tomatoes: dehydrating or drying for summer year ’round

There is nothing I like more than throwing a handful of sundried tomatoes into a dish to add a bit of tangy punch and a little bit of summer.  Tonight, I wandered out to the tomato and pepper bed, rounded the corner, and ta-dah!  The sundrying tomatoes are ripening!  Start your (dehydrating) engines and sterilize the Mason jars–it’s time to start drying.

A couple of years ago, I got fed up paying so much money for dehydrated tomatoes in the store when I knew I could do it myself.  I will admit, I do not actually “sun dry” mine.  I bought a relatively affordable and effective dehydrator and started making my own dried tomatoes.  I like to slice them thinly so they almost become crunchy.  No worries though–once I bake, saute, or cook them, they soak up moisture and taste just like they did in July.

produce.yellow roma tomatoes

Some quick tips for dehydrating/drying tomatoes:

  • Using a tomato grown for drying makes the process much easier.  I have been using Amish Paste and Principe Borghese from my favorite seed company, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (http://www.southernexposure.com).    They are both very flavorful and are great for other recipes that require a tomato with less juice and more “meat.”  They are also a great size for slicing and drying–small enough to stay together to make beautiful circles which look lovely baked in an omelet or stirred into pasta.
  • Tomatoes will shrink.  If you want a decent amount of dried tomatoes to get you through fall and winter, make sure you plan for several visits to the garden/market and even more trips to the dehydrator.
  • I prefer a dehydrator because you can control the temperature and air circulation so that the tomatoes dry evenly.  My dehydrator with four trays usually dries thinly sliced tomatoes overnight (8-12 hours); the thicker the tomato slice, the longer the dry time.
  • Seeding the tomatoes will help them dry more quickly.
  • Since I slice mine thinly, I don’t remove the skins.  Some people prefer to, but I find that they cook just fine and the texture and flavor are fine with me.
  • Do spray the dehydrator trays with a thin coat of oil or coking spray.  It will make removal much, much easier.  Believe me and my fingernails–dried tomatoes can be a bit like bamboo shoots if you end up scraping them off the trays.
  • Let the tomatoes cool all the way before packaging.

There are several methods for packing and storing dehydrated tomatoes.  The primary goal is to keep them dry until you are ready to rehydrate–the last thing you want to find is mold or some other creature taking over your delicious goodies.  Some suggested packaging:  zip-top bags, stuff and seal bags, containers with lids, and my personal favorite–Mason jars.  As a precaution, I sterilize my jars, either in a boiling water bath or in the dishwasher, then let them air dry.

homesteading.dryingtomatoes

Now that you’ve dried and stored your tomatoes, what to do with them?   Some of my favorites:

  • For breakfast, I make an omelet or egg souffle with spinach, sundried tomatoes, and feta cheese.
  • I throw a cup into marinara sauce and soup (homemade or store bought) to add texture and flavor.
  • I bake them in bread dough with basil and parmesan cheese for gift-giving.
  • I add some into a crock pot with chicken, garlic, onion, and herbs for a quick dinner on an autumn eve.
  • I add to dips for color and flavor.

So now that you know the ins and outs of drying tomatoes, give it a try–your wallet and your recipes will thank you!

lessons learned: tomato cages and friendship

The past couple of months, I have experienced the unconditional care and support of friends.  Sometimes, if you are lucky, you find people who take you as you are. I consider it “grace” when they experience it all, love on you, and accept you in all your brokenness anyway.

I am reminded of this meditation from 3 summers ago and wanted to repost it as an expression of gratitude.  ~cameron

Last night, a handful of us headed over to the community garden at our church. You see, our woman’s group decided to become the seed planters, literally and figuratively speaking, for a new ministry with and in the community.  It is a “baby step” project with commitment, faith, and dreams that will carry it beyond this first year of poor soil, weeds and groundhogs.

My goal last night was to create chicken wire cages to prop up the tomato plants heavy with fruit.  You see, we’ve had rain the last few days, and if you know anything about tomatoes, all that water creates food filled with juice.  Between Saturday and yesterday, the plants appeared to be heavy in mind, body and spirit calling out to me, “Help!”tomatoes SUMC

I was the first to arrive and began working on the project on my own, and not so effectively I might add.  If you’ve never unrolled chicken wire, it can be a doozie to keep straight without the help of another person.  That statement doesn’t even capture what it’s like to cut it in pieces.  They snap off, flying every whicha way so that my legs this morning look as if our cat used my body for her scratching post.

After a bit, however, a friend arrived.  Yay!  In no time, we were working together to unroll, cut, and place the cages then tie up the tomatoes with twine.  With the help of two other women and two budding little farmer girls, we steadied 32 plants by the end of the evening.

Before we left, I stood at the edge of the garden.  I thought about those tomato cages and how they are like friendship.

Sometimes, life showers us with situations that leave us heavy in mind, body and spirit.  We become droopy and fatigued, wondering if we can bear the weight of it all.  Then come our friends.  They can’t take away the burden, but they gather around us and prop us up–through kind words, gentle hugs, quiet reassurance, and mindful prayer, helping us to grow and blossom and lighten our load.

lessons learned: the benefits of a good soaking

It has been dry here the past couple of weeks, and my gardens have begun to suffer a bit.  New seed starts wither and sunflowers stalks bow their heads.  It is not a pretty sight.

In an attempt to rescue my veggie starts, I have been accessing my two 55-gallon water barrels.  With all the new garden space, 110 gallons doesn’t go far when everything is dry. Plants perk up for the remainder of each evening but then slowly wilt as the next hot day drags on.

Finally, yes finally, we’ve had some rain this week.  Rather than just getting a few sips from my little hose, creation has received a long, cool drink of water from these storms.  Everything on the farm seems a little cheerier for it.

There is something to be said for a good soaking. Gardeners know that it encourages the plants to grow deeply in the soil rather than shallowly under the surface. As a result, their bodies become rooted and strong.

I think we all need a good soaking every once in awhile–a downpour of love or care, joy or peace.  We experience seasons where our spirits become depleted from any or all of those life-giving sources.  And like the limited storage of my water barrels, our spirits don’t necessarily have enough resources to replenish what’s missing.

That’s when we turn to the Creator and pray to be showered with what we long for, whether it’s through our Maker, a therapist, a spiritual director, friends, or family.  All we have to do is soak it all up, take it all in, and replenish our stores.

I took a brief stroll around the beds this morning.  The sunflowers seem to have gown several inches in the last  few days, and where small sprouts once were, now stand bright green plants strong enough to bear new fruit.

My prayer is that we may all receive the soaking we need to move into a season of bearing new fruit.