By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter
In the past, I have given jars of canned tomatoes as gifts.
These wonderful jars full of summer’s delight consisted of tomato sauce, ketchup, salsa, and just good old fashioned diced tomatoes.
While these culinary delights have been appreciated and enjoyed, I decided to do something different this year.
One may wonder what else could be done with tomatoes as far as a gift. The answer is simple and consists of a preservation technique that is as old as the tomato.
The technique I refer to is drying.
Drying any fruit or vegetable can be done in two ways. One consists of using a commercial food dryer or oven. The second way is to let Mother Nature do the work for you through solar radiation or the sun. While I do own a food dehydrator, I plan to let Mother Nature do the work for me and in doing so keeping my carbon footprint small.
To begin this process, one must first gather some window screen and scrap wood. As far as the wood, make sure that it is not treated or painted. Next, nail the pieces of wood into a picture frame shape and attach the window screen to the inside using staples. When doing this last step, make sure that the screen is tight. Repeat this process so that you have at least two frames with screen.
Next, it is time to process the tomatoes. While some people may skip the step of washing produce they grow, I do not. Nature is nature and sometimes things get on “the fruits of one’s labor” so please do not skip this step.
After the fruit has been washed, the next step is to slice the tomatoes. I have not really found a simple way of slicing tomatoes thin but I do know that having a sharp knife helps. Slice the tomatoes as thin as possible and lay them on one of the window screen frames. Continue with this process, until the screen is full of tomatoes in a single layer. Top this screen with the other screen and place outside in the sun.
Now you may be wondering how to keep nature off your fruit. One approach is to cover the screens with cheese cloth. Another approach is to not put it outside but instead in an attic. Either approach will work to keep natural processes at bay.
Flip the screens ever so often so that the underside of the tomatoes can dry. The drying process will take a few weeks. Do not fall into the habit of judging whether tomatoes are dry by the number of days they have been outside. Instead, pick up the slices and test their firmness. Well dried tomatoes will look and feel like good fruit leather. They will bend and flex but will not release any moisture.
After the fruit has dried package up your preserved tomatoes in a decorative container along with a recipe.
So until we blog again, the best gifts are those that cost a million but instead those from the heart.