As the temperature drops, and that unmistakable crispness fills the air, the urge to squirrel away food for the winter kicks into overdrive. Our long wet cool spring put most warm season produce 2-3 weeks behind this year, which means we’re playing roulette with the ripening tomatoes (red) vs the first frost (black).
One variety of tomato that never disappoints me is Principe Borghese, an open pollinated (not hybrid) Italian paste tomato perfect for drying. Territorial Seed claims Principe is a determinate, but I have not found that to be so (it will keep growing and putting on fruit until frost). The tomatoes are larger than a cherry but smaller than an egg, and have a distinctive pointed end. They begin to ripen pretty early, and are one of the few tomatoes I have found that still taste pretty good when picked green (in anticipation of a frost) and ripened indoors. Good out of hand or in pretty much any recipe that calls for tomatoes, these tomatoes really shine when dried. (This is also the variety mentioned in Animal Vegetable Miracle – and I am happy to announce I was growing them before I read the book.)
Quite a few years ago now, my mother-in-law bought me a Nesco American Harvest food dehydrator as a gift. I use it all the time. Mangos on sale? Dry some for snacks! Celery in the fridge ready to go off? Chop and dry for soups! Bought a bunch of parsley in February, and only used 15% of the bunch? Dry the rest. Stored garlic starting to sprout? Slice, dry, and grind for your own garlic powder (outside, please)! These work horses are well worth the investment, and you can get a decent one for around $60.
When looking to purchase a dehydrator, the two biggest factors besides price are an adjustable thermostat (you don’t want to dry herbs at the same temperature you dry tomatoes) and a fan (I have an old one I inherited from my Father that just has a heating element, and it does not work nearly as well).
So far this season, I have dried about 2 1/2 quarts of Principe tomatoes, and have a few more trays to go (depending on how much longer the plants crank out ripe fruit before we get a frost). These dried beauties are great in soup, on homemade pizza, added to sautéed greens, or turned into sun dried tomato pesto (make it and freeze in ice-cube trays now while you still have fresh basil).
- Wash and remove stem. No need to peel or core.
- Slice in half.
- Use your thumb to squish out most of the seeds/goo. This helps remove a lot of moisture and makes drying time go much faster, but is not technically necessary. These tomatoes have a membrane that runs from stem to end, dividing the chambers in half. If you slice directly through this membrane and don’t see any seeds, pierce the membrane with a knife. Otherwise when you squish them, seeds will shoot out with surprising velocity onto you, the wall, your glasses… you’ve been warned.
- Put tomato halves onto the dehydrator racks cut side up. It’s OK if they touch a little bit, but don’t make a solid sheet. Air needs to circulate.
- Dry at 135 degrees for 6-8 hours, checking every so often and rotating racks to ensure even drying. Finished tomatoes should be dry to the touch but still a little flexible, not crispy. Drying time will depend on your dehydrator, the humidity, and the size of the tomatoes you are drying.
- Store in air tight jar. They will last at least a year.
When using on pizza etc., pour boiling water over the tomatoes to just cover and let stand for 10-15 minutes to rehydrate a bit. Summer in a jar for sure!
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2011, where we must admit, after 4 batches of now frozen roasted tomato sauce (4 lbs tomatoes each), 3 quarts of cooked down canned tomato sauce and 10 pints of diced canned tomatoes, and about 20 lbs of tomatoes still sitting in my root cellar, I may actually welcome jack frost when he comes.