How to Make Sun Dried Tomatoes
Basic Tools Needed To Dry Tomatoes
If you have the tomatoes, you don't need too much else to successfully create delicious sun-dried tomatoes.
If you don't have a food dehydrator, you will also need:
a baking pan or cookie sheet
Cookie cooling racks
non-stick vegetable spray
Making Sun Dried Tomatoes Out Of Necessity
Years ago, after a particularly abundant tomato crop, I decided to try my hand at creating sun dried tomatoes. At the time, we lived in the high desert of Southern California. We had just built our first house and our backyard was a barren landscape. We had no budget for adding an irrigation system and the view out our back window was a stretch of desert hardpan called caliche soil.
Feeling the need to grow something, we selected a little spot near the back door and an outdoor spigot to which we add bags and bags of soil amendment. Into this spot went eight tomato plants. We figured we would lose about half of them, ultimately giving us four plants. Completely manageable, right?
What To Do With Too Many Tomatoes?
Well, those plants just LOVED that spot! We had a continuous crop of tomatoes straight through the summer and well near to Thanksgiving time. While we enjoy tomatoes, there was no way just my husband and I could keep up with eating the supply. We passed them out to all of our neighbors and co-workers and still had an over-abundance. I processed some for the freezer, but by October, I was running out of ideas, freezer space and my taste for tomatoes.
Maybe it was some latent southern Italian genetic embedment (my grandmother is from a little town in the toe of Italy), but I got the idea that Mojave Desert in which we lived was the perfect environment to create sun dried tomatoes. It was not unusual to have days over 105 °F and not a cloud in the sky. Perfect for creating sun-dried tomatoes. However, by the time I came up with this idea, it is not nearly that hot during the day since it was October. Still sunny and warm, but not over 100 degrees.
Experimenting With Different Drying Methods
This was before the days of the internet, so I did not immediately look online to figure out how to make sun-dried tomatoes. In fact, I didn’t even check out a library book. I opted for trial and error. The first thing I tried was just to slice up some tomatoes and set them on a tray out in the hot sun. We practically never saw a fly in the desert, so I wasn’t too worried about the possibility of flies landing all over the tomatoes. After several days of sun exposure, some of the slices did get a little leathery, but most just looked like tomatoes that had gone bad. Some had black splotches and I even detected a tiny bit of green mold…something that I rarely saw when we lived in the desert, even on an old loaf of bread.
The next thing I tried was to slow dry them in the oven. I heard of somebody else trying this method and it sounded easy. I sliced up the tomatoes, placed them on a cookie sheet set the oven on its very lowest ‘keep warm’ setting. It worked. I processed several batches. I even figured out that if I sprayed a cookie cooling rack with vegetable spray, the tomatoes would stick less and pop right off without any scraping from the pan. I could only make a couple of sheets at a time, which wasn’t all that many tomatoes. It took a day or two for the tomatoes to dry out, depending on how thickly I sliced them. One day, out of frustration, I turned the oven up, just a teensy bit. The tomatoes did dry faster, but I found that some of the more thinly sliced tomatoes dried more quickly and could end up the slightest bit over cooked, i.e. burned.
Using A Dehydrator To Create Sun-Dried Tomatoes
The first frost was on its way. Yes, it does get that cold in the desert in the winter. So, I harvested everything that was left, even the green ones. I let everything ripen on the counter for a few days and then proceeded to process them a few pans at a time. This took forever! I did finally get them all dried and we ate sun dried tomatoes all through the winter, but that Christmas, I asked for a food dehydrator as a gift.
Things went VERY well after that.
I practiced with other fruits, such as apples and grapes, to get my techniques worked out before the next tomato season. We once again had a bumper crop of tomatoes, so I got to practice my skills and I dried so many batches of tomatoes that year that I was able to give packages of sun-dried tomatoes out as Christmas gifts.
Have you ever preserved food by dehydrating or drying it?
Reviving The Use Of The Dehydrator
For the eleven years we lived in the High Desert, we always had wonderful crops of tomatoes. This was especially true after we finally got a drip irrigation system installed and our yard landscaped. True, our landscape consisted of several tons of rocks we distributed, but hey, it was a great way to have a groomed yard without using up valuable water.
We moved to Indiana nine years ago to a home that was already landscaped. We found ways to tuck a few tomato plants into the flower beds here and there, but usually the supply of tomatoes is just enough to keep our family of four and a few neighbors happy during the summer.
However, this summer, things were a little different. For some reason, our tomatoes didn’t really start producing until mid-September. Once they started, they did so with abundance. I dusted off my food dehydrator and decided to try my hand again at drying tomatoes. It has been nine years, so my skills were a little rusty and I discovered that my now 20 year old food dehydrator still worked, but doesn’t have the bells and whistles that the newer versions have.
Oven Or Dehydrator: The Methods Are Similar
- Wash and towel dry the tomatoes.
- Slice the tomatoes. I have tried this two ways. The first way is to slice them into quarters. The second way is to cut them into slices as you would for placement on a sandwich. They dry faster if sliced as for a sandwich.
- Remove the pulpy seeds. You can just slide your thumb into the seed containing sections and the seeds and pulp pop right out.
- Layer the tomatoes either on a cookie cooling rack that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray or on the trays of your dehydrator. If using the oven, place the cookie cooling rack inside of a cookie sheet.
- Oven method: Set oven to the lowest setting. Often this is labeled as ‘keep warm’. Depending on the thickness of your slices and your oven, this could happen in 8-12 hours or one to two days. When you are experimenting with your own equipment, check the dryness of the tomatoes often. Tomatoes are done when they are of a leathery consistency.
- If using a dehydrator, just fill up and stack the trays. My dehydrator takes about 36 hours to dry when it is fully loaded. If you have a dehydrator with a temperature setting, 140 °F is the suggested temperature at which to dry tomatoes.
|Serving size: 1/4 cup|
|Calories from Fat||0|
|* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.|
How To Store Sun Dried Tomatoes
I store my sun dried tomatoes in a plastic, self-sealing bag. They will keep in your cupboard, but if I'm not going to use them immediately, I keep them in the freezer.
This model is similar to what I use. It has temperature settings which make it much more flexible to use for a variety of food products.