to get your food into the freeze drying cycle.
After you press “START” on the main screen, the machine will ask you if the food is “NON LIQUID” or “LIQUID.” Liquid food is defined as any food in liquid form – DUH – which means things like milk, raw eggs, soups, etc.
Once you’ve made your selection, the freeze dryer will ask you if the food is “PRE-FROZEN” or “NOT FROZEN.” Many times I can significantly reduce freeze-dry cycle times – from start to finish – if I “pre-freeze” food prior to running it through the freeze dryer. This is most useful during harvest season when I keep my home freeze dryer constantly running 24 hours a day – 7 days a week – for most of the summer and early fall.
After selecting either pre-frozen or not frozen, the next screen will remind you to “PLEASE CLOSE THE DRAIN VALVE.” If you forget to close the drain valve, the home freeze dryer will not be able to create a vacuum in the chamber – and, when it reaches the “vacuum freezing” or “drying” cycle, it will interrupt its program to tell you that it cannot maintain a vacuum. So, don’t forget to close that valve!
At this point, just press “CONTINUE” and your handy little home freeze dryer begins its work – turning your produce into food that can be saved – if stored properly – for up to 25 years!
Freeze Drying Sequence Of Events
My home freeze dryer goes through 4 stages:
During this initial phase, the food is properly frozen to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. Once it satisfactorily reaches this temperature, it is ready to move to the next step.
Slowly, a vacuum is applied – to gently suck the air out of the chamber to allow the frozen food inside to slowly become accustomed to a vacuum environment. At this point, the “> 2500 mTorrs” in the upper right corner will start dropping. “mTorrs” is a “vacuum measurement.” The lower the mTorrs – the more vacuum pressure there is in the freeze drying chamber. Most likely, when the freeze drying machine senses that all is well, it moves into the “Drying” phase.
During this time, the heating pads kick on to slowly warm the trays and begin evaporating water directly from the frozen food without going through the liquid stage. The technical term for frozen water directly becoming water vapor without going through the liquid stage is “sublimation.” During this drying cycle, the mTorrs measurement is usually above 500 mTorrs – and the temperature shown in the upper right will approach the shelf temperature programmed into the machine – whether it’s the standard default, 125 degrees Fahrenheit, or a “customized” setting. When the bulk of the moisture has been removed from the food, the home freeze dryer moves into its final phase.
In this finale, the shelf temperature should be at the shelf temperature programmed into the machine and the vacuum pressure should be below 500 mTorrs. Most times, I will see vacuum pressure as strong as 100 to 200 mTorrs. It’s not unusual. It can take anywhere from a couple of hours to the better part of a day to finish this step – depending on the amount of moisture that still remains in the food being freeze dried.
When all stages are completed to the satisfaction of the home freeze dryer, a screen will pop up showing “PROCESS COMPLETE.” At this point, it is time to open the drain valve to release the vacuum pressure, open up the chamber and see if everything is completely freeze dried – and, if so, remove the food for immediate packaging and storing – with oxygen absorbers and Mylar bags, vacuum packed bags, or mason jars.
Packaged and stored correctly gives the food at least a 25 year shelf life! Amazing, isn’t it? You will NEVER find another way – that is affordable for the common everyday home owner – to drastically extend the shelf life of food beyond a mere year or two!
If you break open a chunk of food and find small amounts of moisture inside, close the drain valve and add some dry time. The home freeze dryer is programmed to automatically add 2 hours of extra dry time – but, it is adjustable with the up and down arrows.
Once the food is successfully freeze dried and removed from the freeze dryer, you can “DEFROST” – which will use the heating pads to help thaw the ice that has collected on the sides of the vacuum chamber. The automatic defrosting time is 2 hours (adjustable with up and down arrows) – but, for foods that have little moisture before they are freeze dried, the chamber is defrosted in less than an hour in most cases.
Or, if there are no other foods in your freeze drying pipeline for the moment, you can choose “NO DEFROST” – in which case, the chamber will slowly reach room temperature and the ice will become liquid – it will just take a little longer.
Make sure you have the drain valve open during the defrosting process – otherwise, all the water will stay in the chamber! And, have the drain hose placed in a big enough bucket to contain the draining water – or, you’ll have freeze dry water all over your floor!
A typical defrost can produce as much as 2 gallons of water – especially with freeze dried liquids.
And, before starting the next freeze drying load, empty the water filled bucket – to prevent sucking old water back into the chamber during the next vacuum release.
Operation – from start to finish – for the Harvest Right Home Freeze Dryer – can be a short as 20 hours – or, as long as 2 to 3 days. It all depends on the moisture content of the food in the vacuum chamber.
I can freeze dry a load of Krispy Kreme Glazed Doughnuts in 20 hours – flat! But, liquids like milk, eggnog, raw eggs, and soup – can push the time limit – to at least 48 hours – and, sometimes, into a third day – for sure!
Check Out The Harvest Right Home Freeze Dryer Review
I’m all in for this home freeze dryer! Check out my freeze dryer review for this unit! With all the money we waste in throwing spoiled food in the garbage every year, a Harvest Right Freeze Dryer will pay for itself in less than 18 months!
Questions, comments, and other thoughts pertinent to food preservation – in the comment section below or by email – are welcome and answered in a New York minute!