Along with canning and other natural methods of preservation, drying is a simple and effective means of preserving surplus fruits and vegetables. It may supplement canning when there is a large amount to be preserved, and can add some diversity to flavors and textures. Dried fruits, such as apricots, prunes, figs, apples, dates, raisins, berries etc., have become familiar food items in many households and taste great. Like canning, certain rules must be followed to ensure food safety, maintain flavors, and maximize storage life. There are several effective ways to dry food. But whichever drying method is used, it is absolutely necessary for air to be able to circulate around the food.
Sun Drying. Though not as sanitary as other drying methods, many foods can be dried using the sun. However, sun drying should not be attempted without consistently hot and dry weather and not all food types should be sundried. Find a good exposure that receives full sun. Sun drying is easy and cheap, but care must be taken to achieve safe and flavorful results. One way to achieve this is to make a wire-mesh frame set up on four posts, about three feet from the ground. Cover the wire with cheesecloth and spread fruit or vegetables out carefully in single layers, then cover with mosquito netting to protect from insects. Don’t overlap the foods or they won’t dry uniformly.
If long, continued hot, dry weather is expected, if properly covered, it may be possible to leave the food out overnight. Where the frame stands well above the ground, dew will generally not affect the food unless near a river or other water source, where humidity is high. Depending on the size of the batch, a great deal of unnecessary labor can be eliminated by leaving the material out overnight. Spread a clean tarp over the top of the wire frame at night to keep the dampness out. Do not let the tarp rest on the food but fasten it in the posts at the sides. The tarp should be removed early in the morning to allow for air circulation and to take advantage of the morning sun.
Oven Drying. Arrange food to be dried on racks and put in the oven on low to medium-low heat. Depending on the type of food, thickness, and temperature, oven drying usually takes about 6-8 hours.
Commercial Dryers. From basic to elaborate, there are many commercial dryers on the market. Consumer freeze dryers are even available if you’re willing to pay the price. While some of these new gadgets have notable traits, for our purposes we’ve found that the inexpensive modals seem to work pretty well. They’re basically just a fan with a small heater, but in our experience, they provide fast and consistent results.
Sweet Corn. Sweet corn Is an excellent vegetable to dry, but never dry corn in the sun. Corn won’t dry quickly enough in the sun before spoiling. Well-developed sweet ears should be chosen. Blanch in boiling water for three minutes before plunging in cold water to ‘set the milk’. With a sharp knife cut the corn from the cob, being careful not to cut into the cob. Spread thinly on baking sheets or racks. Place in oven at medium heat or in a commercial drier until hard and will rattle. Depending on method, it may be necessary to turn the corn several times during drying. To rehydrate, soak corn in cold water for four hours. Cook in the same water until soft.
Snap Beans. Only dry fresh beans with tender pods. String the beans and cut the pods in strips lengthwise. Spread thinly on oven racks, commercial dryer, or put outside on cheesecloth on wire rack. Leave until well shriveled up and leathery. Beans should not be brittle and snap. When they have reached this stage, they’re overdried and may be tough when rehydrated. Store dried beans in paper bags or another permeable container. To rehydrate, cover with cold water and soak 4-6 hours. Cook in the same water until soft.
Lima Beans. Shell the beans and spread on racks. In a commercial drier, lima beans usually dry in three to six hours. Sun drying usually takes three days.
Herb Leaves. Wash and spread leaves on a baking sheet and put in the oven on low heat. When thoroughly dry, crush the leaves with a rolling pin before putting in bottles.
Eggplant. Eggplant should be dried by artificial heat, either in the oven or on a commercial drier. If dried in the sun, which is a longer process, it will turn dark colored. Peel the eggplant, cut in slices one-half inch thick, and cut the slices into cubes. Place in the oven on racks or on a drier until the eggplant is dry and leathery. To rehydrate, soak for 4-6 hours and prepare like fresh eggplant.
Onions, Carrots, Turnips. If winter vegetables can be kept in a root cellar, it’s usually best not to dry them. However, it’s often convenient to dry these vegetables to have them on hand for soups and other recipes. Slice onions thin, and dry in the oven. Carrots and turnips also dry quickly in the oven. They should first be scrubbed and then sliced thin. To rehydrate for use in soups, simply add a half-cupful of dried carrots, turnips, onions, or whatever is desired.
Peas. Peas, like corn, require quick drying, or they will mold. Do not blanch. Shell peas then spread out thinly. When dry, peas look shriveled and are hard. To rehydrate, soak in cold water until they have taken on their regular size and appearance. Cook in the same water until soft.
Peppers. Split sweet peppers and remove seeds. Most peppers dry well in the oven, commercial dryers, or the sun. To rehydrate, soak in water four hours, or until the peppers have taken up enough moisture to be soft. Stuff or cut up and use as flavoring in hash or soup.
Spinach, Beet Greens, and Leafy Vegetables. Wash, pick leaves from stems, and spread out to dry. These types of greens can be dried in the sun, a commercial dryer, or in the oven. Two to three days is necessary for drying spinach outdoors. With a commercial drier, this can be accomplished in 3-6 hours or less.
15 cups ripe tomatoes
2 tablespoons carrot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
salt to taste
Wash ripe tomatoes and remove stems; mash in a pot skins and all. Add onions, carrot, and parsley. Boil slowly five hours. Pour into a cheesecloth bag of two thicknesses and drain thoroughly without squeezing the bag. Move contents of bag to a fine sieve and press until nothing is left but skins and seeds. Add salt to taste before putting on shallow baking pan. Place in the oven on medium heat or outside if dry, hot conditions exist. If sun drying, take in at night and protect from insects with netting. Paste is ready when it can be rolled in a ball and is the consistency of butter. Put in sterilized jar, with bits of bay leaf. Fill jar up to one-half inch from the top, and cover with olive oil. This makes a good seal. Replace oil after using paste. Use for flavoring soups, meat dishes, etc.
Apples. It is not advisable to dry early varieties of apples, since they lack firmness and flavor. Peel, core, and slice apples in rings one-fourth inch in thickness. Arrange slices in rows on trays. Place in the sun, a commercial dryer, or the oven. Sun drying usually requires three or four days. Drying in the oven or with a commercial drier is much quicker. The texture of the dried apple should be leathery, velvety, and soft. Dried apples are great eaten as is or can be added to recipes in place of fresh apples.
Peaches. Cut in halves and remove pits. Dry without removing the skin. Place in a commercial drier, or on racks in the oven, with pit side up. Sprinkle lightly with sugar and dry until shriveled and leathery.
Pears. Peel, core, and cut fruit into eighths. Pears tend to dry best in a commercial dryer, but can also be dried in the oven, or depending on weather conditions, using the sun. Pears should be dried quickly, or they will discolor. Quinces may be dried in the same manner.
Blueberries, huckleberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Spread on racks and dry in the oven, a commercial dryer, or outdoors. If a commercial drier or oven is used, take care to ensure the temperature doesn’t get too hot or the berries will cook. Raspberries will dry in the oven in about three hours.