Squirreling It Away

September 19, 2007 at 11:21 am 42 comments

Tomatoes 

Five days from the official start of autumn; I’d say it’s time to start squirreling away some of those summer crops to preserve warm-weather flavors that will brighten cold-weather dishes.  Putting up all types of preserves for the winter is a long-standing tradition in my family.  I have vivid memories of shelling dishpan after dishpan of lima beans and boiling pot after pot of beets to be canned and put in the cellar cabinets. 

Those cabinets were fascinating in and of themselves.  Built into the rough stone foundation of our century-old farmhouse, those cabinets got filled to the brim by mid-October with colorful mason jars and then “mysteriously” emptied by June of the next year, just in time for the full-swing of harvest.  There was one small cabinet, just my size when I was seven or eight, which held all the fruit jams I helped my mom make – strawberry, grape, peach, blueberry, and raspberry.  Peach was always my favorite.  

Seeding and juicing the tomatoes

The big cabinets held the large quart jars of pie fillings (peach, apple, cherry); fruit halves (pears, peaches); soup mix (for my mom’s amazing hearty vegetable soup); vegetables (green/yellow beans, lima beans, kidney beans, corn, beets, tomatoes); and sauces (apple sauce, spaghetti sauce, soup stock).  All of this had been grown in our garden and on our farm.  We had three large freezers full of meat we’d raised ourselves as well.  To say the least, it was an impressive example of sustainable agriculture and eating really really local all year round. 

But sadly, while I do have a farm right in my neighborhood, I don’t have that lovely big cellar with stone walls full of canning cabinets.  My small rowhouse does have a basement but not one that was built to provide the right climate and storage for food preserves.  Still, I’m determined to do two things this autumn – preserve our family traditions of preserving and perpetuate the eating of fresh local fare for as long as possible.  Buying mass quantities of produce from the farm stands now to can and freeze will help support those farms through the winter just as much as buying a tomato here and a squash there has all summer long.   

Tray of Fresh Tomatoes

I began my quest by drying what remained of the large box of yellow tomatoes I had on hand.  I was pleased with how long they had lasted off the vine, but the signs of demise were close at hand so I needed to take action before they were too far gone.  I’ve never dried my own tomatoes before, nor has anyone in my family so this is actually an evolution of sorts of our family traditions.  Since my small outdoor space is lacking bright sun while overflowing with squirrels, doing the drying by natural means wasn’t an option.  Oven drying turned out to be a perfect and easy process.

OVEN DRIED TOMATOES
Researched on various websites

For this batch of oven dried tomatoes, I used a yellow medium sized variety.  You can dry any kind of tomato – for cherry and roma tomatoes, cut them in half.  For other larger varieties, cut them into 1 inch wedges.

Tray of tomatoes after about 2 hours

Begin by washing the tomatoes well and removing the stem and core along with any bad spots (the great thing about drying tomatoes is that you can use a half rotten one if part of it is still good).  Cut the tomatoes in half and gently squeeze them over a bowl to release most of the seeds and juice.  Do not squeeze them too hard though as you want some of those juicy innards to remain for flavor. 

Once tomatoes are squeezed, cut into smaller wedges (about one inch) and place in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet, cut side up.  If you so choose, drizzle with just a little olive for added flavor.  Don’t add very much though as it’ll keep the tomatoes from drying out properly if there’s too much oil.

Tomatoes after about 8 hours

Heat your oven to 150 F or its lowest setting if it doesn’t go that low.  Since drying will take anywhere from 5 to 10 hours, this process works really well in a gas oven since the residual heat from the pilot light flame is usually enough to keep the drying process going if you need to turn the oven off when you’re in bed or not home.  If using an electric oven that doesn’t have a 150 F setting, put it on low and prop the door open slightly.  It’s okay to turn the oven off altogether and then turn it back on when you are in the kitchen again.  Just leave the sheet(s) of tomatoes in the oven uncovered.  If you’re doing multiple trays at once, rotate your baking sheets or racks every few hours.

I used the half-dried tomatoes in a quesadilla for dinner - so yummy!

When the tomatoes are dried they should be leathery and pliable, but not sticky.  Don’t over dry them – you don’t want dark brittle bits.  Rather, aim for a texture much like a raisin. 

To store your oven dried tomatoes, let them cool completely and then put them in ziplock bags or glass jars with an airtight lid. Apparently they will keep this way for up to 6 months, but I can’t confirm that just yet (I’ll report back later this winter).  One site I read also suggested you could freeze them for even longer storage times.

Fully dried tomatoes in jar

Oven dried tomatoes can also be stored in oil.  To do this, do not dry them quite as much…they should still be a little bit plump. Quickly dip them in distilled vinegar and then pack in a jar before covering with olive oil. You can also add some fresh herbs and sliced garlic if you’d like.  Allow the jars to sit at room temperature for a day and then store in the refrigerator.

These are great in any recipe that calls for sun-dried tomatoes.  Or, to rehydrate to use in soups and sauces, soak them for 5 to 10 minutes in hot water, broth, or wine.

(one tray of tomatoes yeilds about one half pint jar when dried)

Oven Dried Tomatoes in Jar

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42 Comments Add your own

  • 1. taylor  |  September 19, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    Awesome! I was staring at a bowl of yellow tomatoes last weekend. It’s cool enough now to leave the oven on for 5 hours, too. My gas bill is included, so I may have to do this.

    Reply
  • 2. Jennie  |  September 20, 2007 at 6:19 am

    Believe it or not, this didn’t really heat up my kitchen at all… the temp is so low that you’ll not notice anymore than you do your pilot light (which, I do, ironically notice in the dense heat of mid-summer cuz the kitchen just never cools off thanks to that dang little flame).

    Reply
  • 3. Rachel  |  September 20, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    may have to try this. I’m sick of canning right now. How ’bout drying peppers? Any ideas if that’d work and how I’d use them when they’re dried?

    Reply
  • 4. Jennie  |  September 21, 2007 at 6:46 am

    I’m sure you could dry peppers too… in fact, they might be faster than tomatoes since they don’t have nearly as much moisture. The tricky part though is figuring out what to do with them later… I guess you could soak them and then use them like roasted peppers. I’m thinking dicedup and put in pasta or a stir fry. Maybe even sandwiches, depending on the resulting texture. You know what… as I type and think, I bet you should store them in oil instead of completely dry as that will basically be roasted peppers and those will keep nicely in an airtight jar as long as the oil covers the peppers. I’ll try some this weekend and get back to you on that. :)

    Reply
  • 5. Preserving More Than Just Food « Straight from the Farm  |  September 25, 2007 at 10:36 am

    [...] wanting to preserve food but not having the storage or kitchen space to do full-fledged canning of the sorts she does.  It was then that she mentioned that in the “old days”, a lot of vegetables were [...]

    Reply
  • 6. Jen  |  September 26, 2007 at 9:30 am

    Wow, those tomatoes look amazing! I’m glad I came across this post – I have something like twelve pounds of tomatoes and I’m still trying to get the hang of canning. This looks like a fun change of pace.

    Reply
  • 7. Jennie  |  September 26, 2007 at 9:38 am

    Jen – 12 pounds should make you quite a nice batch of oven dried tomatoes! Just make sure they’re plenty dried out in the end… I discovered last night that one of my batches must not have been dry enough as one particular jar seemed to be in a state of fermentation! The others were fine though so just be sure to get all the moisture out. :)

    Reply
  • 8. Jen  |  September 26, 2007 at 11:03 am

    Thanks for the tip. I’m not a fan of uncontrolled fermentation :)

    Reply
  • 9. Jennie  |  September 26, 2007 at 11:12 am

    I concur! :)

    Reply
  • 10. MarthaJo  |  October 15, 2007 at 10:33 am

    How long will the oven dried tomatoes last and how should they be stored?

    Reply
  • 11. MarthaJo  |  October 15, 2007 at 11:20 am

    Never mind. I just need to read farther. I was just too antsy to the tomatoes in the oven! (:

    Reply
  • 12. Jennie  |  October 15, 2007 at 11:30 am

    MarthaJo – You’re too funny! :) I’ve done a couple batches of these now so have a little extra advice to offer you. When you’re done drying them in the oven, put the tomatoes in a paper sack and hang up in your kitchen (I dangle mine from a shelf) for a week to make sure all the moisture is out. Afterwards, I’ve started storing mine for the long term in a ziplock bag. I added this week of air drying in a paper sack because one batch I did that I thought was good and dry ended up developing a little mold later on…so the week in the sack should eliminate any remaining moisture without drying them to a crisp if you left them in the oven longer. Their texture is much more like sun-dried tomatoes now that I’m doing this. Hope that helps! :)

    Reply
  • 13. Rachel  |  October 15, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    I did a tray this weekend and am looking forward to using them when you post a recipe later in the year. I, too, was concerned about mold as some were a little sticky but didn’t want to keep them in much more because a few were also brittle. So I tried the freezer storage.
    We’ll see…

    Reply
  • 14. Jennie  |  October 15, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    Excellent, Rachel! I’m already devising a couple recipes for them. Probably give the first one a go as soon as fresh tomato season ends…could be a couple more weeks at this rate, considering the balmy weather.

    Reply
  • 15. MarthaJo  |  October 17, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    I tried this and it worked great!! The tomatoes dried within 3 hours in my electric oven. Just a couple of them were still a bit moist, but they are also thicker than the rest. They are now in a jar in my fridge. I plan on puiitng them in oil-that’s how we usually BUY sun-dried tomatoes.
    Do you think I could do peppers this way, too? I’ve got a boatload of them! I tried to make “rista” to hang them to dry, but my fine motor skills leave a lot to be desired (<;

    Reply
  • 16. Jennie  |  October 17, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    MarthaJo – I’m so glad you tried this. Putting them in oil is probably the best way to keep them if a few remained moist. You can definitely do this with peppers….in fact, I did a post on them too. :) Here ya go: http://straightfromthefarm.wordpress.com/2007/10/02/for-those-short-on-space/

    Reply
  • 17. MarthaJo  |  October 19, 2007 at 7:46 am

    Thanks Jennie! I’m going to try the peppers tomorrow. My husband is a chef and we have a little home bakery. He uses the tomatoes in the dough when making sun-dried tomato wraps. We’ve used sun-dried from the grocery store, but now we can use our own!

    Reply
  • 18. Jennie  |  October 19, 2007 at 8:59 am

    Wow, that’s awesome, MarthaJo! Are you in Philly? I want to come try your tomato wraps! :)

    Reply
  • 19. MarthaJo  |  October 19, 2007 at 9:36 am

    Hi Jennie.
    I’m in Vermont. My niece is in Philly. She’s a profesora at Villa Nova.
    (some of the peppers are in the oven right now. They smell heavenly!)

    Reply
  • 20. Jennie  |  October 19, 2007 at 9:56 am

    Drats! Let me know when you start a direct-shipping element to your bakery. :) Or, if you feel so inclined, share your recipe with us for using the dried tomatoes in the bread. :)

    Reply
  • 21. MarthaJo  |  October 19, 2007 at 10:19 am

    Wiill do! I’ll get the recipe from my husband. It’s very simple. We’re going to experiment this winter on sending our baked goods through the mail. We have friends in Princeton, NJ and in Pittsburgh, who are only here in the summer that want our stuff. I’ll let you know how it works out.
    Now, the peppers are getting water built up on them. Should I keep the oven door ajar for awhile? it’s an electric range.

    Reply
  • 22. Jennie  |  October 19, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    Fantastic! Can’t wait for both the recipe and the order-by-mail option. :) Yes, you’ll need to crack your oven door open to get some of the excess moisture out of your peppers. You can also pull them out and let them “air dry” for an hour or two before putting them back in the oven to continue the process if you’re finding the moisture isn’t disappearing.

    Reply
  • 23. Week of Bread: Dried Tomato « Straight from the Farm  |  January 29, 2008 at 10:32 am

    [...] have my stash of preserves to recall warmer days behind and ahead of us.  We’ll start with some oven-dried tomatoes that I put up in September.  Oh, and let’s not forget the frozen basil puree I stashed away at [...]

    Reply
  • 24. Sally G  |  July 25, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    I just discovered your site. I plan to try my first “dry” of garden tomatoes this afternoon–in an electric oven with a drying option. I have high hopes but can’t find any comment on how to know when there are dry enough, but not too much? Any advice on that would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
  • 25. Jennie  |  July 25, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    Wonderful, Sally! You’ll want the tomatoes to be leathery, but not brittle. If you’ve ever gotten a bag of sun-dried tomatoes (not the kind that come in a jar of oil), that’s the consistency you’re looking for. It’s also partly a learning process, as my first batch wasn’t dry enough and got some mold later. They’re so wonderful for using in the winter, you’ll want to make several batches and no doubt will be a pro after a few tries. :)

    Reply
  • 26. Sally G  |  July 25, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    Jennie – Thanks for the advice. I’ll try and let you know how they all came out.

    Reply
  • 27. renee w.  |  July 30, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    Hi…great site!

    I came across it as I was looking for a recipe to oven dry the bumper crop of cherry tomatoes I have growing in my West Philly garden plot. I am a Lancaster County transplant with many summers of gardening and preserving in my childhood, but this is the first year I’m trying freezing, canning, and drying on my own. Thanks for the tips! I’ll be back for more ideas and recipes! :-)

    Renee

    Reply
  • 28. Emma  |  August 12, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    Hello! Bless you for this site! I am in the middle of canning tomatoes, and decided to check my options for drying some as we love them on our grilled pizzas. With such an abundance, why pay the high price if I can do it on my own??? I always dry apples in the fall – usually a bushel – just for snacks for the grandkids (and us). The dish of them I put out at Christmas and TG is usually empty before the candy is! Soooo I figured someone knew how to dry tomatoes. Thanks!

    Emma

    Reply
  • 29. Use ‘Em Up! « Straight from the Farm  |  August 19, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    [...] each new batch that comes off my prolific vines.  I’m no psychic, but I’m pretty sure making a batch of oven-dried tomatoes is in my near [...]

    Reply
  • 30. Diana  |  August 24, 2008 at 11:16 am

    I’ve been drying tomatoes this summer each time I have more than I can enjoy
    eating. I’ve been storing them in olive oil in quart jars in the fridge. So far I have
    just tossed them in my pasta dishes but recently ran across this soup recipe in a
    book called The pH Miracle.
    AsparaZincado Soup
    serves 3-5
    12 stalks medium asparagus
    1 avocado
    5-6 large tomatoes
    1 c. fresh parsley
    3-5 sun-dried tomatoes (bottled in olive oil)1/4 c. dried onion
    4 cloves fresh garlic
    1 red bell pepper
    Bragg Liquid Aminos to taste
    1-2 tsp. your favorite herbs (basil, thyme, sage, oregano, etc.)
    2 tsp. dill
    2 lemons or limes, cut in thin slices

    Trim and dice the tips from the asparagus and set aside for garnish. In a food processor blend the asparagus and red tomatoes, parsley, dried tomatoes, spices, garlic, onion, and bell pepper. Then blend in the avocado until soup is smooth and creamy. Warm in an electric skillet and garnish with lemon or lime slices. Season with Bragg’s to taste or serve cold in the summertime. Sprinkle diced asparagus tips on tip of soup just before serving. Yummy!

    Reply
  • 31. jennconspiracy  |  September 4, 2008 at 10:57 am

    Curious – why should the tomatoes be dipped in distilled (white?) vinegar before packing in oil?

    I’ve got a solar dehydrator that I’ve just finished – the pictures are going up this week – and my tomatoes are all starting to ripen. In the Bay Area, we have a delayed summer – it gets warm in late August/early Sept – all the tomatoes I planted in April are confused and I have early/mid/late season tomatoes all happening now. Just think – Moscovich Extra Early *and* Brandywine – ha ha!

    Reply
  • 32. Jennie  |  September 4, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    I’m quite jealous, Jennconspiracy, of your tomatoe diversity. :) I put in the dipping in vinegar instructions based off reading up on drying tomatoes in the oven. I would venture to guess the vinegar is meant to “sterilize” and remove any remaining sliminess from the dried tomatoes that might hinder their storage. Or, it could just be one of those “wives tales” habits that don’t really have any scientific basis.

    Reply
  • 33. Elizabeth  |  October 4, 2008 at 9:18 am

    This info is enormously helpful. I’d like to store my dried tomatoes in oil and give as gifts. I’m afraid that after a few months, the herbs in the oil will be stale, mushy, blah. Have any of you tried infusing olive oil with garlic and herbs, then straining the solids, before adding the oil to the tomatoes?

    Reply
  • 34. Jennie  |  October 7, 2008 at 8:25 pm

    Elizabeth – I haven’t tried that specifically, but I certainly think it’s a superb idea. And you might wish to add a fresh clove or two of garlic and some new herbs for asthetic appeal when you repackage it to give as gifts. What lucky gift recipients you have!

    Reply
  • 35. Lizwil98  |  October 8, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    My sister in England sent me this recipe for coat cheese, olive and sundried tomato muffins. Although its a site from the UK I am sure people on this side of the pond will enjoy them.

    http://www.cranks.co.uk/recipes/view/2

    Its October and I still have loads of tomatoes so I have most of the big ones drying out in the oven right now.

    I am hoping to be able to give away the little ones because it would be a bit of a chore to dry them!

    Reply
  • 36. The Urban Farmer’s Almanac » Tomatoes in November?  |  December 3, 2008 at 1:41 am

    [...] Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that they dried a lot of their tomato crop, so I turned to the internet to learn about oven-drying them (as there is no sun to be found these [...]

    Reply
  • 37. David Masaoka  |  July 10, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    i have been warned not to oil pack w/ garlic or fresh herbs because of danger of botulism. I think low probability but high consequences

    dm

    Reply
  • 38. flowers  |  July 12, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    The dish seems interesting, I put out at Christmas

    Reply
  • 39. Bangkok beel  |  August 31, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    Just dried some tomatos with a cheap dehydrator and skinned them first but after a day I raelized the thicker they are, the slower drying times. My wife took over today and blanched the skins off and hasn’t peppered or salted yet and since she’s Thai we have some communication difficulties. A devout coward, I always realize Women know best!
    I’m really not fond of skins and noticed you just halve then leaving skins, and place them skins down, though you de-seed them for another reason I fail to fathom as I think seeds are yummy?
    I think you do this to keep them from sticking to your trays?
    The plastic trays were a bit of a problem prying them off after drying and I’m wondering about letting them drain of putting on paper towels for them to loose juice before placing on trays or outdoor screens which we’ll try next.
    Advice?
    Bangkok beel and USA Sawin

    Reply
  • 40. Shelle  |  May 28, 2011 at 11:50 am

    How did the storage in the plastic bag turn out? Did you add oil to the bag? Did it have to be refrigerated or can it be on a shelf? My husband and I dehydrated lots of veggies to take camping and packed them into a plastic ziplock baggie. Out in the middle of nowhere, we found out the hard way to store them in brown paper bag. How did the glass jar work as I have not tried this method?

    Reply
  • 41. Paul  |  June 5, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    Amazingly enough I have just found your post while searching through the net for ideas for storing tomatoes. My daughter is 4 and loves tomatoes so I thought planting a few cherry tomato plants would be a cool idea. Well now we are picking everyday and When I say picking I mean like she has an easter basket she fills DAILY. I even tried picking all the ones slightly turning and go to get in the car the next day and see more we need to get to. She is having a blast with the garden but I am running out of things to do with them and it is to the point I am going to have to start drying freezing ect. I found your post very helpful. Thanks, Paul (dad) and Brenna (4 yrs old)

    Reply
  • 42. Drying tomatoes | lpnschoolss.info  |  December 30, 2012 at 1:26 am

    [...] and storing tomatoes: UC Extension Service — Nutrition, Family and Consumer Sciences (PDF file) Squirreling it Away – Dried tomatoes Hunter Angler Gardener Cook This entry was posted in Uncategorized by . Bookmark the [...]

    Reply

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