This section is from the book "Save It For Winter.", by Frederick Fry Rockwell. Also available from Amazon: Save It For Winter; Modern Methods Of Canning, Dehydrating, Preserving And Storing Vegetables And Fruit For Winter Use, With Comments On The Best ... For Saving, And When And How To Grow Them.
As we have already seen, in considering the saving of food for winter by drying, the moisture content is lowered and the sugar content raised to a point where bacteria, yeast and mold find a condition or environment in which they cannot thrive sufficiently to cause the food to spoil.
The first problem in the practice of food drying, therefore, is to determine what is the best method to get rid of the surplus moisture which is to be extracted from the food product to be saved. The first method coming to mind, probably, would be to put it in the oven and dry it to a crisp. Experiments have shown, however, that in the drying of food products to save them, two things must be guarded against: first, if they are made too dry, the cell-structure is altered and they cannot be brought back to their original condition when wanted for use. Second, if the water is extracted by heating them too suddenly, or at too high a temperature, the flavor of the food will be altered.
What should be aimed at, then, is a method which will extract just sufficient of the water from the product to make it keep perfectly and to do this with as little change as possible in the product itself: that is, injuring the product as little as possible physically and keeping it at as low a temperature as possible to avoid scorching, charring, or even cooking it. These facts should always be kept in mind in preparing foods for keeping for winter by drying.
Few persons have any conception of the amount of water which the average fruit or vegetable contains. If all of the water should be suddenly extracted from a potato or apple which you held in your hand, there would be nothing left but a small hard sphere about the size and weight of a large marble, or a "skeleton" potato or apple about as heavy as a puff-ball.
The drying of fruits and vegetables was formerly done quite extensively as a method of saving food for winter in the home; this disappeared to a large extent with the advent of canning, because the methods of drying then in use were available only for a limited number of things and did not give a uniform product. This, however, was due to the methods used and not to the practice of drying vegetables. In Europe, even before the war, vegetables were saved by drying on a much larger scale than in this country, without doubt one of the secrets of Germany's being able to maintain herself against starvation, notwithstanding that she did not have access to the outside world in obtaining food for her millions of population, was the fact that the surplus of vegetables, and especially of the tremendous crops of potatoes, had been dried and stored for future use for years. Since the war, an important part of the food conservation program in every European coun try has been the drying of summer surpluses of fruits and vegetables for winter use. The importance of this method has been so fully realized by the various governments that they have taken it under their direct control, building enormous municipal drying plants and establishing community dryers where they would be of the most use, and even sending portable drying outfits from one farm to another to save all the available surpluses. Immense contracts have been given concerns in the United States and in Canada to supply dehydrated vegetables for the use of the civil population and of the armies in Europe.
It is not merely as a, war measure that the form of saving food for winter by drying will be of importance, without doubt within the next few years the drying of many vegetables will assume almost as much importance, both commercially and in the home, as "canned goods" now do. with some vegetables, and especially where there is plenty of room and suitable conditions for storing, it is not supposed that drying will take the place of canning and of winter storing; but there is hardly a home where it cannot be used to advantage for some things. Dried products require very much less expense for containers, such as glass jars, cans, etc., than canned products, and they require very much less room for their storage. The dry products can be kept in wax paper and other containers that could not be used for canned goods. They can be exposed to freezing without the danger of breakage and loss. Another point of great importance to the family which, as many do, spends the summer in the country is that the dry products can be put up during the summer or in vacation weeks and easily taken back to the city; whereas canned products involve great risks and expense in transportation, even if there is a place to store them after they are brought back to the city.
Fig. 8 - A home-made drier such as shown above, swung over the stove will saw many pounds and quarts of vegetables and fruits that would otherwise go to waste. All the work of preparing products for drying can be done in a cool place, and at odd moments.
While all these things make a difference to the woman living in the country, they are of still greater importance to the city housekeeper. with her, usually, storage room is at a great premium, and often kitchen space also is cramped. The effort necessary to put up any amount of canned products causes her to depend almost wholly upon the store for her winter vegetables, either fresh or canned. The city housewife, on the other hand, usually has the best of facilities for drying products by modern methods. In most homes electricity is available and without that the gas range, with its easy and accurate control of heat, makes drying a comparatively simple matter. Even though only small quantities be dried at a time, the total at the end of the season will be a very considerable amount of food stored for winter use.