Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dehydrator Dried Tomatoes

Plate of dried tomato slices
Dried Heirlooms & Super Bushes

Method from Excalibur and TomatoDirt


Tomatoes! Here in the Santa Cruz mountains, we still have them ripening like crazy in the garden. I’ve made baked tomato sauce and slow cooker tomato sauce, which I’ve frozen for a rainy (January) day. Bruce made raw tomato sauce and I experimented with baked tomatoes and even candied tomatoes. We’ve had herbed tomato soup, fresh tomatoes with basil and balsamic, chili spiced Romanesco cauliflower, turkey Hungarian goulash, squash with fresh tomato sauce, and more tomato/veggie/pasta dishes and salads than we can count. Freezer is filling up. What’s next? Dried tomatoes!


Yellow heirloom, Super bush, Early Girl, grape, and Sungold cherry tomatoes
All Varieties Can Be Dried
Any kind of tomato can be dried. Slicing tomatoes need to be cut horizontally ¼” thick or less. Cherry and grape tomatoes must be cut in half. To reduce the drying time, I remove some of the seeds and liquid after cutting the slices (or halves). This is especially important for grape or cherry tomatoes with lots of seeds. Oddly enough, cherry and grape tomatoes dry slower than large tomato slices. These cut-in-half tomatoes only have one surface from which water can evaporate (the bottom surface is skin). Any watery tomato will also benefit from having excess liquids removed before drying.

Heirloom tomatoes being sliced and laid out on dehydrator
Preparing Heirlooms for Drying
According to TomatoDirt.com, two conditions are needed to dry tomatoes: proper (constant) temperature and air circulation. Tomatoes can sun-dried, oven-dried, microwave-dried or dehydrator-dried. Oven drying can work well if you can set your oven at about 135 degrees F. I’ve heard that a gas oven with a pilot light on can work. Convection ovens are ideal, provided that they have low enough temperature setting. They act much like dehydrators, blowing warm air over the drying tomatoes. TomatoDirt.com has tips on all of these methods, including pros and cons.

5 Varieties of Dried Tomatoes on Plate and in Bags
All Varieties Dried
Since I don’t have a gas oven and my convection oven is very tiny, I opted for a dehydrator. While dehydrators incur an initial cost, they are also super-reliable. Mesh inserts allow air to circulate and the thermostat allows optimum temperature control. This ensures efficient drying without burning.

There are two basic dehydrator styles. One is round and requires the user to stack up trays. The other is square with drawers that the user pulls out. The latter is more convenient to set up and to check while warm, but costlier. To me the investment in not lifting trays while checking each layer of tomatoes and removing dried ones was worth it. I went for an Excalibur dehydrator.

Yellow Heirlooms being dried
During the Drying Process
To avoid heat and tomato smells in the house, I set up the Excalibur on the enclosed back porch. Enclosure is important to keep away insects and other curious animals. It seems almost impossible to over-dry tomatoes in the Excalibur, as long as you keep the thermostat at 135 degrees F. The literature that came with the dehydrator stated that tomatoes take 5-9 hours at 125 degrees. However, since fruit is dried at 135 degrees and tomatoes are technically fruits, I bumped up the temperature to 135. Even so, the tomatoes took 8-12 hours.

Drying time depends upon the tomato’s thickness and species. For me, watery yellow heirlooms and cherry tomatoes took the longest. Dry farmed Early Girls took the least amount of time, with Renee’s SuperBush tomatoes a close second. I understand that Romas also dry relatively quickly, especially if seeds are removed. Each variety has a characteristic flavor. Of the tomatoes I tried, Renee’s SuperBush had the most concentrated flavor. My understanding is that Romas are also excellent flavor-wise.

TomatoDirt.com is a great resource for further information about drying tomatoes, and everything else about gardening with tomatoes.

Plate of dried cherry and grape tomatoes
Cherry and Grape Tomatoes Took Longest to Dry
Dehydrator Dried Tomatoes

Wash and dry tomatoes. Spray top of dehydrator mesh tray liners with very light coat of nonstick spray if desired to minimize sticking. Line trays with mesh.

Remove the core from slicing tomatoes. Cut into ¼” or smaller slices. Cut cherry and grape tomatoes in half. Remove seeds and extra liquid from slices and halves if desired.

Place tomatoes on dehydrator trays. Leave ½” between slices for maximum air circulation. Put cherry and grape tomatoes on trays with skin side down.

Slide drawers into dehydrator or stack trays. Close lid and turn temperature to 135 degrees F.

Check after about 5-6 hours. Turn partially tomato slices over. Depending upon how close they are to dry, check every 1-2 hours, turning over slices that have stuck to the mesh again. Remove slices as they dry. When dry, tomatoes will be dry and leathery, not tacky. They will still be flexible.

Cool dried tomatoes completely. Store in air-tight container in a cool, dry place. Refrigeration is not necessary.

If you over-dried your tomatoes by accident, they will be crispy rather than flexible. To soften them a bit, try storing them in a ziplock bag with a chunk of lemon rind for a few days. Shake the bag periodically and check their texture every day or so.

2 comments:

  1. Drying or dehydrating things for the first time. I did strawberries and apples and ready to do tomatoes . I feel nervous about keeping finished product in a non frozen space.

    Or in the fridge as I've one so far with the strawberries and apples.

    I'd love to put my dried tomatoes (ths week) in jars in the pantry.

    I guess if they are all VERY dry, they won't get moldy, etc?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry for the delay in my reply, my hard drive crashed last week. I store my dried tomatoes in zip locks, and they keep for up to one year--that's as long as I've been able to store them without using them up. Jars ought to work fine if, as you say, they are VERY dry.

      My storage area (cabinet) is cool to moderate temperature, medium to low humidity and dark.

      My only concern about the jars would be if/when your climate is extremely humid and moisture gets into the jars as you open and close them. In that case, using a series of smaller (1/2 - 1 pint) jars would limit the amount of humidity that gets into each jar. Or you could open one large jar and "decant" a cup or two of tomatoes into a 1 pint jar every so often, then open the smaller jar as needed.

      I'm glad to hear that you're dehydrating, and especially about the apples, which I've been debating whether to try out. You've inspired me to give it a go!

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