By Tammy Taylor
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This summer has been pretty weird, garden wise. After suffering 3 consecutive years of gripping drought we got a little rain this year. Oh don’t get me wrong, we’re STILL in the drought and suffering from below-normal rainfall but at least rains have come sporadically this year. But here’s the crazier weird thing: we had hordes of grasshoppers the likes I’ve never seen before. They swooped in like a plague, sweeping through in clouds of flying hoppers & stripping each & every leaf off of most of my garden and then devouring any sprouting leaves that try to recover thus killing the plant entirely.
Even my apple trees were stripped completely bare of leaves as well as many bushes in the yard and almost all of my garden. But for some reason the grasshoppers didn’t eat the tomatoes, so that blessing coupled with at least a little rainfall meant my tomatoes produced like gangbusters. I only planted two tomato bushes (of course my favorite heirloom San Marzanos) but they’ve produced even more heavily than they usually do. I’ve frozen them and cooked them into tomato sauce and canned pasta sauce. I’ve dehydrated the skins for tomato powder and even made tomato leather for pizza. But what about dehydrating them into diced tomatoes to use for my endless soup this winter? Hummm…
First I harvested the basketful of ripe tomatoes from the garden and brought those beauties inside, washed them and allowed them to air dry. When I was ready to begin processing I cut each tomato in half and seeded them. It’s wonderful for this
lazy efficient harvester that these San Marzanos can be cut & seeded in just about 10 seconds each, so this step didn’t take long at all. I didn’t bother removing the skins this time for two reasons: First: let’s admit it, I’m lazy in the kitchen. Second: if I were cooking with fresh tomatoes and dropping them into my soups, etc. I wouldn’t remove the skins anyway.
I’ve used my little household dehydrator for years and although it worked fine I now have an * Excalibur dehydrator and I absolutely LOVE it since I can now easily dehydrate large amounts of produce at one time. My manual instructs me to dehydrate these beauties at 155 degrees for 8-12 hours, until leathery or brittle. Of course it also instructed me to first remove 1/2″ from the top, steam until tender, cool, peel & cut into 1/4″ slices or 1/8″ cubes but you know being the kitchen rebel that I am I didn’t. Although I didn’t do any of those preparation steps except the dicing, I think they’ll be perfect for my use. I dehydrated mine just under 12 hours and they were about right for me.
After they were dehydrated I gathered them up and placed them in a couple of glass jars. I’ll leave them on my counter top for about a week with the lid propped on top but not screwed on. Each day I’ll shake the contents of the jar in case there’s just a little residual moisture in my dehydrated tomatoes. If that moisture is allowed to stay it will start to mold and destroy the whole jar of dehydrated produce. By leaving the lid loose and shaking the contents daily I will distribute that moisture and allow it to evaporate.
Yeah, I feel a little like SUPERWOMAN of the kitchen as my cape flaps gently in the breeze & I steel my jaw to declare “Must. Defeat. Mold.” Oh yeah, you’ve discovered my super-secret secondary profession. After about a week I’ll seal the jars tight and store them in my pantry.
Can you believe how little room those several pounds of tomatoes take now? I’ll use them similarly to the canned diced tomatoes I used to buy – either rehydrating them for recipes that call for a can of diced tomatoes or if I’m making endless soup I’ll just drop them into the simmering broth along with the other dehydrated veggies I like to add. I’m so happy that my garden has supplied me with healthy food that’s replaced items I used to have to buy.
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