Sun or Oven Drying Tomatoes for Storage
Tomatoes, tomatoes: it's that time of year isn't it? If you are running out of room for canned or frozen tomatoes why not try drying them for storage? Once dried they take up a fraction of the space and can be used in all sorts of ways! The big surprise is just how flavorful they are once you have reconstituted them for use. The ones we have dried so far are superb and will make wonderful dried tomatoes! The tomatoes we have used in our demonstration are Pomodori heirloom Italian tomatoes.
Don't forget to get your heirloom tomato seeds from us.
We have quite a few paste type tomatoes that are perfect for drying like Amish Paste, Black Plum, Golden Roma Italian, Opalka, Orange Banana, Polish Linguisa, Principe Borghese.
What kind of tomatoes to use?
Traditionally plum or paste type tomatoes are used for drying. You may, however try any type that you like. You want them to be firm and ripe but not over ripe, which will lead to decay. For larger round or slicer type tomatoes slice them crosswise into no more than 1/4 inch thick pieces. For cherry tomatoes cut them in half.
Are they still nutritious when dried?
They are but some of the nutrients do get lost when we dry fruits and vegetables. The water-soluble vitamins, such as B and C are gone. Nutrients like the minerals, fiber content, vitamin A and the phytochemicals become concentrated when we take the water out with the drying process. The lycopene content of tomatoes increases when they are dried!
To Sun Dry
Carefully wash and dry your tomatoes first. Cut them in half lengthwise for plum and cherry tomatoes. For larger fruits slice them across the axis in 1/2" thick slices. You can remove seeds if you like but it is not necessary. If you do remove the seeds try to be careful not to remove the flavorful pulp. Use a spoon or your fingers to scoop out the seeds. Cutting a slit in the skin side of the tomato will help accelerate the drying process.
Place the halves skin side down and/or the slices on a framed plastic screen (we use our seed drying trays for this), being careful not to lose any liquid from them and spread them out so that none are touching. You can salt them at this time for a little more flavor and the salt will help to draw the liquid from them. The drying process will concentrate all the flavor in the juice. Use a cheesecloth cover over the screen to protect the tomatoes from bugs and crud. Raise the cheesecloth off the tomatoes slightly with wood skewers or something like that. Then place the screen outside in the sun with some boards or something to raise it a few inches and allow air to circulate underneath it. It will take at least a few days of sunshine, sometimes up to 12 days, to properly dry the tomatoes and you need to bring the whole set up indoors overnight, once the sun goes down.
The Results: When your tomatoes have dried properly they will have a dark red color or if using yellow, pink, white etc. type tomatoes they will have a darker, more intense color than they originally had. They should feel dry and pliable or leathery to the touch. They should not be hard and brittle or moist. You should be able to stick your finger in the center of them, pull it away and have no pulp on your finger.
Storage: Now that you have made it this far here is how you store them. Your dehydrated tomatoes take little space to store. They can be stored in plastic bags or airtight glass jars. For plastic bags: pack the tomatoes as tightly as you can, squeezing out the excess air. If you have a vacuum sealer it would be perfect for this. For glass jars pack them as compactly as you can and use a tight fitting lid to seal. We use our canning jars for this. Either way they can be stored at room temperature in a cool, dark place in the kitchen cabinets or wherever you have room. They will keep well for about 1 year, after that the flavor, nutrition and flavor will begin to decline. You may keep them for about 18 months if you wrap them securely in plastic and store in the freezer.
To Oven Dry
The weather must cooperate for sun drying. If this is not the case in your area oven drying is your solution! It does require a bit more of a set up. Using uniform tomatoes sizes will simplify your results. Preheat oven to 130º F or the lowest setting on a gas oven. On some brands of ovens 130º F will be the "warm or low" setting. If your oven only goes down to 200º F then you will need to leave the door ajar while drying. Prepare your tomatoes as previously stated. Omit the cheesecloth and place them on foil lined cookie sheets or pizza pans as above. Put your pans directly on the oven racks. Alternately you could cover the oven racks with aluminum foil into which you will need to punch small holes for air circulation. Bake in a closed, preheated oven at 130º F for 6 to 12 hours until the tomatoes are shriveled and slightly pliable not unlike raisins. Keep checking on them periodically and remove ones that are done. After taking them out of the oven place them on racks until they have cooled down completely.
- For Cherry tomatoes cut in half, prepare as above always putting the cut side down on your racks. Cut the drying time to 3-4 hours.
Obviously you have to spend some money to get a dehydrator but many think it gives dried food a superior quality. There are many units available that won't set you back a lot. It all depends on what you want. They can have timers and thermostats or you can use a thermometer which you place on the lowest tray to monitor temperature. You want it to ideally stay around 135° to 140°F. You do all the prep as already stated and the trays should have a space of 1-2 inches between them. You still may need to rotate the racks and, in this case, turn the tomatoes.
Rehydrating Dried Tomatoes
You can rehydrate your dried tomatoes in different ways. For basic use you soak them in water for 1 to 2 hours at room temperature as needed- this should be long enough to fully rehydrate them. Boiling water will speed up the process. For longer soaking times be sure to stick them in the refrigerator.
- They can be added directly to soups and stews. Adding them during the last 20 to 30 minutes of cooking is usually sufficient.
- Try soaking them in bullion or vegetable stock.
- Be inventive and try rehydrating them with wine!
- Use the liquid from soaking in your recipes like a vegetable stock.
- Pour a mixture of one half vinegar and one half boiling water over them and let them soak for five to ten minutes. Drain thoroughly then mix with a good olive oil seasoned with a few pieces of garlic sliced clove and marjoram leaves. Let them marinate for 24 hours in the refrigerator before using. Very good in salads, on pizza and in pasta dishes!