Nothing says summertime to me any more than eating a fresh, ripe tomato. In fact, it’s pretty hard to imagine a summer without them. But for those of us in temperate climates, fresh tomatoes are a seasonal treat. And the season for tomatoes is always way too short for me! Dehydrating is one of my favorite ways to preserve tomatoes so I can enjoy their goodness year round. Drying tomatoes actually concentrates their flavor, while removing the moisture and greatly reducing the amount of space required for storage.
In Mediterranean climates, tomatoes are often dried outside in the sun. But most of us don’t live in areas with an appropriate climate for that method of drying. And while it’s possible to dry tomatoes in the oven, with a solar dehydrator, or even in your automobile, my wife and I have found that the best and most predictable results are obtained by using a dehydrator with a variable thermostat control.
We generally use small fruited tomatoes for drying. Varieties like Juliet, Golden Sweet, Black Cherry and Golden Rave are some of our favorites. We’ve found those varieties to be tasty and prolific, and the dried tomatoes we get from them work well for our uses. But any type or size of tomato can be dried successfully. It’s all about whatever tomatoes you have, and however you intend to use them.
To prepare the tomatoes for drying, we give them a good, thorough rinse, then cut the smaller ones in halves or quarters lengthwise, depending on the size of the tomatoes. Larger tomatoes – like slicers or paste tomatoes, can be cut crosswise into slices about 1/4 inch thick. Some instructions for drying tomatoes include removing some of the seeds, but we never bother with this step.
Once the tomatoes are cut into the appropriate sizes, it’s onto the trays and into the dehydrator. Some like to add salt, herbs or oil to the tomatoes before drying, but we find they are more versatile if we just keep them plain.
Our Excalibur dehydrator recommends drying tomatoes at 135°F, but you should follow your own dehydrator’s instructions. Remember that tomatoes are really a fruit, and use that as a guide. Too high a temperature can result in darkened tomatoes, with a burnt flavor.
It can take anywhere from 8 to 18 hours to completely dry the tomatoes, depending on their thickness and moisture content. The tomatoes should have a consistency somewhere between leathery and crisp – flexible, but not sticky or gummy. Some tomatoes may get done sooner, if so they should be removed while the rest continue drying.
You can store the dried tomatoes in a glass jar or ziploc bag in a cool, dry place. Or you can do like we do, and vacuum seal them before we store them in the freezer. They will keep this way for up to a year with no noticeable loss of flavor or color.
And how do we use those dried tomatoes? The possibilities are really endless. For most uses we reconstitute them before using by soaking in warm water for 15-20 minutes. We love them on pizza, and in egg dishes. They add great flavor when tossed into pasta dishes. You can make some lovely pesto creations with them, like Pumpkin Seed Pesto or Sundried Tomato Pesto. Or make a Sun-dried Tomato Tapenade. And they are wonderful on and in salads, and added to vegetables like green beans and squash. Of course, you can always just eat them by themselves for a yummy snack!
Dehydrating tomatoes is a great way to preserve one of summer’s most popular homegrown items. And whether you grow the tomatoes yourself, or buy them, you can have your own dried tomatoes for a fraction of the cost of the pricey store-bought kind. And they will taste oh-so good when the fresh ones are just a fond memory!