Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Preserving Tomatoes, part 1

This year, I have been overly blessed with tomatoes. Although I only have 4 plants in my home vegetable garden, they are all prolific producers. We are eating tomatoes every day, giving them away, and still I have mounds of tomatoes on my kitchen counter. I can't let these tomatoes go to waste, so I had to figure out how to preserve them.

Some day I want to learn how to can, and I have heard that tomatoes are an easy place to start (something about their acidity means less of a chance for botulism). But canning intimidates me. It seems hot, difficult, and time consuming. And I am just a bit too lazy to work that hard on something that, in the end, might make me sick.

I have a friend who freezes whole tomatoes, and although I like the simplicity of that approach, I don't have enough freezer space for it to be practical. So my first foray into preserving tomatoes is by oven drying the tomatoes.

There are endless variations on the recipe to oven dry tomatoes, but they all come down to this: cut up tomatoes, put them on a cookie sheet, turn the oven on as low as it will go, and cook them for 8 or more hours. Last year I made oven dried tomatoes by slicing the tomatoes into rings and lying them on the cookie sheet. This worked great, but it I was only able to dry about 4 tomatoes at a time (on 2 cookie sheets). This year I tried a different method.
Instead of slicing the tomatoes, I cut them into wedges. This allowed me to get a lot more tomatoes on my two cookie sheets (11 tomatoes total). I also put a little salt and olive oil on the tomatoes. Some recipes also suggest a little thyme or other herbs, but I did not try this.

tomatoes from the 2 Green Acres vegetable garden
The bad thing about the wedge method is that it takes longer for the tomatoes to cook. I had my oven set at 180 for about 8 hours, and then turned it up to 190 for the final 2 hours. This is not required, I was just trying to hurry things along. By the end of 10 hours, the tomatoes had lost most of their moisture and shrunk significantly.

Preserving tomatoes, local food from the home vegetable garden

After letting them cool, I put what had been 2 cookies sheets worth of tomatoes into a single sandwich bag and then popped it into the freezer.

Oven-dried tomatoes, grown in the 2 Green Acres vegetable garden
And in case you are wondering what to do with those oven-dried tomatoes, here is one really great appetizer recipe that uses tomatoes as well as some pesto from the garden
(which is also easy to freeze).


  1. Four tomato plants? Just four? I had dozens and they were half-hearted producers to say the least. What is your secret? Did you start from seeds or buy seedlings? Did you use raised beds or plant directly into your "natural" soil? Did you add fertilizer? I'm a very very casual gardener: no chemicals, no raised beds, very little thinning of plants, only 6 hrs of sun tops, and on and on. I don't do anything by the book and it shows. Anyway, your harvest looks fabulous and maybe one day I too can say "just four plants and they were very productive."

  2. Hi Pam - I buy seedlings and am a huge believer in the "square foot gardening" method. So, that means raised beds, and a mixture of "Mel's Mix" -compost, peat moss, and coarse vermiculite. After that, no fertilizer. I do get a lot of sun. So far, from my 4 plants, I have harverted more than 150 tomatoes!

    I think some of it is just luck, but I also believe that amending the soil is important. Good luck with your garden!