Drying is the oldest method of preserving food. Throughout history,
the sun, the wind, and for savories, a smokey fire were used to remove water from
fruits, meats, grains, and herbs. Imagine the cavemen walking through
the forest in November, long after the harvst, looking for food and
finding fruits that had dried up on the tree and were still plump and
edible. The primitive people realized that fruit was even more of a
treat this way. So they realized that while fruit was abundant, in
summer, they could dry it, stash it in gourds for winter when there
was no fruit available.
By definition, food dehydration is the process of removing water from
food by circulating hot air through it, which prohibits the growth of
enzymes and bacteria.
Benefits of Dried Food
Dried foods are tasty, nutritious, lightweight, easy-to-prepare, and
easy-to-store and use. The energy input is less than what is needed to
freeze or can, and the storage space is minimal compared with that
needed for canning jars and freezer containers.
The nutritional value of food is only minimally affected by drying.
Vitamin A is retained during drying, however, because vitamin A is light
sensitive, food containing it should be stored in dark places. Yellow
and dark green vegetables, such as peppers, carrots, winter squash, and
sweet potatoes, have high vitamin A content. Vitamin C is destroyed by
exposure to heat, although pretreating foods with lemon, orange, or
pineapple juice increases vitamin C content.
Dried foods are high in fiber and carbohydrates and low in fat, making
them healthy food choices. Dried foods that are not completely dried are
susceptible to mold.
Microorganisms are effectively killed when the internal temperature of
food reaches 145 degrees Farenheit (F).
Equipment Needed for Drying
To be certain of the final quality and consistent drying of foods, a
dehydrator is recommended, especially with unpredictable weather. Sharp
knives and a food processor or blender will also make the drying task
Many guidelines call for blanching, steaming, or pretreating foods.
Equipment for these processes include a deep kettle with a lid and a
wire basket, a colander, or an open mesh cloth bag to hold produce. A
non-metal bowl is best for pretreating fruits and vegetables to prevent
Preparing Food for Drying
Select ripe fruit for drying. Bruised fruit can be used if you trim away
any bruised spots. Do not use molding food for drying.
Slicing foods allows the dry air to circulate and dry the surface area
of the food first. Cut foods into 1/8-inch to 1/2-inch slices. The
higher the water content, the larger you should make the slice size.
Small slices of high-moisture foods, such as watermelon, would disappear
when all the moisture has evaporated.
Peel fruits and vegetables, including bananas, melons, winter squash,
and other foods. Do not peel plums, apricots or cherries
Pretreatments are techniques used to make quality products.
Pretreatments include dipping, blanching, cooking, or candying.
Dipping prevents oxidation or color changes in fruits and vegetables.
Dip fruits in pineapple or orange juice. Dip vegetables in diluted
bottled lemon juice (dilute 1/4 cup of lemon juice in 2 cups water, then
dip vegetables and some fruits for 2 to 3 minutes).
Commercial fresh fruit stabilizers can also be used (dilute 1/2
Tablespoon of stabilizer in 2 cups water). Sodium sulfite is another
commercial product for pretreating foods. (Note, some people are
allergic to this. ) Maybe better to make a homemade stabilizer,
mix 1 Tablespoon of salt or vinegar with 8 cups of water or dissolve one
500 mg tablet of vitamin C per 1 cup of water.
Blanching is recommended for asparagus, green beans, broccoli, Brussels
sprouts, cauliflower, and peas. Blanch for a very short period to cause
checking of skins.
Making Fruit Leathers from Fresh Fruit
Select ripe or slightly overripe fruit. Wash fresh fruit or berries in
cool water. Remove peel, seeds, and stem. Cut fruit into chunks. Use 2
cups of fruit for each 13-inch by 15-inch fruit leather. Purse fruit
until smooth. Add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice or 1/8 teaspoon ascorbic
acid (375 mg.) for each 2 cups of light-colored fruit to prevent
If you choose to sweeten the leather, add corn syrup, honey, or sugar.
Corn syrup or honey is best for longer storage because they do not
crystallize. Sugar is fine for immediate use or short storage. Use 1 1/4
to 1 1/2 cups sugar, corn syrup, or honey for each 2 cups of fruit.
Saccharin-based sweeteners could also be used to reduce tartness without
adding calories. Aspartame sweeteners may lose sweetness during drying.
Leathers from Canned or Frozen Fruit
Home-preserved or store-bought canned or frozen fruit may also be used
to make leathers. Drain fruit and save liquid. Use 1 pint of fruit for
each 13-inch by 15-inch leather. Purse fruit until smooth--if too thick,
add liquid. Add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice or 1/8 teaspoon ascorbic acid
(375 mg.) for each 2 cups of light-colored fruit to prevent darkening.
Applesauce can be dried alone or added to any fresh fruit purse as an
extender. It decreases tartness and makes the leather smoother and more
Preparing the Trays
For drying in the oven, a 13-inch by 15-inch cookie pan with edges works
well. Line pan with plastic wrap, being careful to smooth out wrinkles.
Do not use waxed paper or aluminum foil.
To dry in a dehydrator, purchase specially designed plastic sheets or
line plastic trays with plastic wrap.
Pouring the Leather
Fruit leathers can be poured into a single large sheet (13-inch by
15-inch) or into several smaller sizes pieces. Spread puree evenly.
About 1/8-inch thick, onto drying tray. Avoid pouring purse too close to
the edge of the cookie sheet. The larger fruit leathers take longer to
dry. Approximate drying times are 6 to 8 hours in a dehydratorup to 18
hours in an ovenand 1 to 2 days in the sun.
Drying the Leather
Dry fruit leathers at l40 degrees F. Leather dries from the outside edge
toward the center. Test for dryness by touching center of leatherno
indention should be evident. While warm, peel leather from plastic and
roll. Then, allow the leather to cool and rewrap the roll in plastic.
Chances are the fruit leather won't last long enough for storage. If it
doesit will keep up to 1 month at room temperature. For storage up to 1
yearplace tightly wrapped rolls in the freezer.
Adapted from BellMary. Complete Dehydrator CookbookNew York: William
Morrow and CompanyInc.1994.
The Seven Major Mistakes in Food Storage
A month or two ago I met a cute little gal who was talking to me about
her newly begun food storage. You know, she began, I've dreaded doing my
storage for years, it seems so blah, but the way national events are
going my husband and I decided we couldn't put it off anymore. And, do
you know, it really hasn't been so hard. We just bought 20 bags of
wheat, my husband found a farmer who'd sell us 60 pound cans of honey, and now
all we have to do is get a couple of cases of powdered milk.
Could you tell me where to get the milk? After I suggested several
distributors, I asked, Do you know how to cook with your Wheat? Oh, she
laughed, if we ever need it I'll learn how. My kids only like white bread
and I don't have a wheat grinder. She had just made every major mistake
in storing food (other than not storing anything at all). But she's not
alone, through 14 years of helping people prepare, I found most peoples
storage starts out looking just like hers.
So whats wrong with this storage plan?
There are seven serious problems that may occur trying to live on these
1. Variety - Most people don't have enough variety in their storage. 95%
of the people I've worked with have only stored the 4 basic items we
mentioned earlier: wheat, milk, honey, and salt. Statistics show most of
us wont survive on such a diet for several reasons.
A) Many people are allergic to wheat and may not be aware of it until
they are eating it meal after meal.
B) Wheat is too harsh for young children. They can tolerate it in small
amounts but not as their main staple.
C) We get tired of eating the same foods over and over and many times
prefer to not eat, then to sample that particular food again.
This is called appetite fatigue. Young children and older people are
particularly susceptible to it. Store less wheat than is generally
suggested and put the difference into a variety of other grains,
particular ones your family likes to eat. Also store a variety of beans.
This will add variety of color texture and flavor. Variety is the key to
a successful storage program. It is essential that you store flavorings
such as tomato, bouillon, cheese, and onion, dried parsley.
Also, include a good supply of the spices you like to cook with. These
flavorings and spices allow you to do many creative things with your
grains and beans. Without them you are severely limited. One of the best
suggestions I can give you is buy a good food storage cookbook, go
through it, and see what your family would really eat. Notice the
ingredients as you do it. This will help you more than anything else to
know what items to store.
2. Extended Staples - Few people get beyond storing the four basic items
but its extremely important that you do so. Never put all your eggs in
one basket. Store dehydrated and/or freeze dried foods as well as home
canned and store bought canned goods. Make sure you add cooking oil,
shortening, baking powder, soda, yeast and powdered eggs. You cant cook
even the most basic recipes without these items. Because of limited
space I wont list all the items that should be included in a
well-balanced storage program. They are included in the The New Cooking
With Home Storage cookbook, as well as information on how much to store,
and where to purchase it.
3. Vitamins - Vitamins are important, especially if you have children,
since children do not store body reserves of nutrients as adults do. A
good quality multi-vitamin and vitamin C are the most vital. Others
might be added as your budget permits.
4. Quick and Easy and Psychological Foods - Quick and easy foods help
you through times when you are psychologically or physically unable to
prepare your basic storage items. No cook foods such as freeze-dried are
wonderful since they require little preparation, MRE's (Meal Ready to
Eat)such as many preparedness outlets carry, canned goods, etc. Are also
very good. Psychological Foods are the goodies - dried fruits, dates,
raisins, nuts, bar chocolate, not necessarily sugared as candy but baker's
chocolate. Get tasty blue or yellow field corn to parch and grind into masa, then
turn into chips. You should add these to your storage.
These may sound frivolous, but through the years I've talked with many
people who have lived entirely on their storage for extended periods of
time. Nearly all of them say these were the most helpful items in their
storage to normalize their situations and make it more bearable. These
are especially important if you have children.
5. Balance - Time and time again I've seen families buy all of their
wheat, then buy all of another item and so on. Don't do that. Its
important to keep well-balanced as you build your storage. Buy several
items, rather than a large quantity of one item. If something happens
and you have to live on your present storage you'll fare much better
having a one month supply of a variety of items than a years supply of
two to three items.
6. Containers - Always store your bulk foods in food storage containers.
I have seen literally tons and tons of food thrown away because they
were left in sacks, where they became highly susceptible to moisture,
insects, and rodents. If you are using plastic buckets make sure they
are lined with a food grade plastic liner available from companies that
carry packaging supplies. Never use trash can liners as these are
treated with pesticides. Don't stack them too high. In an earthquake
they may topple --the lids pop open or they may crack. A better
container is the #10 tin can which most preparedness companies use when
they package their foods. 31 oz coffee tins with tight lids are good for grains,
7. Use Your Storage - In all the years I've worked with preparedness one
of the biggest problems I've seen is people storing food and not knowing
what to do with it. Its vital that you and your family become familiar
with the things you are storing. You need to know how to prepare these
foods. This is not something you want to have to learn under stress.
Your family needs to be used to eating these foods.
8. Hit the farmers in Summer and load up. The cherry farm lets you pick
buckets all summer for a wholesale rate. Take them up on that offer and do it.
Bring the buckets home, dry them, Make your fruit leathers. If
the recession doesn't deepen, you give them away at Christmas. Do this
every year. Load up, process, store, give it away at Christmas. Or turn
it into fruit cakes.
A stressful period is not a good time to totally change your diet. Get a
good food storage cookbook and learn to use these foods!
Its easy to solve these food storage problems once you know what they
are. The lady I talked about at the first of the article left realizing
what she had stored was a good beginning but not enough. As she saidIts
better to find out the mistakes I've made now while there's still time
to make corrections. This makes a lot more sense.
If you're one who needs to make some adjustments, that's OK. Look at
these suggestions and add the things you're missing. Its easy to take a
basic storage and add the essentials to make it livablebut it needs to
be done. As I did the research for my cookbookI wanted to include
recipes that gave help to families no matter what they had stored.
As I put the material together it was fascinating to discover what the
pioneers ate is the type of things we store. But if you have stored only
the 4 basics, there's very, very little you can do with it. By adding
even just a few things it greatly increases your options, and the
prospect of your family surviving on it. As I studied how the pioneers
lived and atemy whole feeling for food storage changed. I realized our
storage is what most of the world has always lived on. If its put
together the right way well be returning to good basic living with a few
goodies thrown in.
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