Those of us who have tomatoes growing in their huertas – vegetable gardens – are finding that we have more than we can eat fresh, so I am going to give you two methods of preserving them. If you live in a climate with not much sun, you may wonder what use the instructions for sun drying would be to you, but should you find yourself holidaying somewhere hot, you may be grateful to have the knowledge that in the space of three to four days you can have your own sun dried tomatoes to take home as a culinary memento of your stay.
First principle is only use perfect fruit. Small tomatoes are quicker and easier to dry than large ones. So certainly while you getting used to drying tomatoes, and particularly if the weather looks uncertain, go for smaller ones if you have the choice.
Wind is as much of a factor in successful drying as heat. Look for a drying spot that has all day sun and a breeze. You may have to have a morning drying spot and a different afternoon one.
Any flat tray/plate can be used to dry the tomatoes on. Because I dry a lot, I have an old fold out clothes drying rack to which I peg teatowels to make a flat surface. But I have used oven trays, unused cupboard shelves and plates.
Always bring the tomatoes in at night. No matter how hot it feels there is always too much condensation at night, which will encourage your tomatoes to rot. Not to mention all the vermin, cats and bugs that roam around at night.
Start at the beginning of the morning to give the tomatoes a good full day of drying for their first day.
Wash the tomatoes. For plum tomatoes cut them in half as above. For round varieties cut them in half across their equators.
Lay out the tomatoes on a tray cut side up and sprinkle generously sea salt onto the flesh.
Put them outside in a sunny and breezy spot.
After one and a half to two days of drying the tomatoes will have curled inwards, so to enable them to keep drying you need to uncurl them and flatten them out. Sometimes little bugs may have crept into the curled up edges, just evict them.
The length of time that tomatoes need to dry varies depending on the size of tomato and the weather conditions. Normally here in the second half of July the conditions are perfect for drying, which they were for the Komato variety at the beginning of the post, which dried in two and a half days. Just because I wanted to do a step by step with photos for you, the plum tomatoes last week took four days to dry as we had unseasonal cloud and humidity. Occasionally and usually towards the end of the season the weather turns too humid and you have to abandon the drying half way through and use the tomatoes for something else.
Don’t be tempted to leave the tomatoes out in the sun too long either. I have done this thinking that extra drying will help them keep longer. It doesn’t and you end up with tomatoes like dried up bits of leather. So stop when the tomatoes feel dry but still have some flesh to them.
To store I pack the tomatoes into jars with olive oil. The first year that I dried tomatoes I had read somewhere that they could be stored in paper bags. By November they were covered in little spots of a type of mould. Maybe harmless – but not appetising. This would probably happen even more quickly in a less dry climate than here. Putting them in oil holds the colour much better too.
Put a little oil in the jar first, and then layers of tomatoes and oil making sure that you have no air bubbles. Make sure that there is about 1cm of oil above the last tomato. Seal and store in a cool dark place.
Next post will be the recipe for Passata.
I leave you with Pablo Neruda
Ode to Tomatoes
filled with tomatoes
through the streets.
the tomato invades the kitchen,
it enters at lunchtime,
takes its ease on countertops,
It sheds its own light,
we must murder it:
the knife sinks into living flesh,
a cool sun,
populates the salads of Chile,
it is wed to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union we pour oil,
essential child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,
pepper adds its fragrance,
it is the wedding of the day,
parsley hoists its flag,
potatoes bubble vigorously,
the aroma of the roast knocks
at the door,
it’s time! come on!
on the table,
at the midpoint of summer,
star of earth,
recurrent and fertile star,
displays its convolutions,
its remarkable amplitude and abundance,
no leaves or thorns,
offers its gift of fiery color
and cool completeness.