As I mentioned last week, our garden severely over-produced yellow cherry tomatoes, leading to the great tomato apocalpyse of 2010. With more than 5 lbs of tomatoes and no one willing to eat them in sight, we decided to get creative about preserving them.
Here’s how we made sun-dried tomatoes.
Step 1: Prepare the place
This is a pretty simple project. You’ll just need a clean workspace and a sharp knife. We also found a window screen in the garage, which we hosed off the night before to get it ready.
Step 2: Halve your tomatoes
If you are working with cherry tomatoes, cutting them in half worked just fine. If you are working with Roma or any other full sized tomato, I’d recommend cutting them into 1 inch wide chunks. (Keep them even, you’ll be cooking with these later, and even sizes will help.)
We had about 5 lbs to cut and it took us 10 minutes with 2 people. If you are using full-sized tomatoes go ahead and remove the seeds as they’ll just slow the drying process. But with smaller ones we didn’t bother and it didn’t seem to matter.
Step 3: Add seasoning
Dice up some fresh herbs, mix them in by hand, and let the mixture sit for about 20 minutes. (Set up step 4 while this all stews)
For our sun-dried tomatoes we added in some garden fresh rosemary and basil. This added a nice flavor and an incredible smell.
Step 4: Prepare your rack
Drying vegitables outside is an ancient food preservation technique. Chances are good that if you live in a sunny climate, you won’t have a problem drying fruits and vegitables out in the open. You can basically dry stuff anywhere that is hot and dry. So inside a car on a summer day works. As does your oven at 150 degrees for several hours. As does a food dehydrator.
We live in San Diego, it was especially sunny and hot, and the summer made for a long day of sunshine. So we opted to try the outdoor method. We placed an extra window screen we found in the garage on our garden table, propped up by 4 matching clay pots. It wasn’t fancy but it was free and best of all, it worked brilliantly!
Step 5: Spread out your tomatoes
Spread them out evenly on the screen. We found that it was useful to seperate them as much as possible so try to break up the little piles as best you can.
Step 6: Wait a couple hours
This isn’t a very exciting process. But every couple hours go out and check on them. It really does help them dry faster to flip them and bounce them around a little bit. They have a tendency to stick to the screen, so you’ll be pealing a flipping a bit the first few hours. I set a timer so I would only check on them hourly, taking pictures every time.
Note about flies: We were worried about our local hummingbird or other birds taking notice and feasting when we weren’t looking. That didn’t happen, but we did attract a few flies with the sweet, savory smell. For our purposes this didn’t matter because we knew we’d be cooking these. But if that bothers you then you’ll need to build some one to seal this process off from bugs.
Step 7: When are they done?
For us, by the time we came back from a family trip to the beach, the sun had gone down and they were done. In climates where it isn’t quite so warm you may need to store your rack inside overnight and leave them outside a second day.
They are done when they stop feeling sticky. Some of them we a bit crispy, but most of them were gummy but not overly sticky. If you do yellow tomatoes you’ll see that they darken significantly. If you are using red, you’ll see them get a very deep red when done.
Step 8: Storage
We emptied our drying rack and stored our bounty into several ziplock bags. 5 lbs of tomatoes made about 1.5 pounds of sun-dried tomatoes which we broke up into 5 bags. We put one in the fridge because we knew we’d use it right away and we froze the rest.
Step 9: Cook and enjoy!
The next day we enjoyed a delicious pasta dish with a sun-dried tomato and onion base.
Let us know how it went for you. And happy drying!