Today we decided to call ‘time’ on the tomato growing season, and clear out the greenhouse. As a result, I have a kitchen quite literally overflowing with tomatoes. Don’t believe me? Here they are!
But, sun-dried tomatoes? In the UK? In *October*? Some kind of witchcraft, surely?
A couple of weeks ago, I finally caved in and bought a dehydrator. Some of those little beauties you can see there will be making their way into it very soon. I’ve made two batches already, and I’m extremely pleased with the results. The process is a little time-consuming, and slightly faffy in the preparation, but the final product is amazing, and hugely rewarding.
To make these ‘sun’ dried beauties, you will require –
- A glut of home-grown tomatoes, perfectly ripe but not over-ripe and going soft. I used cherry-sized tomatoes and above, since they’ll shrink anyway.
- Sea salt
- Mixed dried Italian herbs
- Citric acid
- A large bowl, colander, slotted spoon, measuring jug, and a sharp paring knife
- A dehydrator. I selected mine on the basis of extensive background research. Erm, hang on, no, that’s not right. I bought the cheapest one on Amazon.
Wash all your tomatoes carefully and remove their little ‘top-hats’. Now, get a really sharp little paring knife, and slice the tomatoes in half. Honestly, this is my single important top tip here, if you’re slicing tomatoes, you want a really really sharp knife. Otherwise it’s all nasty hard work, and if you’re unlucky the knife will slip on the tomato skin and you’ll lose a finger. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
In your large bowl, put a litre of fresh cold tap water and add a teaspoon measure of citric acid, and dissolve by stirring energetically. The citric acid improves the preservation of the tomatoes, and enhances their colour retention as they dry. If you don’t have any, you can sometimes get it from pharmacies, and always from home-brew suppliers.
Place your halved tomatoes in this acidulated water and leave them for ten minutes (you can get on with chopping the next lot meanwhile) and then remove them with the slotted spoon and place them in the colander to drip for a bit.
Once you’re happy they’ve stopped dripping, arrange them on the dehydrator tray, with the skin sides down. Just touching is fine but don’t overcrowd them or let them overlap. This takes a bit of time first time and is really fiddly, but once you’ve done it a few times you’ll find a technique which makes it a lot faster. Carry on until all your dehydrator trays are filled. Mine seems to take about 2-3kg of fresh tomatoes.
Before ‘firing her up’, sprinkle a mix of sea salt and dried herbs sparingly over the cut surfaces of your tomatoes. I used a half-and-half mix, and just an ordinary dried herb mix from the shops, but if you have gorgeous fresh herbs then by all means chop those up finely and use them! Sprinkle over sparingly, but do try to make sure each piece of tomato has at least a flake of salt and a piece of herb on it.
Now stack the trays up in the dehydrator, set your temperature if your dehydrator has a thermostat – I used 55C, but consult any instructions that come with your machine. While the dehydrator is running, rotate the position of the trays every few hours so that they dry evenly (the bottom of my machine, where the warm air comes out, was about 20C hotter than the top, when I checked it with a temperature probe, so this is a real factor).
As they dry, the house will fill with a beautiful sweet tomato smell. (Hubby dislikes this because he says it makes him think of pizza. Takes all sorts!) You’ll notice the tomato pieces shrinking, wrinkling, and darkening in colour.
My tomatoes were dry after about 36 hours, but this will vary hugely depending on the temperature you use, the characteristics of your machine, size of your tomatoes… You get the idea! Aim for the smaller pieces being really, plasticky-dry, the larger pieces will still have a bit of flex in the flesh but shouldn’t have any wetness (check for this in the middle, under the seeds).
Now remove your greatly-shrunken tomatoes and put them in a large Kilner jar, or something similar. Whether you’re planning to keep your tomatoes as they are, freeze them for longer storage, or store them in oil, you’ll still want to put them in a jar for a few days, as this helps them ‘condition’ – effectively, it allows the less-dry pieces to donate their excess moisture to the more dried out ones, so that the humidity of the dried tomatoes evens out. Give the jar a shake a few times a day for three or four days. Of course, you’re not going to be able to resist having a taste, so dig in. They’re amazing, sweet, little flavour-bombs. I’ve been munching on them like sweeties!
From a glut-busting point of view, you’ve transformed a massive bowl of fresh tomatoes 2 – 3 kg in weight, into less than a litre volume of dried tomatoes, *and* they’re going to keep. Really, what’s not to like?
That’s it, simple, no? Of course, there’s so much else you can do with the dehydrator, too..!