( Originally Published 1917 )
Drying a cheap and simple process. One of the best means of adding to our food supply is the drying of fruit. The principal reason why this is true is that the drying process is simple and comparatively cheap. Another reason is that dried fruits generally retain, to a remarkable degree, the delicious flavor of the fresh fruit.
These things are far more important than they might seem to be at first glance. Only when forced by necessity will we eat that which does not appeal to our taste. Many nourishing foods are cheap, therefore, because they are neither palatable nor attractive. It is fortunate that a food delicious in flavor, rich in nourishment, and of excellent keeping quality is to be had at a relatively low price.
At first it is not easy to understand why a food having so many merits should still remain cheap. But if we consider the nature and source of certain of our dried fruits the reason is easily found. For instance, in localities favorable to the growth of the prune, the date, and the fig enormous crops of these fruits are produced. Only limited quantities of them can be used at home or shipped to near by markets when fresh. Therefore drying the fruits not only prevents great waste but continually extends their use, and makes possible a reasonable price.
Drying a fruit widens its use. If the prune could be had only fresh,canned,or as a preserve, it would probably be little known outside the localities close about the districts in which it is grown.Certainly this is also true of the fig and the date,which in dried form have almost a world wide distribution.
Then, too, there are certain varieties of other fruits which are excellent when dried, but which, in other forms, are not suitable for commerce. Raisin grapes head this list, with Grecian currants second.
Drying prevents waste. The larger part of our immense volume of dried fruit is made from crops raised for that especial .purpose. But it is quite true that growers sometimes resort to drying in order to save the surplus of an unusually heavy fruit crop from spoiling. This is probably done more often with peaches and apples than with any other fruits.
Suppose the peach trees in California,which furnishes practically all of our dried peaches,are loaded with a bumper crop and that sugar, glass jars, and tin cans are uncommonly high. This condition is certain to reduce greatly the canning of peaches, by both housewives and commercial canners. In such a situation one thing is reasonably sure to happen. The price of peaches will drop until there is little or no profit in harvesting them. You will remember that neither sugar, glass, nor tin is required in, drying fruits. Therefore, the heaviest items of expense are cut out. So, instead of leaving a large part of his peaches to rot on the ground, the grower finds a way out of his difficulty by drying the fruit.
In a normal year the United States produces about 300,000 tons, or more than 500,000,000 pounds, of dried fruits. This would give' about 6 pounds of fruit to each man, woman, and child in our country. Nearly 85 per cent of this comes from California. When trying to realize just how much this means in the problem of feeding the nation you should remember that dried fruit is a very compact food and that there is much more food value in one pound of dried fruit than there is in three or four pounds of the same fruit fresh.
A blessing to Indian and pioneer. Dried fruits have been used in America from aboriginal times. The Indians were drying apples and berries when the white man came to this country. Of course their way of doing it was as crude as their way of winter. This was also true of the early pioneers of this country. Without their stores of dried berries and other wild fruits their winter food supply would have been scant and unattractive. In fact, their only "sauce," except in summer and fall, was made from dried berries and other dried fruits.
America dries fruits for the world. It is doubtful if there is a country in the world to which America does not send dried fruits. We yearly export over 80,000 tons, or more than 179,000,000 pounds of dried fruit. Contrast this with the 26,500,000 pounds we import. We send whole shiploads of dried fruits to England, France, and Germany, and lesser quantities to Russia, Italy, and Australia, and to various countries of Asia, Africa, and South America.
What the world sends us. In return we receive from abroad chiefly the smaller dried fruits. Raisins we get from Spain, Asiatic Turkey, and Greece. Currants we buy from Greece. Dates, which require a hot, dry climate for growth and ripening, come from Northern Africa and Western Asia. Persia leads in the production of dates, but shipments come from Turkey also. Turkey is our chief source for figs, although that fruit may be grown in almost any mild climate. California is now producing annually from 12,000,000 to 14,000,000 pounds of excellent figs, and fig culture is growing more popular in that state every year. At present, however, almost the entire crop is grown in a single valley of the state. Considerable quantities of ripe olives, salted and dried, come from the eastern Mediterranean nations, and we buy dried mangoes from Mexico, dried persimmons from Japan, and a certain kind of raisin from China.
Secrets of fine flavor in dried fruit. Before explaining the process of fruit drying a word should be said about the wonderful flavor of fruits properly dried. The secret of this fine flavor lies in the fact that fruits for drying are allowed to become fully ripe before being picked. For this reason, to a person living at a distance from the orchards, sauce made from dried apricots seems far richer and finer in flavor than the fresh fruit. This is because an apricot, to stand shipping, must be picked when only partially ripened, and therefore never reaches its finest quality and flavor. So the distant consumer does not know how delicious apricots really are.
The same is true of many other fruits. In the last day or two before an unpicked berry or fruit reaches perfect ripeness it improves, perhaps a hundred fold, in flavor. The prune plum is allowed to ripen so perfectly that it falls from the tree its own accord. Here is the real secret of the richness and sweetness of the dried product.
Two ways of drying fruit. Fruit may be dried in the sun, or in evaporators built for that purpose and heated by artificial means. Sun drying on a commercial scale is possible only where there is a long season without rainfall or heavy dews. Most of our evaporated fruits, except apples, come from Oregon and Washington.
Two classes of California fruits. The California fruits are divided into two classes, cut and uncut. The cut fruits, again excepting apples,—are those which are split in halves before drying. Peaches, apricots, pears, and nectarines are treated in this manner. The principal uncut fruits are prunes, plums, raisins, currants, and berries.
Removing the peel. Let us first study the treatment of cut fruits from which the skin is re-moved before they are halved. The fruit has been allowed to ripen fully and special care has been taken in picking and handling it to avoid bruising. It is now dipped into a solution of lye, rinsed in pure water, and run through brushing machines which remove the skin. The action of the lye solution weakens the skin so that it is easily removed by the brushes. This "peeled" product has become extremely popular with the trade and the public.
Cutting and stoning the fruit. After being peeled, the fruits are automatically cut in half by revolving knives. Then they are automatically conveyed to a kiln with wire-mesh shelves, and there treated with sulphur fumes. Both the bath in the lye solution and the "fuming" are considered decidedly cleansing and wholesome. They are really a sort of insurance against the development of all kinds of germs. Unpeeled dried fruits are fumed in the same, manner as peeled fruit.
Of course the stones or "pits" are removed from all cut fruits at the time of cutting. The pits of freestone peaches drop out as the two halves fall apart after the knife has done its work. The pits of the clingstones and the cores of other fruits have to be cut out with spoonlike knives.
Drying fruit in the sun. The fruit is dried in large, shallow trays. During the season acres and acres in the dried fruit districts of California are covered with these trays spreading their fragrant burdens of delicious fruits to the rays of the sun. Nearly all the dried fruits from California are sun cured. When the fruit is partially dry the trays are stacked in piles about ten feet high and the fruit left to cure more slowly so it will not become hard. Next it is placed in bins or boxes to go through a sweating process. Then it is ready for packing and shipment.
How uncut fruit is cured. Now let us consider uncut fruit and follow a crop of prunes through the curing process. This is not unlike that already described. The thoroughly ripened fruit is carefully gathered and given a bath in a solution of lye. Then it is at once rinsed in pure water.
The purpose of this bath is to "cut" or thin the skin so that it will not become like a thick rind as it dries, and to prevent the prune from " hot curing." As a result of their dip in the lye solution the prunes cure evenly from skin to pit and the skin acquires a delicacy of texture which makes the fruit much more palatable. After being rinsed the prunes are placed in trays to dry in the sun. Then comes the slow curing in the stacked trays and later the sweating in the bins.
Finally the prunes are "processed." The most modern device for doing this is a wire-mesh conveyor belt running in a long and rather deep box. Jets of live steam and of hot water play upon the prunes as they take their ride on the conveyor. With this method the water is not used more than once. When the prunes have passed through this final bath they are not only thoroughly clean, but soft and pliable for packing into the boxes and other containers in which they are to be sold to the public. The fancy boxes are "faced"; that is, the prunes of the top layer are arranged in even rows and carefully pressed into place.
The dried prune is produced from a certain variety of plum which is grown especially for this purpose. There are other kinds of plums used for drying, but these are known in our markets as dried plums. The United States produces annually about 140,000,000 pounds of prunes. Most of the prunes used in this country are grown in California and Oregon, but we import a few fancy grades from France, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Turkey.
Raisins are possibly the best known dried food we have. The greater part of the raisins consumed in this country used to come from Spain and Turkey. Extra fancy Malaga cluster raisins are still imported from Spain and we also import some Turkish sultana raisins. But California alone now produces many times as many raisins as Spain. The yield of one valley alone in the state is more than double the quantity of raisins produced in that country.
In a single year the United States produced 250,000,000 pounds of raisins. Although our exports of raisins are greatly in excess of our imports, Spain and Smyrna send us each year from 2,000,000 to 4,000,000 pounds. Yet, if we divide the number of pounds of raisins eaten every year in this country by the total number of people living in it, we find that each person consumes only 1.5 pounds a year.
In Great Britain the average consumption in a single year is 5 pounds for each person. But the people of this country are beginning to learn the great food value of raisins. So no doubt within a short time we shall be able to say that each American eats as many pounds of raisins a year as does each person in Great Britain, Spain, or any other Old World country.
Raisin grapes are allowed to ripen on the vines, and in Europe the stems are cut part the clusters of grapes may begin drying slowly on the vine.
After the raisins are cut from the vines they are placed on trays and left for a time to dry in the sun. They are then' stacked to cure more slowly.After they are sufficiently cured the raisins are .take,to the packing house and packed according to; varieties and grades.
The different kinds of raisins. "Cluster raisins" are the finest raisins sold. They are in the original state and are put up in fancy boxes or paper cartons. Most raisins are sold loose or stemmed and shipped in large boxes or other containers. Most of the Muscat grapes which reach comsumers are in the form of seeded raisins. The smaller "cooking" raisins are known as the sultana and Thompson seedless. These are small seedless varieties used in cakes, breads, pies, and puddings. Bakeries and mincemeat factories use large quantities of them.
Seeding and packing raisins. Raisins that are to be seeded are first put into a room in a dry heat of 140° F. and left for from three to five hours. Following this they are run into chilling rooms and thoroughly chilled. This loosens the cap stems so that they may be easily removed. The larger stems have already been separated from the raisins by a very nervous machine somewhat like an old-fashioned grain separator. After the cap stems have been removed, the raisins are passed through cleaning machines. In these machines they are automatically washed and brushed to remove the dust and dirt.
Next the raisins are put into a room with a moist temperature of 130° F. This brings them back to their normal condition. Now they are passed through a huge seeding machine, which can remove the seeds from twelve tons of raisins a day. The principle of a seeding machine is a rubber roller which revolves against a roller having minute teeth, or points. These teeth penetrate the raisins, which are fed from a hopper, and force the seed against the yielding surface of the rubber roller. As soon as the pressure is released the rubber springs back into place and drops the seeds. At the same time the roller with the mass of raisins in its teeth is mechanically "combed" and the raisins removed before it completes a revolution ready to receive from the hopper another "feed" of unseeded raisins.
Now the seeded raisins pass down chutes to the packing tables, where they are weighed and packed into paper cartons of various sizes and designs. If raisins are properly prepared they will keep their good qualities for many months.
The "dried currant" from Greece. One of the most delicious raisins is not known as a raisin at all but as a currant. This is the "dried currant" of Greece of which the shade-dried Vostizza is the finest type, with the Patras ranking second. Next in order of grade or variety come the Provincials from the west coast and the Calamatas from the southern tip of the country. The word "currant" is a corruption of "Corinth."
The Greek currant graders become so skilled in their work that when blindfolded one of them can separate a mixed lot of samples containing a number of grades without making a single mistake. We get small quantities of dried currants from California and Australia, but the industry in these places is only just beginning.
The world's output of raisins. Like other dried fruits, raisins are shipped virtually to all parts of the world, both by the United States and by other raisin producing countries. The accompanying table shows about how many pounds of raisins each country produces in a normal year.
Dried berries no longer a home product. Besides the fruits named, various berries are dried and marketed in bulk and packages. Dried raspberries, cherries, blueberries, loganberries, gooseberries.and other small fruits from Southern and eastern States, and also Idaho, Oregon.
Washington, and others of the Western States.
Years ago most families living in the country dried raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, currants, and other small fruits for home use, sometimes with and sometimes without sugar added. But now it is not only cheaper but more convenient to buy these foods from the grocer. The fact that modern methods of fruit drying insure a high standard of cleanliness adds to the popularity of the commercial product. As far as possible the fruits are handled entirely by machines.
Figs one of our earliest imports. The fig tree has furnished food for man since the dawn of history and probably long before. Figs were eaten in America long before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In fact, they have been imported into this country for hundreds of years. While the dried fig is by far the more popular, we also use a large quantity of figs stuffed, preserved in sirup, and in maraschino. Fresh figs spoil quickly and cannot be shipped any great distance except when handled with the greatest care. This makes the fresh fruit rare and expensive except in localities near by the fig-growing districts.
Figs are raised in California, Texas, and Louisiana, where the industry is growing rapidly. All of our American dried figs come from California. But we are still compelled to import the greater portion of the figs we use. The most of our imported figs come from Turkey, Portugal, and Spain, although Greece and Italy export some to this country. Those from Portugal come packed in quaint straw mats and are used mainly for manufacturing purposes. The figs from Spain are of a lower grade.
Candied fruits from the Old World. We also import crystallized, or candied, products from the Old World. Candied citron is from the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. But lately we have imported large quantities of this peel in brine and crystallized it here. Candied kumquat, a fruit much like a small orange, comes from China. From France we get candied, or "glace," cherries, grapes, and other fruits; also "Angelique tubes," crystallized/plant stalks similar to rhubarb but hollow.
These crystallized, candied, or glace products are used as sweetmeats and as flavoring in cakes, puddings, and other confections. While the larger part of what we use is imported, much candied orange,lemon, and citron peel is made in this country.
Crystallizing fruits is a slow and painstaking process and one requiring no small amount of skill.
The aim is to saturate the fruit or peel completely with sugar. To make the sugar permeate to the center of a fruit is by no means an easy task. In order to do this the fruit is put into three different sirups. Sometimes, when only a small quantity is to be crystallized, each piece before being placed in sirup is pierced with copper needles. These needles are not affected by contact with the acid of the fruit. The larger the fruit the more necessary it is to use the needles. When a large quantity of fruit is to be treated this method is slow and vexatious. About the same result is accomplished by plunging the fruit into a hot bath. This opens the pores of the skin, relaxes the flesh, and makes it possible for the hot sirup to reach the center of the fruit. The first sirup is light, the next a little heavier, and the third very heavy. By the time this treatment is completed the fruit has been in its sirup bath several weeks. When taken out it has a beautiful gloss.