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There are many signs of summer and one of the best is a plate of ripe tomatoes. If you grow them in the summer you know how unrelenting they can be. If you know how to dehydrate and preserve tomatoes, you can do something very useful with all that harvest.
A cornerstone of Italian cooking, the tomato is actually a fruit! From the best sauce to fresh slices of tomato there is nothing really like a tomato when it’s ripe.
Don’t be fooled though, dehydrated tomatoes, particularly sun-dried tomatoes are a powerful asset for preparedness.
Growing fresh tomatoes is not as hard as you might think. In fact, if you get a harvest going then tomatoes are going to be coming out of your ears. They are so prolific it can be overwhelming.
Did I mention the lycopene and other health benefits?
Tomatoes are one of the best vegetables to preserve and add to your food storage arsenal.
How to Dehydrate Tomatoes
There are several ways that you can dehydrate tomatoes. However, three methods work the best and are most commonly used. You can dehydrate or dry tomatoes in a countertop dehydrator, your own oven, or by using the power of the sun.
Note that these methods can be used, no surprise, to make sun-dried tomatoes as well.
I’m going to share my favorite recipe, but first, let’s touch briefly how to prep your tomatoes.
Preparing Tomatoes for Dehydration
There are many varieties of tomatoes in our world. Some may be as big as softballs and or as small as grapes.
My preferred tomato to dehydrate is Roma tomatoes. They have more meat and fewer seeds than your larger, rounder varieties. Likewise, they are great for drying as they are less juicy.
Roma tomatoes should be cut in half, not sliced, and dehydrated with the cut side up (skin side down). This retains the juices and sugars within the skin instead of draining this bounty into the pan. Nice!
Larger varieties can be sliced about ½ inch across.
The most important part of processing your tomatoes is to do so consistently. Dehydrate one type at a time and be sure that all of the pieces are uniformly dried.
Remember, a thicker slice of tomato will take longer to dehydrate than a thinner one.
Finally, don’t forget to save some of those tomato seeds. You can grow a tomato from a tomato!
- 1 pound tomatoes
- Rinse the tomatoes and allow to dry
- Slice Roma tomatoes in half, or larger tomatoes in ½ inch slices
- Remove seeds for planting!
- Arrange cut side up (skin side down) on your dehydrator tray
- Lightly greasing the tray can help with the drying process
- Sprinkle with salt and basil (or your favorite herb)
- Preheat dehydrator to 140° F
- Dehydrate tomatoes for around 10 hours. Drying time will vary depending on the size and juiciness of your tomatoes, so check them starting at around the 7-8 hour mark.
- Remove tomatoes when they reach your preferred level of doneness, some may be ready quicker than others.
If you are looking for more of a meaty texture, like sun-dried tomatoes, you may want to pull them out around 7 hours. If you want a flexible, yet dried texture, allow tomatoes to dry closer to 10-12 hours.
How to Dehydrate Tomatoes in an Oven
Before shutting the doors at a restaurant I used to work at, we would dump about 5 lbs of grape tomatoes into a hotel pan and cover them with olive oil. We would roll them around and hit them with a little salt.
With the oven turned off, a combination of the pilot light and 12 hours would dry these tomatoes beautifully. This was how I learned to dry tomatoes in the oven. We called them tomato raisins and they were dropped into dishes to add amazing flavor!
It is a very simple hands-off process to dry tomatoes in your oven.
Start by preheating your oven to the WARM setting. If your oven is too hot you will burn the tomatoes over the long period they are inside. Like I mentioned above, you can simply dry them in the oven with just the pilot light on.
With something as wet as tomatoes you might want to lay your slices out on a Silpat mat or wire rack. Avoid laying them on parchment or aluminum foil if you can. They will adhere to the material and you will have bits of foil or paper in your dehydrated tomatoes. Yuck.
Dehydrate them for about 12 hours and check the level of dryness. If they are still a little moist you will want to return them to the oven for another hour or two.
How to Make Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Sun-dried tomatoes are how our ancestors would have dried tomatoes through the ages. This process is a little different and works best with smaller tomatoes.
While you could use a solar oven to make sun-dried tomatoes the very best way is to use twine, a needle, the sun, and wind. All of these combine to make something very special.
It will take days for you to dry the tomatoes this way but there is nothing like true sun-dried tomatoes.
Using your needle, thread the twine through the thickest parts of your tomatoes. Halved tomatoes are best for this. If you have very big tomatoes you may need to quarter them.
Using a foot of twine or string you want to thread your needle and twine trough about 10 pieces of tomato. Hang the string of tomatoes outside in an area that gets plenty of sunlight. Warm days and a nice breeze can help things along but you are going to need every bit of 3-5 days to get these tomatoes sun-dried.
Dehydrated Tomatoes vs Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Dehydrated tomatoes are dry with little to no moisture left in them. On the other hand, sun-dried tomatoes are less dried and still have a meaty texture to them. They are a magical ingredient and many great recipes include sun-dried tomatoes.
Remember, since sun-dried tomatoes contain more moisture, they will be stored in oil rather than just shoved into a Mylar bag together.
How to Store Dehydrated Tomatoes for the Long Term
After you have dehydrated or sun-dried tomatoes its time to consider storing them for the long term. You are going to do this in two different ways.
The best way to store these for the long term will be to use Mylar bags, oxygen absorbers, and small plastic buckets or even larger mason jars.
The oil will act as a preservative as will the oxygen absorbers and mylar bags.
You want to be sure that you keep your sun-dried tomatoes out of direct sunlight. This could make the oil go rancid and spoil what’s inside.
Ball Mason 32 oz Wide Mouth Jars with Lids and Bands, Set of 12 Jars. (Limited Edition)Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil, First Cold Pressed, (2 Liters) 68 Fl Oz (Pack of 1)20 – 1 Quart Mylar Bags & Oxygen Absorbers for Dried Food & Long Term Storage by Dry-Packs!
How Long Will Dehydrated Tomatoes Last
If you store sun-dried tomatoes in oil you are going to hold onto those as long as the oil is fresh. Rancid oil will cause the food it’s stored in to go rancid as well. There is no washing rancid oil off. The shelf life of olive oil can be quite long if you store the jars in a cool dark place.
I would check the tomatoes yearly. You will likely burn through your sun-dried tomatoes before they go bad. That is the beauty of rotation.
As for the dehydrated tomatoes you are going to get a much longer storage period. Due to the lack of oxygen and moisture in the mylar bag environment, it becomes next to impossible for bacteria to grow.
This means you can keep dried foods for as long as 20 years! That is some serious shelf life!
Tomatoes are from the Mediterranean and that means they prefer a climate that matches the area. When you know how to grow tomatoes you will reap the benefits.
How to Grow Tomatoes
Tomatoes require several different things to be successful. All of which are very easy but if you do not act as a conscientious gardener you will struggle to have a good harvest.
Tomatoes are Mediterranean plants and they like moisture. They can stand that heat but they like the moisture to boot.
Deep root watering is very necessary. My father-in-law buries PVC pipes in the ground and leaves a length of them exposed above ground to dump water directly into that deep root system. His tomatoes grow to be about 10 feet tall each year.
The sun can be a double-edged sword. While lots of sun in the early days of growing can be great, hot temperatures and the glaring sun can take a toll on your plants in July and August.
8 hours of sun are going to be important when it comes to growing big red tomatoes. In the summer you might want to cover them with some thin cloth to block the sun.
Trimming your tomato plants is going to give you the ability to keep the leaves up off the soil. They pick up all kinds of problems from the ground. From pests to disease your leaves are going to pull all sorts of trouble.
In fact, trimming most of the lower leaves on your plant will focus nutrients into the higher leaves and tomatoes.
Tomatoes take up a lot of nutrients from the soil. To make big, red, ripe tomatoes, they need a lot of nutrients!
It’s important to replace that soil year over year and even give it rest some years. You can learn how to plant tomatoes in grow bags or pots if you can manage the soil and watering.
Things like compost and Azomite are powerful all organic solutions that can aid in the replacement of nutrients in the soil.
Even with nutrient-dense soil, you are going to need to fertilize your plants. The biggest and strongest plants are fertilized. How you fertilize is an interesting question.
You can buy pre-made fertilizer that is manure-based. That’s for sale at most department stores.
Here are a few other methods to consider.
- Hydrolyzed fish emulsion is an organic, less harmful solution to fertilizing.
- You could also make some compost tea, which is a great alternative.
- If you compost your chicken poo you will unleash another powerful fertilizer onto your soil and plants.
Use a Trellis!
Your tomatoes are vining plants. You may not see it until you unleash them on high reaching trellises. These can be made from several different materials. It is very easy to make a DIY trellis system.
Most backyard gardeners grow tomatoes every year but some people do an amazing job at growing them year over year. They take advantage of the many things we talked about above.
Health Benefits of Tomatoes
The benefits of eating tomatoes are wide-ranging. The men on the island of Crete live and work into their 90s! They exist on a diet heavy on red wine, seafood, olive oil, and tomatoes. The proof is in the pudding.
So, what are the health benefits of tomatoes? Let’s have a look.
How does 40% of your daily recommended vitamin C sound? You get that in one tomato! These ruby reds are filled with a wide range of vitamins and minerals.
Additionally, higher consumption of vitamin C is associated with a lower risk of most types of cancer.
In our daily lives, we are under assault from a variety of deadly carcinogens. To combat this, tomatoes are packed with high levels of vitamin A which will combat their harmful effects.
Those same high levels of Vitamin A also improve vision. This is another huge benefit of eating tomatoes.
Because of the skin and flesh in the tomatoes, you receive a healthy boost in your fiber intake. This feeds the helpful bacteria in the lower gut and aids the entire digestive process.
Lowers Blood Pressure
The high levels of potassium in tomatoes, which can help you with your hypertension. Potassium is a vasodilator that helps with constricted blood flow.
Their high fiber content and nutrient-dense makeup mean that tomatoes are going to help with weight loss. You can swap out unhealthy snacks for something like cherry or grape tomatoes!
It should come as no surprise that tomatoes are such a healthful food. There is a reason they find their place in the backyard of almost every gardener. Learning how to grow tomatoes makes a world of difference in the amount you have to harvest and how you dehydrate your tomatoes.
Tomatoes are a macro food! They are a tremendous part of our culture, our diet, and are abundant with nutrition.
There are also many ways that you can grow tomatoes. Additionally, you can grow them all over the world!
Tomatoes are a diverse crop that can be grown in even the most hostile environments. If you know how to grow these it can make a huge difference during your harvest.
Whether you sun-dry or dehydrate them, tomatoes are great to preserve and deserve a place in your food storage pantry.
Bonus: How to Make Pemmican, the Original Survival Food
Invented by the natives of North America pemmican was used by Indian scouts as well as early western explorers.
Native Americans spent a great deal of time on the go and depended on having portable, high-energy, highly nutritious, and filling foods that would last for long periods of time without refrigeration.
Pemmican is a portable, long-lasting, high-energy food. It's made of lean, dried meat that's crushed into powder and mixed with hot, rendered fat. This makes it one of the ultimate foods to have stockpiled for when SHTF or disaster strikes.
People really should avert their gaze from the modern survival thinking for just a bit and also look at how folks 150 years ago did it.
These guys were the last generation to practice basic things, for a living, that we call "survival skills" now.