How To Dry Tomatoes

One of the greatest problems a gardener could ever face is having too many tomatoes.  There are many different techniques to preserve your crop, blanching and freezing, canning, and making sauces and pastes.  However there is another overlooked way to preserve the “fruits” of your labor.

“Back in the day” before refrigerated shipping and commercial canning and before it was possible to get fresh picked tomatoes around the world, sun drying was actually pretty common place.  The practice started on the tiled roof tops of Italy in order to store tomatoes into winter.  Later the process was industrialized in commercial ovens because it was one of the only ways to get tomatoes to remote and sometime urban areas of the country where they were out of season.
Not all varieties lend themselves to drying.  Look for tomatoes with thick, meaty flesh and a low seed and water content.  For best results use medium to small sized tomatoes; the bigger tomatoes tend to have a lot of water, seeds and pulp.  Roma and Early Girl are perfect choices; both have few seeds and a lot of flesh.  Many cherry tomatoes work great, but try to use larger varieties because after they are dried they tend shrink quite a bit.

The process is pretty simple, cut them in half or in quarters.  Try to cut them into the same size pieces so they will dry at the same rate.  Next remove the seeds leaving as much pulp as possible in the center.  If you want to add flavor, sprinkle salt, garlic or herbs on them, however it is not necessary.  Finally, place them on a rack or tray covered in cheesecloth and leave them in the sun, depending on weather it could take as short as two or three days or two weeks.  You may need to bring them in at night to avoid getting moisture from the morning dew.  There are countless articles on how to dry them in expensive dehydrators or ovens, but the old way still works.  Don’t forget most of the tomatoes weight is from water, it takes about twenty pounds of fresh tomatoes to dry down to about a pound of dried tomatoes.

If you’re going to use an oven, set it to 150.  Some thermostats will not go that low, so just use the lowest setting on your oven.  Arrange your cut tomatoes on cake racks so they do not touch anything and allow as much room for air movement.  If you do not have racks, use cookie sheets with parchment paper, you will need to occasionally flip them so they dry evenly.  The process will take 10-20 hours.  You can experiment with higher oven temperatures, but make sure to watch them carefully.

The finished product should be dry, but not crispy.  You do not want any moisture because it could breed dangerous bacteria.  They should be slightly flexible and leathery, kind of like a raisin fresh from a box.  Store them in Ziploc bags with air removed or a vacuum sealer.  I prefer to store mine in the freezer, but they can be stored in the fridge or a cool dark place.