DEANNA DeLONG has enough food stashed away in her three bedroom apartment in Portland, Ore., to feed her family for at least a year. She has 700 pounds of wheat under her childrens' beds and 400 pounds of sugar tucked under the living room furniture. If there is a natural disaster or another depression DeLong is in clover. Or to be more exact, in hundreds of pounds of dried fruits, dried vegetables, meat jerky and dried fish.
After three years of extensive research and experimentation with drying food DeLong has come up with a completely thorough everything-you-wanted-to-know-about "How To Dry Foods" (HP Books, $5.95). Her book covers every aspect of food drying from the history, to how to build a dehydrator, to dried food for babies. The paperback book has simple directions, color photographs and recipes on all the how-to's and don't do's of drying fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, nuts and seeds, meat and fish.
DeLong explains various home drying methods -- the sun, which has a sterilizing effect on some bacteria; room drying; stove-top drying; oven drying; microwave oven drying, and electric dehydrators with directions (WORD ILLEGIBLE) how to make one at home. Home models, however, are not strongly recommended.
"I am honest in this book," DeLong says as she names some driers on the market that are inadequate. Not only honest but accurate -- she describes exactly what you should look for in an electric home drier. (They average $150.) In fact, when she wrote the book (between 4 and 8 in the morning before her children woke) there wasn't a drier on the market that fit her specifications of safety, efficiency and reliability. There are now several. She does not name them, but the book gives a long listing of what to watch out for. "Some manufacturers try to fudge on the directions, telling you the trays don't have to be rotated, but if there aren't air vents on the side, they will have to be rotated."
It is not exactly a law, like not smoking or drinking alcohol, but a strong suggestion from the Mormon church that members store a year's supply of food in case the day of deprivation arrives. One way to squeeze hundreds of pounds of food into a five room apartment is to dehydrate it.
"Although some books will tell you anything can be dried, it isn't so," says DeLong, and she lists: berries with seeds, olives, cranberries, citrus fruits, avocados, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, kale, lettuce, squash and more.
To prepare sliced, pitted and peeled fruits for drying they must be soaked in ascorbic acid or sodium bisulfate to deter browning and treated with sulfer dioxide (there are a variety of methods offered on how to do this) which prevents vitamin loss, retards spoilage and contamination by insects. Health food advocates believe that sulfering is harmful, but DeLong says there is no evidence to support this. She does caution that sulfur dioxide fumes can be harmful to lungs and fruits should be treated with this chemical outdoors or in a room vented to the outside.
Once the fruit is treated it is placed on dehydrator racks to dry, or left to dry by other methods. The fruit can then be packaged and stored for an average of six months. Directions are also given for fruit leathers including charts that explain what fruits and combinations are best for making leather, problems making the leather, the causes and how to prevent them.
The fruits DeLong prepared were plump (especially the raisins) and in some cases, the pineapples and peaches, more fruitier dried than fresh because of the concentration of flavors and natural sugars. One common belief, which she points out, is that dried fruit is more caloric than fresh. Although there are slight caloric differences between dried sulfered fruit and fresh, they are not extreme. The difference is size. Because they are smaller, you eat more. For instance, it is possible to fit five fresh pears (about 110 calories each) into the palm of your hand when dried. The handful of dried pears takes about 3 minutes to eat.
Vegetables that deteriorate rapidly (such as green beans, corn and potatoes) also need to be pre-treated with sulfer dioxide, which can be done while blanching. Others are treated with cornstarch and baking soda, while legumes (shell beans, lentils and soybeans) can be partially dried on the plant. Many dried vegetables are not recommended for snacking, but for reconsituting. Recipes for reconsituted vegetables are fruit are given in the remainder of the book like Scandinavian fruit soup, Indian chutney, easy fruit gelatin, cream of vegetable soup, carrot cake, teriyaki jerky and a variety of fruit and nut trail mixes called light gorp, mixed gorp and dark gorp.
Directions are also given for drying meat without nitrates. DeLong does not recommend the use of sodium nitrate, currently under investigation by the FDA, in home drying because "precise controls are difficult to maintain."
DeLong's book is available at Brentanos, Walden Books, Neiman-Marcus, Smithsonian Bookstore, What's Cooking, Discount Records and Books and other stores in the Washington area.