Oven-Dried Tomatoes

I’ve always been very fortunate to live in an environment that was very connected to food. As a kid, my parents would take me to vegetable market gardens to walk through the fields and see how vegetables grew. We also always had a large vegetable garden in our yard.

As I grew older, I carried that awareness with me. Living in a colder climate where there’s months and months of cold winter (usually, this year is a stinker of a winter for a guy who likes winter, but I digress). To get quality vegetables year round, one would have to either rely on long distance shipping from California, Mexico or further. The other option is to find people who grow vegetables in greenhouses. Oftentimes, the produce will be better, have less chemicals used and travels much less which lessens its overall carbon footprint.

For a time, I worked on a mixed use farm that raised turkeys, ducks and cornish game hens. To make use of the heat generated in the barns, the farm also had a greenhouse on top of the barn. The greenhouse usually grew a multitude of mixed salad greens, but also was used to start tomato plants in the late winter so they’d be ready for spring. Here, I learned how to maintain the environmental balance and see how little bees and wasps were used for pollination and pest control. It’s actually easier to maintain your plants this way than to use chemical pesticides so it’s the standard of the greenhouse industry. Even if you don’t know of a greenhouse grower nearby, check for greenhouse grown in the grocery store in winter and it’ll be better tomatoes and cucumbers for sure.

As I looked further in my local area, I found a family who grows many things commercially in greenhouses year-round: tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, sweet peppers, chillis and a few varieties of lettuces. When I hear about their system, it’s always an education. They string the cucumber vines on strings vertically to maximize the space and grow more while maintaining a healthy environment.

While enjoying food in season is best, once I get to the end of February/beginning of March, I’m ready for more than root vegetables. That’s part why greenhouse-grown vegetables make their way into my diet. I can enjoy beautifully grown tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce and chillis year round and it’s better quality than anything in the store. Plus, I know my food’s story and that’s the most important part of all. When we know our food’s story, we know its life and make its life worth living as it sustains us 🙂

A few days ago, I dried some tomatoes in the oven. Yes, it takes some time, but they keep beautifully for weeks in a container with a tight lid at room temperature for a few weeks or canned in oil for months. I usually use smaller cherry tomatoes because they dry quicker, but regular tomatoes dry just the same, they just take longer. They’re great in salads, pasta, puréed into a pesto or folded into focaccia, so make lots.

Oven-Dried Tomatoes

35-40 cherry tomatoes, halved (I used three different colours for fun and the fact I had access to multiple colours, but regular red cherry tomatoes are great!)

   Preheat oven to 100C/225F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Lay the cherry tomato halves, skin-side down on the prepared baking sheet and place in the oven for about 3 hours. Some of the smaller tomatoes may dry a little quicker, so keep an eye on them. Give them a soft poke with the back of a spoon. If it’s still releasing pulp after 3 hours, return it to the oven at 10 minute intervals until soft like a raisin and no longer releasing pulp. Makes about 1 cup of dried tomatoes.

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