Every now and again in my research into the old ways of doing things I come across a gem of a piece that may relate to survival homesteading. Food preservation is one of the main aspects of homestead living, and dehydrating foods is one way of preserving your hard earned crops. Canning may not always be possible, such as when you have more food than canning jars, and dehydrating allows you another option to save that food rather than throw it away. And don’t forget, dehydrating has been in use for centuries.
This piece is from the 1917 edition of The American Food Journal. WWI was under way in Europe and food was in short supply. Community-wide programs were implemented as a way to extend that dwindling food supply and eliminate the wastage of some foods. These processes can still be used today, and are still used on many a homestead.
THE HOME DRYING OF FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
One of the most prominent features of the food conservation program of European countries has been the universal drying of fruits and vegetables. The surplus vegetables in the city markets were forced by the governments into the large municipal drying plants. Community dryers were established in the trucking regions and even itinerant drying machines were sent from farm to farm drying the vegetables which otherwise would have gone to waste. In addition, large quantities of dried vegetables from Canada and this country were shipped to France during the last two years, and there is a possibility that dried fruits and vegetables may continue to be shipped abroad in considerable quantities to supplement the concentrated food diet of the men in the trenches.
The drying of vegetables may seem strange to the present generation, but to our grandmothers it was no novelty. Many housewives even today prefer dried sweet corn to the product canned by the old method, and say also that dried pumpkin and squash are excellent for pie making. Snap beans often are strung on threads and dried above the stove. Cherries and raspberries still are dried on bits of bark for use instead of raisins. In fact, many of the everyday foodstuffs already are dried at some stage of their preparation for market. The common dried fruits, such as prunes, raisins, figs, dates and apples, are staples in the world’s markets, while beans and other legumes, while tea, coffee, cocoa and various manufactured foods like starch, tapioca, macaroni, etc., are dried either in the sun and wind or in specially constructed driers.
Even though the drying of fruits and vegetables as practiced a few decades ago on many farms has become practically a “lost art,” the present food situation doubtless will cause a marked stimulation of drying as a means of conserving the food supply. This country is producing large quantities of perishable foods this year, which should be saved for storage, canned, or properly dried. Drying is not a panacea for the entire waste evil, nor should it take the place of storing or canning to any considerable extent where proper storage facilities are available or tin cans or glass jars can be obtained readily and at a low cost.
The advantages of drying vegetables are not so apparent for the farm home as they are for the town or city household, which has no root cellar or other place in which to store fresh vegetables. For the farmer’s wife the new methods of canning probably will be better than sun drying, which requires a somewhat longer time. Rut shorter methods of drying are available, and the dried product holds an advantage in that usually it requires fewer jars, cans or other containers than do canned fruits or vegetables; also dried material can be stored in receptacles which cannot be used for canning. Then, too, canned fruit and vegetables freeze and cannot be shipped as conveniently in winter. Dried vegetables can be compacted and shipped with a minimum of risk.
To the housewife in the town the drying of vegetables and fruits presents special advantages. During the season when the market is oversupplied locally and prices are low she can lay in a stock, dry it, and put it away for a winter’s emergency without its taking up much of the needed small storage space in her home. If she is accustomed to canning her fruit and vegetables and finds she cannot secure jars or tin cans, she can easily resort to drying.
And now we are told to dry vegetables and fruits for winter use if tin cans and glass jars for canning are scarce or expensive. This is the advice of specialists in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who recently have studied the possibilities of conserving food to meet war needs in spite of any difficulties that may be experienced in obtaining canning containers. Drying was a well recognized and successful way of preserving certain foods before canning came into general use, the specialists point out, and modern methods make it still more practicable than formerly, either in the home or community groups.
METHODS OF DRYING
The methods of drying have been found by the department to give satisfactory results. These are sun drying, drying by artificial heat, and drying with air blasts, as with an electric fan. Trays for drying by any of these methods, as well as tray frames for use over stoves or before fans can be made satisfactorily at home. Frames and trays for use with artificial heat may be purchased complete if desired.
Home-made trays may be made of side and end boards three-fourths of an inch thick and 2 inches wide, and bottom boards of lathing spaced one-fourth of an inch. If desired, one-fourth-inch galvanized wire mesh may be tacked to the side and end boards to form the bottoms of the trays. Frames for use before fans may be made of wood of convenient size. Frames for use with artificial heat should be made of non-inflammable material to as great an extent as possible. As many as six trays may be placed one above the other when artificial heat is used.
The trays are arranged so that every other one is pushed back three inches from the front, this arrangement affording a free circulation of air, the currents of heated air passing over the product as well as up through it, gathering moisture and passing out through the ventilator. The movement of the current of air induces a more rapid and uniform drying. The trays should be shifted from time to time as the lower ones naturally dry faster than those above.
Another home drier is the cook-stove oven, in which bits of food, leftovers, especially sweet corn, etc., can be dried on plates resting on screen or wire trays at a very low temperature. The door should be left ajar and the temperature often noted.
There are two types of cook stove driers on the market. One type is a box-like compartment containing trays through which the heated air rises, carrying off the moisture through a flue. The second type consists of a shallow flat metal box filled with water and designed so that one end can rest on the back of the stove and the other on a leg reaching to the floor.
The various makes of cook stove cabinets—the size convenient for use in the home—have a capacity of from one to four pecks a day. The larger ones, usually called evaporators, have their own fire-boxes underneath and hold from four to five bushels a day. These capacities are based on green apple measures.
Almost any vegetables or fruit may be dried in these evaporators or cabinets: Apples, pears, peaches, plums, raspberries, huckleberries, currants, peas, corn, potatoes, pumpkins, etc. It has been found that the quality and quantity of each are dependent on the ripeness and the species of the fruit, Baldwin apples, for instance, giving a better grade of product than the Jonathans. The regulation of the heat which passes over the product is of paramount importance. If the air applied at the outset is of too high temperature, the surfaces of the vegetables or fruit become hard, or scorched, covering the juicy interior so that it will not dry out. Generally it is not desirable that the air temperature in drying should go above 140 to 150 degrees F., and it is better to keep it well below this point. Insects and insect eggs are killed by exposure to heat of this temperature.
There is no method which would appeal so much to the modern woman as the use of the electric fan in drying. Every woman knows that at the height of the canning season the thermometer reaches its midsummer maximum, and the day which she has set aside for canning (perishable supplies having been ordered some time ahead) is sure to be a stifling day in the kitchen. To be able to arrange her fruits or vegetables (sliced and ready for drying) on trays stacked in tiers placed before an electric fan and then turn on the current, thus making canning a cool rather than an excessively warm operation, exactly accords with her ideas of modern efficiency. The real advantage of this process, however, consists in the fact that the product kept cool, owing to evaporation, tends to retain its color and eliminate spoilage.
In drying before a fan the number of trays that may be placed one above the other will depend, to a large extent, upon the diameter of the fan. In drying in the sun, trays as described may be used or the products to be dried may be spread on sheets of paper or muslin held in place by weights.
Vegetables and fruits will dry better if sliced. They should be cut into slices one-eighth to one-fourth of an inch thick. If thicker, they may not dry thoroughly. While drying, the products should be turned or stirred from time to time. Dried products should be packed temporarily for three or four days and poured each day from one box to another to bring about thorough mixing and so that the whole mass will have a uniform degree of moisture. If during this “conditioning” any pieces of the products are found to be too moist, they should be returned to the trays and dried further. When in condition, the products may be packed permanently in tight paper bags, insect-proof paper boxes or cartons, or glass or tin containers.
Spinach and Parsley.
Spinach that is in prime condition for greens should be prepared by careful washing and removing the leaves from the roots. Spread the leaves on trays to dry thoroughly. They will dry much more promptly if spliced or chopped.
Garden Beets, Onions, Carrots, Turnips, Parsnips, Cabbage.
Beets: Select young, quickly grown, tender beets, which should be washed, peeled, sliced about an eighth of an inch thick, and dried.
Turnips should be treated in the same way as beets.
Carrots should be well grown, but varieties having a large woody core should be avoided. Wash, peel, and slice crosswise into pieces about an eighth of an inch thick.
Parsnips should be treated in the same way as carrots.
Onions: Remove the outside papery covering. Cut off tops and roots. Slice into one-eight-inch pieces and dry.
Cabbage: Select well developed heads of cabbage and remove all loose outside leaves. Split the cabbage, remove the hard, woody core, and slice the remainder of the head with a kraut cutter, or other hand slicing machine.
All the products under this heading should be “conditioned” as described above. Beet Tops, Swiss Chard, Celery and Rhubarb.
Beet tops: Tops of young beets in suitable condition for greens should be selected and washed carefully. Both the leaf stalk and blade should be cut into sections about one-fourth inch long and spread on screens and dried.
Swiss chard and celery should be prepared in the same way as beet tops.
Rhubarb: Choose young and succulent growth. Prepare as for stewing by skinning the stalks and cutting into pieces about one-fourth inch to one-half inch in length and dry on trays.
All the products under this heading should be “conditioned” as described.