CONSERVATION BY DRYING
How American Housewives Made It Hot for the Kaiser
Antoinette's milliner once remarked that there is nothing new except what
is forgotten. One of the "new" methods of food conservation practiced by the
women of America during the war was that of drying food. To most of them the
process was an absolute novelty, yet it is as old as civilization itself. It is
merely one of those practices so long out of use as to be forgotten.
Most of us are familiar with dried apples and the evaporated
fruits of California, but there our knowledge ends. To most of us it comes as a
distinct surprise, to learn that practically all vegetables and fruits can be
preserved for future use by drying. Certainly it was a great surprise to most of
the housewives of America when they were asked to conserve food, not only by
canning, with even which process many were only slightly acquainted, but also by
drying, a method practically unheard of.
Drying is both economical and simple as a method of
preserving food. It requires no elaborate or costly apparatus. The finished
product can be kept in any sort of containers that are clean; whereas in canning
expensive glass receptacles must be purchased. Dried foods are compact, thus
saving space in storing and shipping. The original quality and flavor of the
dried product is largely retained; and when dried foods are restored by proper
soaking, they can hardly be distinguished from fresh vegetables and fruits.
IS NOT LECTURING, HE WON THE CANNING CONTEST
The women of Elmhurst, New York, were not jealous but applauded when the
announcement was made on the evening of their war-garden contest that the first
prize for canned vegetables, carrying with it the National Capitol Prize
Certificate, had been awarded by the judges to Mr. Charles A. Rundquist. He did
his garden and canning work in the late afternoons and evenings.
Specifically, dried food products are products free from
moisture. The words "dried" and "drying" are applied in general to foods
preserved in a comparatively water-free state, without regard to the method of
drying employed. Technically, the term "dried" as applied to food products means
products that are dried by exposure to the heat of the sun; "evaporating" is
drying by artificial heat; "dehydrating" is drying by artificial air blast, the
process often including the application of artificial heat as well.
The duration of the drying process varies with the method
chosen, the size and degree of compactness of the material to be dried, the
variety of the product, the range of temperature, and the humidity of the
atmosphere. Two hours is sufficient time to dry some products by evaporation or
dehydration. Other products may require from one to several days for sun-drying.
Practically all fruits and vegetables, it was early found,
can be dried successfully so far as the "keeping" quality is concerned. It was
discovered, however, that many dried vegetables were unpalatable when eventually
cooked and served. Enzymic action in the raw products, as well as bacterial
action, caused chemical changes which not only affected the flavor of dried food
but to some extent also affected its wholesomeness. The problem thus arose as to
how this disadvantage could be overcome.
Cooking was tried. Complete cooking, parboiling, and even
partial cooking were employed with various vegetables, until it was found that a
certain minimum period of boiling water treatment was favorable to both the
wholesomeness and the flavor of dried products.
This treatment, which varies in time for different products,
has been accepted as an essential part of the proper drying of vegetables. It is
called "blanching." By it the protoplasm is killed and enzymic action stopped.
There is a thorough cleansing and a destruction of many bacteria. Furthermore
the flow of coloring matter is started, and the color of the product thus
accentuated. The fibers are loosened and softened and a condition created which
facilitates the giving-off of moisture in the drying process.
In "cooking" food, heat is usually applied long enough to
alter the nature of certain materials, such as starch, rendering them
digestible. Blanching should not be confused with cooking as it differs both in
purpose and effect. It is a preparatory process by which the wholesomeness and
flavor of a sound product are retained through the temporary stoppage of
chemical changes due to agencies present and to bacterial action when raw flesh
is exposed to the air. The drying process should follow at once, and be done as
rapidly as possible, with due attention to the proper temperatures, which range
from 115° to 175° according to the products handled.
TO DRY VEGETABLES
Dehydration except in the case of a few fruits is comparatively a new art in
this country, and yet the process is simple. Practically all vegetables can be
dried successfully. An effective drier to hang over a stove is simply made. The
trays are of galvanized wire screen of small mesh tacked to the frame. A rotary
slicer cuts the vegetables into uniform slices and secures regularity in drying.
If products are not dried sufficiently, the moisture
retained makes a medium for the development of bacteria and mold, and spoilage
occurs. How much water to extract becomes therefore, an important consideration.
The abundant sugar present in most fruits acts as a preservative and therefore
it is not necessary that they be so dry as vegetables. A rational method of
determining the right degree of drying for the finished state is by the texture
of the products. Most vegetables should be rather brittle when taken from the
drier, and fruits should be leathery and pliable. One method of determining
whether fruit is dry enough is to squeeze a handful, and if the fruit separates
when the hand is opened, it is dry enough. Another way is to squeeze a single
piece; if no moisture comes to the surface the piece is sufficiently dry.
Berries are dry enough if they stick to the hand but do not crush when pressed.
There is considerable shrinkage in bulk and weight when
products are dried. The reduction in weight is in direct proportion to the
amount of moisture lost, but the reduction in bulk varies with both the
structure of the product and the amount of water removed. In general terms it
may be said that foods, in drying, are reduced to a bulk ranging from one-third
to one-fifth of their original volume and to a weight from one-sixth to
one-twelfth of the weight of the fresh material.
After the Boer War, considerable surplus dried vegetable
material, no longer needed for the English army, was put into barrels and stored
away. The barrels were opened during the European war and the contents
satisfactorily used for army rations. Products thus kept unchanged in quality
and flavor for eighteen years might reasonably be supposed to keep well almost
Naturally enough, most of the conservation of food so far
accomplished through drying has been done by housewives in their homes.
Home drying is profitable both to the household and the
nation; but if a neighborhood or community pools its expenditures for equipment
and works as a unit, a larger amount of material may be dried with greater
convenience and a considerable saving of labor, time, and fuel. A bigger drier
than could be put into a home kitchen can be set up in a schoolhouse, parish
house, clubhouse, or other accessible place for common use in drying; and
definite hours of duty can be assigned to different persons. Such, in general,
is the plan of neighborhood or community drying. Details as to how much material
each person may bring at one time, just when such material shall be brought, and
who shall be on duty to regulate the drier, should be worked out by a small
committee, preferably of three persons.
Each woman should prepare her own products and leave in good
order the utensils she has used. When people are novices at drying it is
advisable to hire a paid expert for a short time, and if the arrangement for a
common drier is to cover the entire community, the continuous services of at
least one salaried person is necessary. Some one is also required to do regular
cleaning in the quarters used. This may require an hour a day, once or twice a
week, or all day every day, according to the needs.
MONTANA PRIZE CANNER
Although she had never done any gardening or canning before, Irene McMahon, a
twelve-year-old girl of Missoula, Montana, won the first award for the products
she conserved and exhibited. She received a National Capitol Prize Certificate
from the National War Garden Commission.
Our country is calling upon the women of America to do
their utmost to preserve for winter use all garden, orchard and market surplus.
In millions of homes prompt action has been taken for home canning and drying.
There remains, in addition, an enormous surplus still uncared for. The solution
of the problem is to be found in community drying, which is simply organized
drying, not for commercial profit, but for mutual aid and facility in the
conservation of vegetables and fruit for home use.
How can a community drier best be started? If three to six or
eight families are to benefit, it will be necessary to secure a room with
running water in or near it. A space is necessary for conditioning, and,
provided it is not damp, the same room or one near by may be used. Space and
facilities for blanching vegetables are essential, so that chimney, gas or
electric connection is also needed. Such a place can doubtless be found in the
home of one of the members.
An evaporator can be purchased for from $25.00 to $50.00. A
stove to supply heat to the evaporator is needed and very probably would not
have to be bought. A home-made dehydrator can be readily devised and is
practical where rates for electricity are low. A motor-fan running on kerosene
or alcohol is also on the market. Hot air combined with the fan makes the drying
more rapid. Drying by air blast without heat is satisfactory in dry climates.
Where the atmosphere is humid, the process takes a long time and the addition of
heat is desirable.
A slicer for vegetables costs $1.50 or more, according to
size. Tables and other utensils may be collected from the different households.
White oilcloth for tables, cheese-cloth for use in protecting material from
insects and dust, and pasteboard cartons for containers of dried products would
make necessary slight extra purchases. Butter containers are useful for holding
dried products, as are also baking-powder cans and similar covered tins.
If an entire community is to be organized, it will be
necessary to ascertain how many families will use the community plant and
approximately how much material will be dried daily. These things determined, a
drier can be chosen intelligently. Because of its usual hot-air blast, which
dries products more quickly than they can be dried by the evaporating process, a
dehydrator is often preferable. The cost of a satisfactory dehydrator may be put
at $1,000 to $2,500. A homemade outfit may be constructed at considerably less
expense. Carpenters and men installing hearting apparatus will usually be glad
to furnish estimates of cost, if supplied with a description of the apparatus
Mr. C.W. Pugsley* devised a successful community plant, which
was first used at Lincoln, Nebraska. His method is dehydration minus heat, which
system is serviceable in dry climates. The cost of an outfit like this would be
$250 or more according to the local cost of materials and labor. Twelve of these
driers have been in successful operation. Instead of air being forced over the
products, suction is used, the theory being that the drying is quickened by this
reversal of the air blast.
*For dimension and
detailed directions, see "A Successful Community Drying Plant, " by C.W. Pugsley,
Farmers' Bulletin 916, United States Department of Agriculture.
[ed. note–If you know where I can
find this publication, please
HELPED TO CAN THE KAISER
The Inland Steel Company's plant, at South Chicago, Illinois, was blessed with
patriotic employes. Their war gardens supplied vegetables regularly to the South
Chicago Day Nursery and to many needy families. The picture shows patriotism
expressed in both slogans and canned vegetables.
Illustrations, descriptions, and prices of several
standard ready-made evaporators and dehydrators should be obtained from dealers
or manufacturers. From technical training institutions information can be
obtained as to the cost of procuring persons for instruction and management to
take charge of a drying plant. In making an estimate of funds needed there
should be included also service for cleaning, cost of operation of stove, fan,
or both, and $25.00 to $30.00 for accessory equipment. It should be clear to all
concerned that a major part of the expenditure would represent investment for an
indefinite number of seasons, and should not be considered in terms of one
The committee or individual promoter, with the estimate in
hand, may then consider how best to finance the matter. The local Chamber of
Commerce or a leading women's club is a suitable organization to back a movement
for organized food conservation. Such emergency activities should be as far as
possible conducted by committees of established central bodies. The unnecessary
multiplication of associations is a handicap to a community.
Adequate organization, as well as backing is necessary. It
is essential to have the right executive machinery as to have the proper
material facilities. There should be an equipment committee, a publicity
committee, a workers' committee, a food supplies committee, and an executive
committee composed of the chairman of these. All committees should meet at least
once a month. In charge of the drying plant there should be a man or a woman of
technical training and experience. There should be a checker to keep account of
products, and a book-keeper. Volunteer service is usually obtainable for these
duties. Women who help to prepare and dry extra products which are sent in as
general surplus should be paid by the hour. Such payment should be in products
rather than in money, and the value of the products should be based upon market
prices of fresh products plus the cost of drying, including labor.
The location is important. It should be central and suitable.
School kitchens are usually available, are fitted with various conveniences, and
are rarely used during the summer. Church kitchens are sometimes offered, but
their use sometimes interferes with other activities on the social side of
church work which it may not be wise to interrupt. Empty stores or space in a
gas or electric company's quarters are good possibilities.
The schoolhouse is usually the most economic choice. In fact,
parts of the house itself may frequently be converted into dehydrators. When
viewed merely from a local standpoint, it may seem advisable simply to buy a
ready-made dehydrator; but considering the number of communities in the whole
country, and the need for drying operations in each one, it is uneconomic to
buy. There are not enough dehydrators made to dry the surplus home products of
the country; shortage of man-power renders an adequate development of their
manufacture difficult, not to say impossible.
GOES WITH THE FLAG
The American flag has meant food to Belgium and other countries. In this picture
is shown Walter Wolski, an employe of the Inland Steel Company, of South
Chicago, who had the prize garden among the employes at the plant. He raised
produce worth close to $200 and his wife put up more than 200 cans of
Mr. W.L. Feisher writes in the Journal of American
Society of Heating and Ventilating Engineers, April, 1918:
I claim that in our newer schools and in our public
buildings throughout the country, those things that are required for the drying
of food products are already at hand, and that the walls of the rooms, or the
corridors in these buildings, eliminate the necessity of a great part of the
kilns themselves, and that with very little ingenuity, the heating and
ventilating systems in our schools and public buildings can be turned into
dehydrating plants in quick order. As to the actual application of my idea, in
most of our schools the blowers are located in the basements and the main ducts
leading from these blowers are run through the corridors of the basements in the
various uptakes. It is my idea that these basement corridors can be turned into
tunnel driers by means of wooden partitions, or where the corridors are narrow
enough, only cut-offs and divisions are essential. The heated air can then be
blown into one end of the corridors and the duct blanked off with a damper
beyond this outlet. At the far end of the corridor or tunnel, another damper can
be placed and an inlet located at this point, with a connection taken from a
point beyond the first damper back into the fan so that recirculation from the
fan end of the tunnel can be obtained. In this way, we can create a very fair
tunnel drier, which according to commercial practice, is the very best and most
economical drier built.
It has ever been true that distance lends enchantment to
view. Only the near at hand and the familiar seem mean and commonplace. To use
what we already possess often seems both foolish and useless. Yet it was by
using the five loaves and two fishes from their own pouches that the disciples
fed the multitude, and many another miracle has been performed by utilizing what
is already at hand. In organizing community driers it will usually be found that
all the facilities needed already exist if only we have the vision to see them.
Existing organizations, existing buildings, existing apparatus, and the advice
and assistance of local carpenters, plumbers and other workmen will provide the
essentials for a successful community drier in almost any city or town. "Use
what you have" is a good motto for those about to organize a community drier.