There is perhaps nothing as satisfying as "putting up" your own food. Bottling and drying are the traditional ways of preserving homegrown produce. Drying food is one of the oldest methods of saving food for another day. This process involves removing moisture from food, while exposing it to temperature increases and moving air.
Dried fruits provide an inexpensive and sweet alternative to sugary store-bought foods. Fruit leathers and jerky are two examples of snack replacements that you can produce at home for virtually pennies.
The three primary ways of home drying food today are: sun-drying, oven-drying, and using a food dehydrator.
Sun-drying is ideal for fruits such as apricots, peaches, grapes, and figs, although there is other produce suitable for drying. Sun-drying requires a number of hot (85 degrees or higher) days with relatively low humidity. Spread thin pieces of fruit evenly across a shallow pan and cover with a cheesecloth to keep the food safe from bugs. Putting boxes in the back seat of a car and laying the tray on top, with full exposure to the sun through the back windshield, is one creative way people have dried food. Others have used sunny porches, balconies and even flat roofs to dry their food.
Oven-drying involves drying food at temperatures between 130 and 150 degrees. (Some older ovens may not have temperature settings this low). As in sun-drying, distribute pieces of food in a shallow pan or dish. You may want to check the food periodically for adequate dehydration.
If the temperature is too low or the humidity too high when sun or oven-drying, the food may dry too slowly or even spoil. When the temperature is too high it could cook the food and make it hard on the outside, while leaving the inside moist and vulnerable to molding or other forms of spoilage from microorganisms.
Commercial food dehydrators offer the most controlled drying environment. They provide a constant ideal temperature combined with heated air that circulates via a blower or fan. Most food dehydrators also offer liners and trays for dehydrating fruit leather and small, sticky foods. Fruits, vegetables, and meats can dry while you are away at work, asleep, or doing your household chores with minimal worry or fuss.
After drying the food, cool it to room temperature and loosely package in plastic bags, hard plastic containers, or glass jars. For longer-term preservation, pack in airtight containers. Foods that you dehydrate yourself are not only great for snacks at home but are useful when camping or backpacking since they do not require refrigeration.
There are many good books on the market that specifically describe how to dry fruits, vegetables and meats with delicious recipes included. We at Emergency Essentials often carry books on dehydrating.