Preserving the Bounty: Drying Tomatoes

8/30/2011 2:58:04 PM

Tags: drying tomatoes, dehydrating tomatoes, tomato, tomatoes, drying, dehydrating, storing, preserving, allan douglas, Allan Douglas

dehydrator, cutting board, knife, tomatoes, dehydrating 

Dehydrating (drying) tomatoes is easy to do, requires little skill or equipment, and produces very satisfactory results. You can dry tomatoes in a food dehydrator, in an oven or in the sun (if you have sufficient steady sunshine). Dried tomatoes are great for cooking; the dried 'maters will re-hydrate in liquid, like soups or stews, and the intense tomato flavor is a great bonus when used dry for breads and salads because the tomato flavor is concentrated when the water is removed. 

 tomatoes store compactly when dehydrated 

Also, dried tomatoes store very compactly for long periods if you vacuum seal them into pouches. If thoroughly dried, they can be kept in your pantry or in a decorative jar on your kitchen counter.

Preparation

how you cut the tomatoes depends on their size and your intended use 

For drying, you will want firm, meaty tomatoes, not the juicier ones like beefsteak. Romas are an excellent choice, as are small Best Boy and Lemon Boy tomatoes. Freeze the big ones, dry the small ones. Before dehydrating, wash, dry, remove the cores and cut your tomatoes. There is no hard and fast rule on how to cut tomatoes for drying; some like wedges, some like slices, some like halves. Mostly it seems to depend on the size of your tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes, plumb tomatoes and even Romas, do well as halves because of their small size. Anything larger dries faster and with fewer hassles as wedges. ¼ to ½ inch thick slices dry the fastest, but will wither up to practically nothing in the process. Use the same "equatorial cut" I described in Freezing Tomatoes and clean out the wet, seedy goop with a spoon or paring knife to speed proper drying… except with cherry tomatoes, it's not worth the bother on them; just cut them in half. Regardless of the drying method you use, place the tomatoes skin side down while drying. Refrigerate them if you must stop the dehydration process for the night or if you must leave the house for an extended period.

Using Solar Power

To sun dry tomatoes, first prepare your "rack"; a piece of plywood works well, cover it with Saran Wrap and tape that to the wood around the edges. Cut your tomatoes and arrange them on the rack. Slices work best for sun drying. Sprinkling with salt will hasten drying by absorbing some liquid, but this is optional. Set the rack in a secure location that will get the maximum amount of direct sunshine. Do what you can to keep bugs away until they "skin over" at that point the bugs seem to lose interest. This will take 18 to 24 hours of strong sunshine, so you will need to plan on setting them out for several consecutive days. Refrigerate them between sessions. This method won’t work well for us here in the mountains of Tennessee; folks in Texas, Arizona or California would have better luck with it.

Oven

To dry in a regular oven, spray a rack (could be an oven rack or a special drying rack) with cooking spray or rub with olive oil to prevent sticking. Cut and clean your tomatoes and arrange on the rack(s) skin side down. Place the rack(s) in the oven and set the temperature to 135°. Anything below 120° promotes bacteria growth; anything above 145° can scorch your 'maters. Prop the door open a little to allow moisture to escape. It will take 12-15 hours to dry larger cuts this way, keep an eye on them and remove the ones that are done as they get there, differences in size, shape and moisture content will cause variance in this. This method works well, but tends to heat up the house quite a bit. I cannot find anything on the use of a convection oven, but I should think that if the oven vents moisture, it would be even more effective. If not, you will still have to prop the door open. Do not dry tomatoes in a microwave. Trust me on this, just don't do it. Really.

Food Dehydrator

using a food dehydrator is a fast and simple way to dry tomatoes 

In many ways using a food dehydrator is the easiest way to go - if you have access to one. Even if you don't own one, someone you know might: ask around. I borrowed my Mom's. We really don't have room to store such a large contraption in our kitchen, and she doesn't use it very much, so borrowing hers works well for both of us because I will share the product of my labors as "rent". Spray the racks of your dehydrator with cooking spray or rub with olive oil and arrange the tomato pieces on the racks so they are not touching. If yours has fan speed and temperature controls, set them on low and 135°. It will take up to 15 hours to complete, check them occasionally and remove those that have finished drying. Slip the racks in the fridge if you must stop for the night so they don’t start to mold.

How Dry is Dry Enough?

You may go two routes: leather-like or crispy-dry. Crispy dry will last longer in storage and can be easily crushed if you desire. Leather-dry means there are no moist pockets left and the tomato does not stick to your finger when you poke it, but it is not dried hard. The danger is that if moisture is left in leather-dry tomatoes they will mold. Refrigeration slows this down but does not prevent it. Vacuum packing will also extend their life in the fridge. Since we intend to store these for the winter, I’ve been drying mine to the crispy-dry state and vacuum packing them using our Food Saver machine. Using this method I can store about 10 pounds of whole tomatoes in one quart-sized vacuum bag. Theoretically, these can be stored in the pantry, but we’ll put them in the fridge just the same.

Uses for Dried Tomatoes

For use in most cooking, dried tomatoes will need to be re-hydrated by soaking in water for around two hours. More if they are crispy-dry, less if you use boiling water. Dried cherry tomatoes can be added to homemade bread dough or sprinkled on a salad for a flavorful punch. We’ve found we like “tomato chips” made from halved tomatoes just as a snack. A particularly gourmet way to store dried tomatoes is to layer them into a decorative jar with seasonings and cover them with extra virgin olive oil. When the tomatoes are gone, use the seasoned oil in your cooking.

 dried tomatoes layered with seasonings in extra virgin olive oil  

I made several jars of dried tomatoes in olive oil – and botched them badly. I believe the mistakes I made were: The dried tomatoes will absorb the oil and expand, therefore you must not fill the jars with tomatoes, but leave room for this expansion and add oil as needed to keep them covered. I filled the jars with tomatoes layered with fresh basil, oregano and thyme from our garden. They looked beautiful, but began to push oil out the top of the jar in short order, making quite a mess! I transferred them to larger (less attractive) jars. It was my impression from the several articles I used to research this tomatoes-in-oil thing that they could be used as a decorative touch on the counter. I did not refrigerate my tomatoes in oil and those on top of the jar molded, necessitating disposal. I’m not sure if I didn’t dry them enough, or didn’t keep them covered with the oil or if refrigeration is required despite the many photos of decorative jars sitting on counters. One of the folks who drop by The Prattle from time to time is Aussie Sire; and he’s an old hand at making these, perhaps he will favor us with an explanation of what I did wrong on his next visit.

What About You?

Have you tried drying tomatoes? Do you have a favorite use for dried tomatoes? Do you have any tips to share? Please join in through the comments below. Thanks for reading!



Related Content

Fresh Ground Paprika

Growing and drying your own spices is super easy and the results are superior to the store-bought co...

The Great Goat Chase

From new goats to bartering for produce, the dog days of summer are a busy time of the year for the ...

Pruning Tomatoes: Trimming Plants for Better Fruit

Ever wonder how to get your tomatoes to grow bigger, quicker, and look more healthy? Maybe it's all ...

Quick & Easy Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce

When summertime bounty brings a surplus of tomatoes, this no-fuss, quick & easy recipe is perfect!

Content Tools
RSS




Post a comment below.

 

SteveB
8/7/2013 6:18:18 PM

 

I have dried tomatoes and love them! My wife and I have a slightly different use though. On the larger tomatoes we slip the skins just as if you were preparing them to be canned. The tomatoes are processed in the Excalibur. The skins are put on a rack by themselves and dusted with powdered dried basil from our garden. Once everything is dry, the tomatoes are vacuum packed and put by for later use. The dried, seasoned skins are run through a spice grinder and the resulting powder is put into a shaker. The powdered skins are excellent for boosting the tomato flavor in any dish. It really shines though in adding tomato flavor to any dish that you do not want chunks of tomato in.

 


Nannette
6/26/2013 8:48:56 PM
Last year I use my dehydrator to dry my tomatoes. I then put them in a ball jar and used my Seal a Meal to take out the air, and screwed the ring on. Today they are still good. The seal a meal has a jar attachment that allows you to re-seal the jar as though it were never opened. It does such a good job that it is very difficult to open when needed. I also found a non-electrical way to suck out the air by using a Brake bleeder for cars and hand pumping the air out. Good for if the lights go out.

Vanessa
9/23/2011 3:19:30 PM
I routinely dry tomatoes with my well-used Excalibur. I slice them in rounds, like potato chips, and often sprinkle them with Italian seasoning or just oregano. Since this is part of my provision for the off season, I dry them crispy, layer them in glass jars, and give it a tight seal. We eat them straight up as vegi chips, or rehydrate them for stews, etc. I am experimenting this year with "crumbing" or powdering them for later use as tomato paste, sauce or soup (just depends on the amount of water you add to the powdered tomatoes). I am a firm believer in as much nutrition as possible, so I do not core or skin them. (I even leave in the seeds.) We love our tomatoes~fresh, dried, powdered, roasted, sauce, chips, etc.!

Deborah Bier
9/23/2011 2:30:28 PM
Hi, I would not preserve tomatoes or basil in oil -- particularly without refrigeration. Oil is an anaerobic environment. Leave that to the industrial packers who have the right equipment, or freeze yours if you feel you must pack them in oil. However, drying tomatoes and storing in a tightly sealed jar, container or a good plastic bag is wonderful. Just make sure they are really dry! I like to half-dry plum and cherry tomatoes, mix them with herbs and olive oil, and freeze them. This mimics "roasted" tomatoes which take several hours in a warm oven to accomplish, but with the dehydrator the house doesn't heat up and I suspect I'm using less energy than heating the oven. They're also marvelous!

Nebraska Dave
9/3/2011 8:19:42 PM
Allan, I have not tried my hand at dehydrating. It sounds easy enough and those dehydrators have really come down in price. It really does sound like a good way to store things. The dried tomatoes in the olive oil sounds delicious. All good ideas as next year I'll have many more tomatoes than this year. I had 5 plants this year and plan on 10 next year with perhaps more on an off site property. Have a great tomato dehydrating day.



Pay Now & Save 50% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Live The Good Life with Grit!

For more than 125 years, Grit has helped its readers live more prosperously and happily while emphasizing the importance of community and a rural lifestyle tradition. In each bimonthly issue, Grit includes helpful articles, humorous and inspiring articles, captivating photos, gardening and cooking advice, do-it-yourself projects and the practical reader advice you would expect to find in America’s premier rural lifestyle magazine.

Get your guide to living outside the city limits delivered straight to your mailbox. Subscribe to Grit today!  Simply fill in your information below to receive 1 year (6 issues) of Grit for only $19.95!

SPECIAL BONUS OFFER!

At Grit, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to Grit through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of Grit for only $14.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of Grit for just $19.95!