Here’s how to make and how to use sun dried tomatoes – the ones that cost so much in the fancy food stores. Sun dried tomatoes are low carb friendly and healthy. You don’t even have to have a dehydrator to make them yourself!
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Why Dehydrate Instead of Can Tomatoes?
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. The process is so simple and the results are so versatile. To learn how to do this, please read this article from A Farm Girl in the Making.
As I’ve discovered the joys of dehydrating my tomatoes, I’ve also found that I love “sun dried” tomatoes. This is a slightly different nuance of tomato preservation. Read on…
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. Or, you may use them right away in baked goods or in salads.
A traditional method of sun drying is as follows:
- Rinse and halve cherry or plum tomatoes.
- Lay them face-up on a screen – a dehydrator rack works, so does a clean screen door (what my family uses). You may also make a solar dehydrating screen like this herb and flower one by Grow, Forage, Cook, Ferment. We use a screen door because we’re usually dehydrating a large volume of product at one time.
- Cover with an open weave, natural fiber cloth or sheet. On our screen door, we use a fitted twin sheet. This protects from the produce from bugs and dust while it dries.
- Place in an open, sunny spot where the produce will be elevated several feet off the ground and get great air circulation around it. We usually place our screen door on two sawhorses and use clamps to secure it so a wind doesn’t carry it off.
- Bring the set up inside at night to protect from animals, sprinklers and dew fall. Dehydrating can take hours or several days, depending on what you’re preserving.
- Test the produce for done-ness repeatedly. Sun dried tomatoes should be firm, though slightly rubbery. If they dry to the papery, cracking stage they’ll still be yummy. However, there should no longer be any wet or overly smushy parts
Speed it Up with a Solar Oven
If you have a solar oven, you can also convert it to dry your tomatoes very easily. This process will be much faster than using only the sun and air.
We did this with apple chips last year and it worked wonderfully. To read how we did that, click here. Just follow the same process for sun dried tomatoes.
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. This is when they’re a great combination of sweet and salty.
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! However, the drier the tomato – that is, the fewer inside wet, gooey, seedy parts it has – the quicker it will dehydrate.
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
The process for making sun dried tomatoes in a dehydrator is basically the same as described above.
- Rinse and slice the cherry or plum tomatoes in half.
- Place the tomatoes face up on your dehydrator racks. Lay them close together, but avoid having them touch or lie on top of each other.
- Fill the dehydrator with tomatoes and close it up. Use your dehydrator’s instruction booklet to set time and temperature.
- Or, use your copy of Shelle Wells Prepper’s Dehydrator Handbook like I do and at set to 135F/57C for 8-12 hours.
- The tomatoes will be slightly rubbery or even brittle when dried. There should be no wet or mushy parts left.
- Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Use within a year.
For great troubleshooting and tips for dehydrating, I really do suggest you get your own copy of Shelle’s book. It’s available on Amazon here or below.
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 un-thaws. 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. So, if you live where it’s humid, this process will most likely take a little longer.
I like my veggies to stay kind of close to raw, so I set the dehydrator between 115-120F. 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. A batch dehydrated at 135 will take around 12 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. Be sure to check them often so they don’t over-dry or burn. To learn to dehydrate your tomatoes in a standard oven, please visit this link from An Italian in my Kitchen.
Dehydrated…to Sun Dried Tomato Flavor!
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. You can always make pesto out of your sun dried tomatoes with this recipe from Small Footprint Family – click here.
Here’s what Schneider Peeps does with their tomatoes. And it is always a good idea.
Don’t forget to email me at Tessa@homesteadlady.com for your free sample from the kitchen chapter of our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead. We hope the book will be helpful to you, but don’t just take our word for it. Here’s what author and speaker Joel Salatin had to say about it: