So-So Tomatoes Become Excellent When Dried

As we reported earlier, we weren’t thrilled with our cherry tomato choice this summer. They were just plain dull. They were also rather large for a cherry, more like mini-plum tomatoes, which made them awkward for salads. But they were healthy plants, and very, very prolific. In situations like this it is good to remember that tomatoes which don’t taste good off the bush often cook or dry well. The ratio of skin and seeds to pulp in these tomatoes made them a bad candidate for sauce, so we’ve been drying them.

And man, are they good dried. Like tomato candy. It’s very hard not to snack on them, but I’m trying to save them for the depths of winter, when I really miss tomatoes.

We have maybe a couple of quarts of them now. Several years ago we had an absolute disaster involving a pantry moth, its many offspring, and one big jar of dried tomatoes. For this reason I’m storing the dried tomatoes in a series of small jars, to offset the risk. Another good tip for fending off moths is to freeze any food stuff which you suspect might be at risk for 4 days to kill moths and their larvae.

How did we dry our tomatoes, you ask? Usually we use our homemade solar dehydrator, but this year we’ve got a friend’s electric dehydrator on loan. It seemed wicked to run the thing day and night, but it dries a lot faster, and with less work overall, than our solar set-up. (Oh, the wonders of Modern Living!) The one thing I did not like, though, was the constant noise. The dehydrator sounds a little like a running microwave, not loud, but persistent. I was always half-consciously expecting to hear the microwave “ding!” at any moment.

So, while the electric dehydrator let us process this crop of tomatoes in record time, I don’t think we’re going to ever buy one ourselves. Old Betsy, the wonky wooden dehydrator, suits us well enough.

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15 Comments

  1. This is something I want to try, and I have access to an electric dehydrator. How do you prepare the tomatoes before putting them in the dehydrator?

  2. My electric Excalibur dehydrator is in the basement… you can still kinda hear it upstairs. I’m stuck with electric until it gets less humid here; solar dehydrators for most things just equals rot.

    Pantry moths are dreadful. I did manage to eliminate them from a house once but it required lots of scrubbing and coffee filters on every glass jars under the lids. And pheromone traps. Lots and lots of pheromone traps.

  3. I store all my food stuffs in half-gallon Ball canning jars to prevent pantry moth invasion. I had things in cans and bags invaded last year. I figure that at least any pantry moth that hatches in the jar will stay in the jar and go no farther. Are you saying that the jars allowed moths in?

    Just last night I was thinking about dehydrating my Roma tomatoes, all six of them…lol. Did you blanch them first. I see you dried with seeds in. Most places say to clean out the seeds. My plan is to dry the tomatoes with seeds intact.

    Sundried tomatoes from the store are so yummy. But, one day, I decided to eat the whole jar as a snack. The nitrites in the tomatoes made me very, very ill. Dehydrating my own is my plan.

  4. My wife and I do an enormous amount of tomato dehydrating each year, and have discovered lots of great ways of using them. It’s amazing how much flavor they have (even if the original tomatoes, as yours, are a bit bland)!

    Here’s what we do to avoid bug problems: for $10 or so, there is an accessory attachment for our FoodSaver vacuum sealer that fits over wide-mouth mason jar and seals dry goods tighter than canning actually does. Sucks out lots of air, creates a good seal, and no bugs have infiltrated our food store yet. We use mason jars to store most of our dry good (flour, rice, beans, whatever) since we discovered this great tool. Just look up “foodsaver wide-mouth jar sealer.” There is a regular-mouth sealer out there as well.

  5. I read an article in Countryside about oven canning. The gist was to fill jars with dried food, flour, oats, rice, lentils beans, etc and set them on a cookie sheet in a 200 degree oven for an hour. Remove with potholders, cap with canning jar lids and rings, and then leave to cool over night. Next day remove rings for reuse. the writer claimed this could preserve stuff for 20-30 YEARS. Trying it with dehydrated tomatoes might work.

  6. We’ve dried tomatoes in prior years, and canned and frozen… this year we slow roasted a few batches of our San Marzanos. They are only partially dehydrated.

    There are definitely pros and cons with roasting. On the plus side – flavors are intensified, processing is pretty fast,easy and quiet, and they’re so easy to toss into so many dishes – pizza, pasta, salads, scrambled eggs, or just as is with bread, cheese and wine…

    On the down side, they’re not well preserved for long-term storage. But then we’ve used them so fast that that’s not a huge issue.

    Enjoy your tomato candy.

  7. @Parsimony: We don’t believe moths can get into mason jars with threaded lids — though they can get into jars with lesser lids. But we’re not keeping our tomatoes in smaller jars because of the lids, but on the off chance that a moth laid its eggs on one the tomatoes some time during processing. It’s unlikely–but possible. We know because it has happened to us. Storing in small jars contains the risk.

    @Jonathan: Good tip!

    @Beth: I totally agree–we froze roasted tomatoes one year and they were wonderful. We followed a slightly elaborate but very worth it roasting technique from The Italian Country Table. Talk about tomato candy! omg. I think the recipe might actually be called “candied oven roasted tomatoes” or something like that.

  8. I love the Excalibur… I got one for my brother and got to use it a whole summer before I had to give it to him :) Where we live, solar anything is kind of an impossible deal, but a nice dehydrator is on my list. I’m hoping I can get one before the apple crop hits next month but I’m having my doubts.

    To anonymous above me – preparing tomatoes for dehydrating is super simple. All you do is rinse the tomatoes, and if they aren’t full-size, just cut them in half horizontally around their equator (as opposed to up/down). Squeeze out the seeds if you want, I do it because I use heirloom tomatoes that I want to save seeds for… and then place them cut-side up on your dehydrating tray. Dry them until they are pretty stiff, they won’t be flexible like sun-dried that you’d buy at the store.

    If you are using bigger full-size tomatoes you can either slice them or cut them into chunks. Just make sure that you have cut open any of the seed/gel chambers… and they will dry faster when sliced as opposed to chunked.

    A fun thing to do is to sprinkle them with seasonings before you dry, so a little salt, pepper, maybe some basil and oregano, and there you go :)

  9. @Anon: I think Bethany has your question covered above very well. All we do is cut cherry tomatoes in half, and I don’t bother de-seeding those.

    I think the most important thing is that all the pieces are cut similarly. If they vary in size or thickness, then their dry times will vary, and you’ll end up having to pick through all the pieces to figure out which ones are done or not. Not fun!

    I dry them until I can’t feel any moisture in them. They’re not quite crispy, but leathery.

  10. As another resident in the sunny (and humid) south, solar dehydrating would be tough indeed…if you’re looking for an electric dehydrator, it’s tough to beat an Excalibur. Pricey, but SOOOOooooo worth it! I had a smaller, cheaper one for awhile that simply didn’t perform. The value of all the food we now manage to put up (without the energy cost of canning, which is comparable) is extraordinary!

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