Why buy those expensive sun-dried, oil-preserved tomatoes and make them yourself instead?
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Why Dehydrate Instead of Can?
I really do NOT enjoy canning tomatoes – they’re messy, they’re stinky, they’re itchy. But what can I do ? It’s not like I can actually live without tomatoes throughout the year.
Last year, a friend suggested I try dehydrating my tomatoes in slices. This means that instead of having to can tomato sauce, I simply powder dry tomatoes in my blender for homemade sauce, paste, ketchup, BBQ sauce…suddenly I’m really hungry. The process is so simple and the results are so versatile.
Are you weary thinking about canning your tomato harvest? You may feel like you just don’t have the energy this year. As I’ve discovered the joys of dehydrating my tomato harvest, I’ve also found that I love “sun dried” tomatoes.
What Does “Sun Dried” Mean?
The term sun dried refers to the traditional process of drying cherry and plum tomatoes in the direct sunlight. After the tomatoes have been dried, they’re often preserved in olive oil and sea salt.
You may certainly dehydrate your tomatoes in the direct sun, if you’re climate is dry enough. If you have a solar oven, you can also convert it to dry your tomatoes very easily. We did this with apple chips last year and it worked wonderfully. To read how we did that, click here.
I use my electric dehydrator to produce these delectable sun dried tomatoes so that I don’t have to worry about rain, dust or bugs getting into my batch.
What Variety to Use for Sun Dried Tomatoes?
My favorite tomato variety to use for a true “sun dried” flavor is Principe Borghese. They’re a nicely sized grape tomato that grows and dries well. They dry quicker than other, larger tomatoes because they’re not as wet inside. Borghese tomatoes can also reseed happily in the garden. So, you don’t even have to think about replanting them.
I wait to harvest the Borgheses until they’re really red and nearly falling off the vine. They’re a great combination of sweet and salty then.
If Borghese aren’t to your liking, then any grape tomato will do for making sun dried tomatoes. I often use yellow pear tomatoes, some Sungolds and even Mr. Stripey green tomatoes. Really, I use whatever I have on hand as I am no respecter of tomatoes. I love them all!
To learn more about how to grow tomatoes, and many other veggies, and to help you keep track of you garden plans, be sure to check out the gardening notebook below:
How To Dehydrate/Dry Tomatoes
I have an Excalibur dehydrator with nine racks, and I like to completely fill it with tomatoes when I use the electricity to run it. You can also use your oven set to its lowest setting. Place the tomatoes on a cookie sheet and check them often to see if they’ve dried.
When using grape tomatoes in my dehydrator, I simply slice them in half and place them cut-side up on each rack. The tomatoes can touch each other, but they shouldn’t overlap as that will lead to uneven drying. Plus, they annoyingly stick together once they’re dry.
Can I Use Frozen Tomatoes?
Amanda, an observant reader, wondered if dehydrating frozen tomatoes would work for sun dried tomatoes. Here’s what she found:
“The frozen tomatoes worked out fine. Best to cut them while they’re still semi-frozen. If you want to remove the skin, it will fall right off as it unthaws. I dried all of them and now have a bunch more to do.”
How Long Should I Dry my Sun Dried Tomatoes?
Drying time is totally dependent on what temperature you set your dehydrator to, how wet the product is and the ambient moisture around the unit.
I live in Utah, so I’m blessed with dry air. I like my veggies to stay kind of close to raw, so I set the dehydrator between 115-135 degrees. Bear in mind that the lower the temperature, the longer it takes to dry them. Usually a batch of tomatoes at this temperature takes a good 24 hours.
If you use a solar oven, you may be able to cut that time in half – or even more! Your conventional oven will probably take less time, too. So, check them often!
Dehydrated…to Sun Dried Tomatoes!
To give my sun dried tomatoes that traditional flavor, and to preserve them, I prepare to put them in oil and salt. I also add a bit of garlic!
- You can use any upcycled glass jar you have lying around your kitchen.
- To each jar, I add one to three cloves of garlic (without their covering), and a teaspoon of sea salt.
- I then add as many dehydrated tomatoes as I can comfortably push into the jar. I don’t want to pack it so tightly that I can’t get anything out of the jar easily, but I do want to preserve as many as possible.
- Finally, I cover the tomatoes with a fine olive oil and screw on the cap.
If you’re not going to refrigerate your jars, you’ll probably want to use dried garlic to safe guard against botulism. 1 clove of fresh garlic equals about 1/4 teaspoon dried, minced garlic.
I will say, though, that I typically steep my tomatoes and raw garlic on my counter at room temperature for about a week, before I put them in the fridge. Do what feels comfortable to you. I’m always making tinctures and herbal oils and messing around with stuff that might bother some people. If it doesn’t seem right to you, don’t do it – simple as that.
Store Your Sun Dried Tomatoes
I can store these in a my fridge for about a year using fresh garlic. Or, I can use dried garlic and put them in my cold storage room. My cold storage room isn’t as cold as I’d like, so I use my fridge and fresh garlic.
One thing to keep in mind about using olive oil is that, while it’s a much healthier option, it doesn’t last as long as something like canola oil. Olive oil can get smelly and taste a bit off (the official term is “rancid”) after as little as three months outside of the fridge. Honestly, these sun dried tomatoes are so good, they may not even last that long, but its something to keep in mind.
The longer they steep in the oil, the stronger the salted garlic flavor. I could also add dry herbs like basil or rosemary, if the notion struck me. I learned this process from the book Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning.
How to Use Sun Dried Tomatoes
I use sun dried tomatoes all year, but especially all winter when I’m starved for that garden-fresh tomato flavor. May I just say that homemade, sun dried tomatoes are fantastic mixed into dinner bread. Or on top of homemade pizza. Or added to raw kale salad – for that recipe, click here.
Once you’re done with the tomatoes, use the amazingly flavorful oil in salads or stir fries.
Here’s what Schneider Peeps does with their tomatoes. And it is always a good idea.