If you're like me, you always have way too many tomatoes in the summer. I wish I had a heated greenhouse, so I could grow tomatoes all year long. Someday....!
Growing tomatoes in the garden is a lesson in patience, waiting for that first ripe, red tomato and then....you have tomatoes coming out of your ears! What can you do with them all? Obviously, you can can them, freeze them, make salsa and tomato sauce, etc. But these all take up space.
My mom discovered that drying them helps. Now I'm not talking about sun-dried tomatoes, but completely dehydrated.
The first step is to pick your tomatoes. Any type can be used, but I really like a variety of grape tomato, called "Juliet". Some sources of seeds for this variety include totallytomato.com and seedsnsuch.com
I picked about 4 pounds for this batch. It's a manageable amount for me. Next, I washed and dried them.
Then, I sliced each in half and scooped out the seeds. I cut off any bad spots I found.
If you live in a very dry area, you might be able to let them air dry on racks. I live in East Tennessee, which is almost always humid. The tomatoes would rot before they dried properly. You could use an oven; but you only need 135°F, so an oven is a bit too much power and wastes electricity/gas. I use a food dehydrator.
I arranged the slices skin down on the silicon matts; this prevents juice from dripping all over your trays. I also sprayed each tray with vegetable oil spray to ensure no sticking. This particular dehydrator requires that at least 4 trays are used; luckily, I needed 5.
I set the temperature and pressed start. I didn't start the timer because I didn't know how long the drying process would take. The next picture was taken after 2 hours.
24 hours later!
Your ultimate goal is potato chip crispness. The whole process reduced the tomatoes from 4# to less than 4 ounces. I then labelled and dated a quart size freezer bag, put the dried tomatoes into it, sealed it and put the bag in the freezer. As you can see, there's plenty of room for more...probably a double batch.
Okay, here's the pièce de résistance! When you are using some of your canned or frozen tomatoes to make pasta sauce or tomato soup, you can add some of your dried tomatoes to increase the flavor. You have removed most of the water and are left with pure tomato flavor.
But wait! Don't just throw bits of dried tomato in there. First, while still frozen, put some of your tomato chips into a food processor or spice grinder and buzz them into powder. Then add to your cooking pot. You can also add some tomato powder to veggie dips or salad dressings to add tomato flavor without any extra water. Experiment with amounts added. I do know that a little goes a long way. Just remember that 3 1/2 ounces of dried tomatoes was once 4# of fresh tomatoes. Enjoy!
Addition: I experimented on my next batch and did not remove the seeds before drying. It took 48 hours to completely dry the tomatoes, but cut down the actual hands-on time I put in.
I also experimented with drying some poblano peppers. It worked well too, but my take away lesson here was... when drying any kind of spicy or hot peppers, do not keep the dehydrator in your house! I was choking on pepper fumes until I realized what was happening. The peppers dried much faster than the tomatoes too (~12 hours).
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