Before canning changed the face of food preservation, the most common method for preparing tomatoes for winter storage was dehydration. Left in the sun for a few days, the popular summer fruit became dry, leathery and could be stored for many months. The ancient preservation method also packs 100% of the flavor of a fresh tomato into 9% of the space. Sun dried tomatoes have become a pricey fixture in the gourmet aisle for use in salads, on pizzas or in antipasto, but are surprisingly easy to make at home without any special equipment (even on a cloudy day).
What You'll Need
Tomatoes, salt, and optional fresh herbs are all it takes to make sun-dried tomatoes at home. Any ripe tomato can be used to make sun-dried tomatoes, but paste tomatoes like Romas have fewer seeds and denser flesh, making them a great choice for dehydration. Five pounds of fresh tomatoes yield 3-4 cups once dried.
Wash and Sort Tomatoes
Start by washing tomatoes and removing any bruised or discolored fruit.
To prepare tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise (larger tomatoes may be quartered). Seeds may be removed by gently squeezing the fruit, but fewer seeds in paste tomatoes usually makes this unnecessary.
Arrange Tomatoes on Rack
Place tomato halves cut side up on a cooling rack and place rack on a baking tray to catch any liquid that may drip during drying. Leave space between slices to allow for good air circulation.
Fresh herbs like basil or oregano can add great flavor to sun-dried tomatoes.
Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt on each tomato half before drying. If using fresh herbs, mince thoroughly and sprinkle a bit on top of each tomato slice.
Although dehydrated tomatoes are commonly called “sun dried,” most are commercially prepared in dehydrators. If you wish to try your hand at solar dehydration, tomatoes may be covered with cheesecloth and left to dry in the sun for three or more days. We prefer a more controlled environment. Set oven temperature to 175 degrees and place trays in oven for 12-18 hours. As tomatoes dry, color will darken and texture will become leathery.
Remove From Oven
Sun-dried tomatoes are finished when the texture is similar to that of a prune or fresh raisin and no moisture is released when pinched. If removed too soon, excess water will make the dried fruit more susceptible to spoilage.
How to Store
Store-bought sun-dried tomatoes are sometimes packed in olive oil. While this practice was once common for home preservation, the lower acidity of modern tomatoes has led the USDA to discourage the practice for home canners. To safely store homemade sun dried tomatoes, pack tightly in airtight jars or ziploc bags, removing as much air as possible. Place in refrigerator for short term storage or freeze for up to one year. Because it is often difficult to detect lingering moisture in tomatoes dehydrated at home, room temperature storage is discouraged.