Too Many Tomatoes? Dry them! Sun-Dried Tomatoes!

The end of summer is near. For me, this means two things. Kids are heading back to school and I have way too many tomatoes in the garden for my family to eat. Let’s focus on those tomatoes for a second. As much as I love having my family and friends over to have their own harvests, I want to preserve as many as possible for the winter. At the same time, I don’t have time.  I also want my kid to be able to help me, or at least pretend to help, long enough for me to accomplish my task.

That’s why we are making sun-dried tomatoes.

For this task, you will need a food dehydrator or access to a friend’s. Yes, you could use your oven; however, with the summer heat outside, the less I need to use my oven the better. If you have a garden or you can’t beat the deals you are seeing at your local farmer’s market, buying a dehydrator might be a great investment.

NESCO is what I have - it's on the low end but works great

NESCO is what I have – it’s on the low end but works great

Things You Need:
Tomatoes (I use Roma, Ace, and San Marzanos. Smaller sizes shrink too much. The bigger the better.)
A paring knife (To be used by a grown-up.)
Little thumbs (Kid fingers happen to be the perfect size.)
Kosher salt
Basil (Just another fun way to use your dehydrator if you are feeling inspired.)

Preparing Your Tomatoes:
I like to rinse my tomatoes in a colander and leave it in the sink to air dry while I work. I slice my tomatoes in half and get the seeds out using my thumbs. I do this over the sink as well.  If the tomato is too large for the dehydrator at this point, I slice the tomato lengthwise, about ½ inch thick. You want a big slab, but you also need to be able to stack your racks. This will help you keep your slices or halves pretty consistent in size as well.

I simply place the slices on the rack, sprinkle with salt and basil, then stack the rack!

work station

work station

single layer, sprinkled with salt and basil, ready to go

single layer, sprinkled with salt and basil, ready to go

Culinary Note: Many recipes recommend boiling your tomatoes first before slicing and seeding. This isn’t mandatory, but a matter of taste. I don’t have time to boil, cool, and peel a hot tomato. Just placing them on the rack with the skin on is enough for my family and they taste great.

Drying:
ust like you and I, dehydrators are all different, so read your manufacturer’s manual for their recommended dry time. I dry mine for about 10-14 hours. It’s like a crockpot, right?! You just get it ready and leave it be.

The key is to check after the minimum time. You want a tomato that is like dried leather versus a crunchy dead leaf.

finished and ready to freeze

finished and ready to freeze

Culinary Tip: If you have a lot of hot Serrano or Poblano peppers, you can cut them in half and dry them on a separate rack. They use the same amount of time to dry! You store them the same way as the tomatoes.

serrano peppers and pablanos

serrano peppers and pablanos

Storage:
Dried tomatoes need to be in an airtight environment like a ziploc bag and placed in the freezer.

get all the air out and they are ready to freeze

get all the air out and they are ready to freeze

Questions About Storing Dried Tomatoes in Oil:
Can you do it? Sorta. You can soak them in oil with a sprig of any herb for up to 24hrs in a closed container like a mason jar. I have not found a safe way to can dried tomatoes in oil in a home kitchen for long-term storage. If you have, leave me a comment! I’d love to know!

Ideas for Use:
Aside from the common stuff like pizza, sauces, and salads, you can use them as part of a gift basket for holidays and/or birthdays! People love things made from the heart-I know I do.

Written by Mariah Cook. She lives in Sacramento with her small son and big husband.

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