I was cleaning up my small, raised bed of peppers and tomatoes on one of our perfect fall afternoons. Besides the usual green bells, this year I have yellow banana peppers, pimentos, and I also chose a plant called purple beauty that turned out peppers with a beautiful, dark plum color and a bell shape that remained very small. I have one cherry tomato “bush,” a grape tomato variety that was larger than the cherries, and one “Best Boy” plant.
I hobbled across the yard with all the messy, fallen fruit I’d gathered for the compost only to discover that my nicest tomato crop had volunteered right there from the compost pile.
I was thinking of ways to use all that was left to be picked when I remembered this article I had saved but had never run –
Sun-Dried Tomatoes – The “In” Thing!
People like them on salads, on pizza, in sauces and casseroles. The uses for sun-dried tomatoes are unlimited for the creative. With tomatoes beginning to ripen here in northeastern Ohio people are asking: Can I make them with my garden tomatoes?
There’s no reason why not. But they really aren’t going to be “sun dried” tomatoes. A food dehydrator is the best appliance to use to dry tomatoes, especially in our climate. It is nearly impossible to get foods to dry “in the sun” here in Ohio. Our humidity is too high and the products develop mold before they dry. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions for using the food dehydrator.
Use fully ripe tomatoes, and cut away any bruised spots before beginning the process. The best tomatoes to use for this are the meaty type, such as Roma tomatoes. From 14 pounds of fresh tomatoes, you can expect to end up with about a half-pound of dried tomatoes, or 2.5 – 3 pints.
As with any vegetable, picking a tomato off the vine activates certain enzymes that cause changes in color, flavor, texture, sugars and nutrients. So, its always best to process tomatoes as quickly as possible after being harvested.
Before you begin the drying process, pretreat the tomato by rinsing it off and dipping it in boiling water for one minute. Peel the tomato and remove the stem end. Cut the tomato in slices from an eighth-inch to a half of an inch thick. With Roma tomatoes, you can also just cut them down the middle.
Drying in the oven is possible, too. Use the lowest oven setting possible, about 140 degrees. Once it’s preheated, leave the oven door open a few inches, with a fan blowing across the opening to assure good air circulation and to allow moist air to escape. Adjust the temperature setting and use an oven thermometer to be sure the oven remains at about 140 degrees. This may be difficult or impossible with some ovens, plus you will have all that extra heat in your kitchen for at least 10 hours.
Place the tomatoes on a cookie tray or put them on a cooling rack that’s set on top of a tray. They should be dried for several hours, perhaps as many as 10 hours, depending on the thickness of the slice and the moisture content of the tomato. They’ll be crisp when they’re done. Watch carefully, as they can scorch easily near the end of the drying time. Store the dried tomatoes in an enclosed container in a cool, dry, dark place.
To make dried tomatoes in olive oil, cut Roma tomatoes in half and dry them until they’ve shrunk to about one-quarter their original size, are dark red, shriveled and dry but not hard. Let them cool for an hour, then pack into jars and cover with olive oil. Let the tomatoes marinate at least six weeks before using. These tomatoes must be refrigerated, because the combination of fruit and oil in an airtight container could cause botulism. Remember, the tomatoes must be dry and the tomato mixture must be refrigerated to ensure this product is safe.
Martha Fillipic and Mary Kershaw, OSU Extension
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