I stumbled upon a book a few weeks ago that immediately intrigued me. The title alone drew me in: Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation. I mean, come on, any book that completely summarizes it’s contents within it’s own title has to be a quick, easy read, right? As it turned out, most of the recipes in there were a little far-fetched even for me. It is a pretty interesting book, and I do recommend borrowing a copy from your library. It’s basically a cookbook with a collection of authors almost exclusively from charming French provinces. While I can appreciate the nutrients saved by not subjecting foods to extreme heat or cold to preserve, most of the recipes were obscure enough (chestnuts in vinegar and a bucket?) that I simply couldn’t see myself actually consuming the products. And who has time to put up food they won’t ever eat? The different methods of preservation NOT involving the ones that are so common and available to us today (canning and freezing) are pretty cool though. I mean, this is hard-core Prairie Mama stuff, and normally I’d be all over such adventures. But as I said, I just cannot see my my family passing oil-packed cottage cheese that’s been stored in my basement around the table. Ick.
There was one recipe I did immediately try, however. Sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil. Easy-peasy, right?
Nothing is ever easy-peasy for this Prairie-Mama-Wannabe. I probably would have starved my 14 children if their existence depended soley on my food preservation skills. (That and the fact that my husband wouldn’t shoot a deer if the darn thing was foaming at the mouth.) Although at least we’d all be skinny…
I digress. Let’s get to the point of the post, shall we?
Sun-Dried Tomatoes packed in oil
What you will need:
- Small tomatoes, like cherry or grape tomatoes
- Gauze or cheesecloth (or a old window screen, if you’re a hillbilly)
- Coarse salt
Wash your tomatoes and slice them in half the long way. I was able to catch my daughter’s nap and prepare mine while watching repeat episodes of “The Nanny”. I will subject you to Dagny’s perfect baby cuteness now:
I placed my halves on one of my dehydrator trays, but any platter will work. Next, sprinkle the halves liberally with the salt, cover with the cheesecloth and set in the sun.
Yeah, that’s a window screen you are seeing. I didn’t have any cheesecloth and I live out in the middle of nowhere and wasn’t about to drive 30 minutes just to have a classier picture to post.
Not that I didn’t seriously consider it…
Ok, what really happened was that I assumed I had cheesecloth or at least something that would have worked and went ahead and cut up all the tomatoes and salted them before confirming that fallacy.
Can I get some props for creativity? It actually worked to my advantage anyway because we had some pretty intense wind the days I had this outside, and I think it would have created a problem with anything lighter than my window screen.
Anyway, this is the tricky part of drying foods in the sun: They actually need to BE IN THE SUN. Not the dark, not the rain, and definitely not the hail. Seems pretty common sense, but common sense and Chelsea Daniels have very little in, well, common.
The directions say to turn the tomatoes twice a day and to bring them in at night ‘lest the dew undo the day’s drying.
You know what else completely undoes a day of drying? A storm. A big, country-style, tornado-looking storm, complete with hail.
That’s right. I thought to take pictures of The Storm, but didn’t think to Bring In The Tomatoes. Doh!
It’s okay, the next day was sunny and warm. I was kind of starting from scratch again, but by the end of the day they were shriveling nicely.
At the start of Day 3, I left to go grocery shopping, remembered my tomatoes and texted my husband (at the store, not on the road 🙂 ) to please set them out in the sun for me.
At the start of Day 4, I remembered my tomatoes and realized they spent the night outside. In the dew. Oh, and the rain. Of course.
Let’s just skip forward to the “done” part. What should have taken 2, maybe 3 days of attentiveness took ME 7 days. But sun-dry they did finally do, and NOW we get to the true easy-peasy-ness of this recipe.
Slap those time-sucking shells of what once ’twere tomatoes into a mason jar, fill it to within 3/8 inch headspace with olive oil, screw the lid on, set it in your pantry and stop wasting any more time on them!
Except I couldn’t quit thinking about them. I was irritated that they had proved to be such a task for me, and I was irritated with myself for being irritated. I decided to see if there was any true benefit to sun-drying them as opposed to sticking them in the dehydrator. Do they taste better from the sun? Sun tea does have a slight advantage over stove tea. Suntans have a serious advantage over tanning bed tans. Surely true sun-dried tomatoes have a magic in them that the dried bits from my dehydrator cannot match.
Of course I tested this theory:
What you will need:
- Small tomatoes
- A Dehydrator
- Coarse salt (optional, but recommended)
This truly is easy-peasy. Slice up the tomatoes, lay them on the dehydrator tray, (I only used one tray because we just don’t consume many dried tomatoes) salt them, turn it on the “fruits and vegetables” setting, and in about 6 hours (depending on how packed your dehydrator is) you’ll have dried tomatoes! Pack them in a glass jar with oil to 3/8″ headspace, seal them with a lid tightly, and store in a cool place.
If you aren’t as flighty as I am, sun-dried is the way to go. The sun-dried tomatoes had a richer, fuller-bodied flavor than the dehydrated tomatoes. I actually forgot to salt the dehydrated tomatoes (I said I was flighty!), too, and the salt on the sun-dried ones was really a nice touch. If you are prone to forgetfulness like someone else I know, the good news is that the dehydrated tomatoes are still quite tasty, and absolutely worth it. I was pleased to discover that I really liked the oil-packed tomatoes, and can envision myself wrapping them in basil leaves for a snack, or scattering them over a fresh salad. I will be making these again, and I will most definitely be using my ditz-proof dehydrator!
*Note* This recipe did not say how long these tomatoes will last. Use your discretion and inspect the tomatoes for any spoilage before consuming.