Sun Dried Tomatoes: Trays Outside Or Better In The Oven?

Traditionally sun dried tomatoes were made by laying out freshly cut pieces of the fruit in the sun to bake in the natural heat for days (the pieces are covered in cheesecloth to keep the insects off them). You may still do that (I have the instructions for how listed towards the bottom of this page) but first I’d like to discuss a more up-to-date method that cuts the time dramatically but doesn’t skimp at all on flavor.

Drying tomatoes indoors (using the oven) takes just a few hours and they are oh-so-delicious!

Some years I just don’t want to bother with canning but I have a mountain of tomatoes from the garden to work through. This is the easiest, tastiest method I’ve found for dealing with all that bounty.

Not only will you be popping them in your mouth all day while making the batches, you’ll be dreaming up ways to use them in pastas, pizzas, sauces and more.

In just a few hours, you can have bags to freeze or jars full packed in olive oil.

If you’re dealing with a bumper crop from the garden, dehydrating/drying them in the oven is a great way to preserve them for future use.

How-To Oven Dry:

  • Preheat oven to 200° F.
  • Gently wash & pat dry the fruit, cut into pieces then scoop out the seeds.
  • Oval (Plum): Cut lengthwise; Round: Cut into quarters.
  • Place the pieces cut side up on a rack or cookie sheet in a single layer, do not allow them to touch each other, drizzle or brush a bit of olive oil over them then lightly sprinkle with salt.
  • Place in oven and cook about 2 to 3 hours or when done–they will be shrunken, leathery looking yet still flexible.

After covering them in olive oil and seasoning with salt, I like to generously sprinkle them with dried or fresh herbs. An Italian blend is especially delicious but experiment and use whatever you like.

There’s no hard and fast rule how thick or thin to make the slices, I like quartering the tomatoes and then cooking them low and slow. This takes longer, but boy do they ever deliver in flavor!

Some people prefer blanching then removing the skins before prepping them for the oven but I leave them on.

Storage Tips:

  • Pack the pieces in sterilized jars, cover with extra virgin olive oil (make sure each piece is fully covered in oil) and seal. For extra flavor, add herbs such as basil. The flavored oil can be used in cooking and on vegetables or salad. Keep the jars refrigerated bringing them to room temperature before using. Note: Don’t pack with garlic since botulism can be an issue when packed in oil for longer than a couple weeks.
  • The easiest way (I do this) is to pop them into freezer bags once they have fully cooled, remove as much air as possible, then freeze. Grab the “chips” out of the bag as you need them.

Video Tutorial

Here’s a good video showing you how to make them, steps and ingredients are slightly different than above.

For those of you who can’t watch the video, here are the instructions:

  • Cut the fruit in half and scrape out the seeds and as much of the liquid as you can (this will help them dehydrate faster).
  • Cover a cookie sheet with several layers of tinfoil.
  • Arrange pieces cut side up on the cookie sheet.
  • Season with garlic pepper or fresh slices of garlic.
  • Next sprinkle with Herbes de Provence, fresh thyme (including stems) and coarse sea salt and black pepper.
  • Drizzle good extra virgin olive oil (be generous).
  • Place in the oven at 200° for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until done. The texture will be leathery and the pieces will have shrunk at least 50%.
  • When they are at room temperature, store in a clean mason jar, with fresh thyme layered between them. Pour extra virgin olive oil over tip, pushing pieces down to get rid of the air.
  • Keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Bring to room temperature before using.

Outdoor Method

If you want to try the tradition way (outdoors) and have a couple weeks to work with them, here’s how:

  • Blanch whole tomatoes then remove the skins.
  • Cut in half and scoop out the pulp.
  • Arrange the halves on a large rack in a single layer then cover with one layer of cheesecloth to keep the insects off.
  • Place the rack outside in full sun. It’s a good idea to prop the rack up on bricks (four corners) to keep the air flowing underneath the grates. Do not stack racks.
  • At the beginning of each day, flip the tomatoes over.
  • Bring the tray in each night.
  • This process will take up to two weeks. If the weather is damp or humid, they will take longer. Make sure to run the trays inside if it starts to rain.

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