Sun Dried Tomatoes
Drying tomatoes in the sun is the easiest way to preserve your tomato bounty if you live in a hot dry climate like I do. I live in the San Joaquin Valley of California, the relative humidity in summer hovers around 15%, and there are days upon days of cloudless sunny skies. The temperature is usually in the high 90s or low 100s, starting in June and going through August, so it’s the perfect climate for dried figs, tomatoes, and raisins. Today, I’m going to show you how I dry tomatoes.
First, pick your fleshiest, least juicy, most tasty tomatoes. I chose Roma tomatoes. Around here they grow like gangbusters, and you’ll see truckload upon truckload headed down the road for the canning factory. Trust me when I say you’ll be eating Roma tomatoes grown in the San Joaquin Valley next time you pick up a can of tomato sauce or paste this winter when you’re making your spaghetti sauce from scratch.
I can dry my tomatoes in one day out in the sun. I put them out in the morning and take them in at night, perfectly dried.
Chop your tomatoes into quarters, and then again, so you’ve got a sliver of tomato about a half inch thick. Scoop out the seeds and whatever pulp there may be. With a Roma there will be very little pulp. Lay them on a grid tray on a cookie sheet for safety (so they don’t fall on the ground by accident. I also line my cookie sheet with parchment paper, but it’s not 100% necessary. I just do it so my cookie sheets are easier to clean.) Space the slices so they don’t touch each other. It’s important for there to be air circulating all around so they dry faster.
Then, using some kind of wire (I use some old fencing material I found laying around in our “not-junk” pile), make a wire cage that fits over your cookie sheet that also gives head room. This is to support the cheesecloth — which comes next — so it doesn’t touch the tomatoes and stick to them. I attach a canopy of one layer of cheesecloth to the wire frame with clothespins, and then I set them in the full sun. The cheesecloth keeps flies and other insects or birds from destroying your handiwork.
If where you are is more humid, it might take more than one day. Just remember to take them in at night. The cool night air might cause them to get moldy, and that would be very frustrating. You may also try finishing them in a very slow oven (around 200 degrees).
When they’re leathery, but not crisp, I put them in a jar and cover them with a good, quality olive oil. They’ll keep like that for months in the fridge.
You can add herbs to the oil/tomato mix. Dried basil or oregano and garlic work really well. A little salt and pepper wouldn’t hurt, but is not necessary as you can season your ingredients when you put them in a recipe.
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