Sun-dried tomatoes are one of my favorite foods. I love their concentrated, sweet tomato-ness in just about everything, and will even eat them straight when soaked in olive oil.
But at the store, they are a pricey delicacy that either come in tiny, quickly-used jars or in bags that always look over-dry and often a little moldy. So this year, I decided I would grow my own tomatoes for sun drying, and now they are coming in to harvest.
How to Make Sun Dried Tomatoes
You can use any kind of tomato for sun drying, but it’s better if you choose a low-water, meaty variety of tomato like a Roma or plum.
This year, I selected the Principe Borghese heirloom tomato as my drying tomato. Principe Borghese is the classic Italian sun-drying variety and a perfect tomato for lazy gardeners.
These little beauties aren’t bad fresh, but their advantage is that you can leave them right on the vine to dry. However, if you want to enjoy their sweet goodness sooner, you can sun-dry or dehydrate them yourself.
To dry your tomatoes, first cut the smaller fruits in half. Larger tomatoes will need to be cut into ½ inch slices. Drain your tomatoes slightly on paper towels and scoop out any excess seeds if you wish (if you used an heirloom tomato, you can save some seeds for planting next year!).
Place the tomatoes on a raised screen. I use a framed window screen raised up on a few bricks to do this. Lightly sprinkle the tomatoes with sea salt, and place in the sunniest, hottest spot around your yard until dry. Depending on your weather conditions, this could take anywhere from four days to two weeks.
It’s very important to cover the tomatoes with cheesecloth to keep out any flies or other critters, and provide proper ventilation. Use more bricks or a wood frame to raise the cheesecloth up so it does not touch the tomatoes. You will also need to bring them in during the night, lest the morning dew or a random nocturnal animal undo your drying process.
Plan on 10 fresh tomatoes to get one ounce of dried tomatoes.
Alternatively, you can place the tomatoes on the racks of your dehydrator, leaving enough space between the pieces for the air to circulate. Drying tomatoes at 105-115°F (to preserve enzymes and nutrients) in your dehydrator may take from 16 to 36 hours, depending on the thickness of your slices.
When the tomatoes are dried they should be leathery but pliable, and non-sticky. Do not over-dry.
To store your tomatoes, let them cool completely, then put them in glass jars with an airtight lid in the fridge. They will keep this way for up to 6 months. If you need longer storage, put them in the freezer.
To store your tomatoes in oil, rehydrate your tomatoes just until plump by dipping them in either wine or vinegar. Then pack them in a jar with olive oil, thyme or oregano, and some sliced garlic. Allow the jar to sit at room temperature for 4 to 8 hours, then place it in the refrigerator.