This section is from the book "Everywoman's Canning Book", by Mary B. Hughes. Also available from Amazon: Everywomans canning book; the A B C of safe home canning and preserving.
Along with the work of canning and preserving goes the simple process of drying. Throughout Europe this work is extensively carried on, and in Germany, particularly, the dried product has been an important economic factor, for the German army has been to a large measure sustained on dehydrated products.
Dried fruits, such as apricots, prunes, figs, apples, dates, raisins, etc., are familiar to all, and are used in every household. Other articles of food may be dried as successfully and are just as palatable. Much wisdom in drying comes with but very little experience. As in canning, certain rules must be followed for success, else the material will sour and mold, and be unfit to serve on the table.
Drying may take the place of canning when storage facilities are limited, when jars are expensive and scarce, or when there is but little to conserve. It may supplement canning when there is a great surplus, that the entire product be conserved. Drying may also be recommended for the housewife who is in delicate health, and finds canning laborious work, since drying may be said to take care of itself, once the material is in place and a few general directions have been carried out.
An empty room or the attic makes an excellent drying place, providing there is a current of air passing through; otherwise the product will mold. Never put vegetables on the floor to dry, and do not spread them out on a table. It is absolutely necessary that air circulate under and over the material.
Drying may be done in the sun, but except in the hottest weather it should not be attempted. Get a good exposure, where the sun will be all day on the material. The top of a fiat-roofed house is an excellent drying post, and is away from the dust of the street. Sun drying is easy and cheap, but care must be taken to cover the material with mosquito netting, that flies and insects cannot attack the foods.
In all drying, be sure that there is free circulation under the material to be dried, as well as over it.
Have a wire-mesh frame set up on four posts, about three feet from the ground or roof. Cover with cheesecloth, and spread fruit or vegetables out carefully in single layers to dry. The material will not dry uniformly if carelessly spread out and allowed to overlap. If long-continued hot, dry weather is expected, it is not necessary to bring the foods in at night. Where the frame stands well above the ground, the dew does not affect the material, unless located near the sea or a river, where the dew is very heavy. Much unnecessary labor can be eliminated by leaving the material out over night.
Spread a piece of oilcloth over the top of the wire frame at night, to keep the dampness out. Do not let the oilcloth rest on the material, but fasten it in the posts at the sides. This should be removed early in the morning.
Arrange the material to be dried on plates, or perforated containers, or racks, and put in the oven. The fire should be low and the oven door be left open. When small quantities are to be dried at a time, this method is the quickest and the easiest for the housewife. Six to eight hours is the time required for most products that are oven dried.
There are commercial dryers on the market which may be set over the gas range or kitchen stove. One of the most practical is of the type of a large, flat tin box, into which water is poured through a small tunnel. The dryer, partly filled with water, is set on the range; the material is spread out on top of the dryer; the water heats gradually, and the material is soon dried.
Be sure the products are sufficiently dried before putting away, or they will mold.
Containers for storing dried products must be moisture proof. Tin cans, glass jars, heavy paper bags, and cardboard boxes make good containers. If paper bags or boxes are used, put them where rats and insects will not get at them.