In antiquity , before the advent of modern canning methods , Mediterranean peoples , particularly Italians dried tomatoes in the hot sun, for wintertime use when fresh tomatoes were not available. Today, sun-dried tomatoes have become more popular in America than in the Old Country.
Sun dried tomatoes have enjoyed a vigorous boost in popularity in the United States during the past several decades, as a gourmet item, as well as a favorite of many home cooks.
How to Dry Tomatoes Using the Sun
Any variety of tomato can be sun-dried , however Plum or Roma varieties are best suited for drying, as there are less seeds and more flesh. Cherry varieties will also suffice. Choose tomatoes of relatively equal size so they will dry at a uniform, rate.
Cut the smaller tomatoes, such as cherry and the smaller Italian varieties in half. Larger tomatoes will need to be cut into 1/2 inch slices. Drain your tomatoes slightly on paper towels.
Next, place the tomatoes skin-side down on a clean non-metallic framed screen, metallic objects will react with the tomato acid.
Cover the screen or tray with cheesecloth or fine netting to keep insects away. I also have had success with seed drying trays. I prefer to remove the seeds by gently squeezing the tomato to extract them, be careful not to remove or damage the pulp.
Salt can also be lightly sprinkled on the cut surface, this will help draw moisture from the fruit. If drying plump or juicy tomatoes, a small slit on the skin side will aid in the drying process.
Next, you'll need the cooperation of Mother Nature in providing several days of hot sunshine, low humidity, and good air circulation. After several days of hot summer sun ,the tomatoes should be well dried, Properly dried tomatoes have a dark red color , should be leathery but pliable, and non-sticky. Their texture should be similar to a prune.
Food Dehydrators to Make Sun Dried Tomatoes
Do not attempt to dehydrate your tomatoes using a microwave, it just doesn't work. You can however, dehydrate your tomatoes, as well as other fruits and vegetables with an electric dehydrator. An electric dehydrator will maintain a steady reliable heat.
Set the dehydrator temperature at 135 to 140 degrees F. If the dehydrator doesn't have a thermostat, place a reliable thermometer on the bottom tray. Place the prepared tomatoes on the dehydrators trays , leaving 1 to 2 inches between trays. It may be necessary to turn the tomatoes, and rotate the racks while drying.
Near the end of the drying time, the tomatoes can easily scorch, so be sure to examine them occasionally and remove any dried tomatoes.
Regardless of what method you use avoid over-drying the tomatoes as they become tough and difficult to cook with. If not dried enough, they can easily grow mold.
Storing Sun Dried tomatoes
Dried tomatoes should be conditioned prior to storage. Conditioning is the process of distributing moisture in the dried fruit evenly to prevent mold growth. Condition dried fruit by placing in a plastic or glass container, sealing and storing for 7 to 10 days. The dried fruit in the containers should be shaken daily to distribute moisture. If condensation occurs, place the fruit in the oven or dehydrator for more drying.
To store your sun dried tomatoes, you can put them in zip lock bags or glass jars with an airtight lid. They generally keep for 6-8 months. For longer storage, freeze them.
Rehydrating Dried Tomatoes
To re-hydrate the tomatoes, soak them for 5 to 10 minutes in hot water, or wine.
You can also store your tomatoes in olive or vegetable oil. Dip them in wine or vinegar, then pack them with olive oil and some herbs of your choice, in a jar sliced garlic adds a pleasant taste. Let this to sit at room temperature for at least 4 , but not more than 8 hours. Then refrigerate.
Be aware that there is a botulism poisoning danger when storing foods in oil. It is a good idea to use Canning Jars and sterilize using a pressure cooker before storage. Botulism toxin is destroyed by heat, you may want to use the tomatoes only where they are cooked at boiling temperatures for at least 15 minutes before serving.