Backpackers and other tomato lovers can extend the flavor of the season by preserving the harvest through dehydration. The Colorado State University Extension notes that, “Picking activates enzymes that cause color, flavor, texture, sugar content and nutrient changes in vegetables.” Ripened tomatoes should be processed as soon as possible after harvest to retain their best qualities.
Tomatoes can be dried in the sun, the oven, the microwave or using a food dehydrator. According to the Colorado State University Extension, 14 lbs. of fresh tomatoes yields 1/2 lb. of dried tomatoes.
Sun drying requires low humidity and high outdoor temperatures. Food items dried outdoors should be covered with cheesecloth to prevent contact with insects. Oven drying takes a long period of time. According to the University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, microwave drying produces poor, labor-intensive and inconsistent results. Food dehydrators may produce the easiest, most consistent results, as they allow for regulation of temperature, have multiple shelves for drying and are not weather dependent.
According to the University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, “The best tomatoes to dry are firm, ripe, and meaty. This type is usually oval shaped and called an Italian, Roma, plum, pear or paste tomato.” Look for a tomato with few seeds and more pulp. Wash the tomatoes, and cut each either in half or into 1/4-inch thick slices. Whether you remove the seeds is a personal preference.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension recommends Roma and Viva Italia among the favorite Italian paste tomato varieties. Roma requires 75 days to reach maturity. This open-pollinated fruit reaches 2 to 3 ounces and is resistant to Verticillium and Fusarium fungal infections. Viva Italia takes 80 days to mature and produces 3 ounce fruits. Viva Italia is a determinate variety that is good fresh or dehydrated. This variety is resistant to Verticillium and Fusarium and to nematodes.
Cherry tomatoes work well in hanging baskets. Florida Basket is a low-growing variety, resistant to gray leaf spot. The determinate plants take 70 days to mature. Gardener’s Delight cherry tomatoes offer large yields and cherry tomatoes with sweet flavor. The fruits range in size from 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches and appear in clusters. Gardener’s Delight is indeterminate and needs 65 days to reach maturity.
Compact dehydrator for
those who can’t depend on
sunshine and low humidity.
Includes fan and adjustable
Yellow Pear is an heirloom variety of yellow tomato. The fruits are small and mild to sweet in flavor. This variety is indeterminate and takes 78 days to reach maturity. Yellow Bell produces fruits similar to Yellow Pear, but larger and meatier. Yellow Bell is an indeterminate variety requiring 60 days to maturity.
One of the problems with these dried foods is that they often don’t survive the household predators long enough to hit the trail. Dried tomatoes, sun-dried or not, really cook up well and also taste great as an alternative to raisins or fruit jerky snacks. If you have a good harvest of cherry or sauce tomatoes, it will probably seem like a tragedy to dry them and store them away, but if you follow Alice’s advice and do this at the peak of the harvest when tomatoes are at their best, there’s no sacrifice involved. Dried tomatoes are good. If you wait until the end of the year and work with tomatoes picked green and ripened inside the house, then you get disappointing results. Better to eat the late arrivals at home as they ripen. This winter I ate the last one on January 2nd. It was good fresh but wouldn’t have tasted like much if I’d dried it. You’ll like good dried tomatoes whether you backpack or not.
Resources and References:
University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources: Tomatoes: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve and Enjoy
Colorado State University Extension: Drying Vegetables
Alabama Cooperative Extension: Homegrown Tomatoes: You Do The Picking
University of Illinois Extension: Watch Your Garden Grow: Tomato
Tomato Growers Supply Co.: Tomatoes: Yellows
Tomato Growers Supply Co.: Tomatoes: Small Fruited
National Center for Home Food Preservation: How Do I Dry?
University of Missouri Extension: Quality for Keeps: Drying Foods