Aug 152009

These are some of Maria’s tried and true recipes for preserving the harvest.

PEELED TOMATOES – This is a good way to use up different sized glass jars and loads of tomatoes. The Roma or plum-shaped types are best for this as they contain more flesh and less pulp but others will do also.

Peel the tomatoes. I do this by pouring boiling water over a bowl full of the tomatoes. Wait until the water has cooled a little before peeling the tomatoes. Cut them into chunks and squeeze out any of the watery pulp. Put them into clean washed jars (no need to sterilise as the tomatoes are quite acidic – I clean in soapy water, rinse and air dry). Cram in as many chunks as possible, pouring out any watery pulp as it develops during the squeezing. A lot of tomatoes will go in this way to each jar. If the watery pulp is left in there you will end up with watery peeled tomatoes.

Secure the clean (non-rusty) lid tightly and place the filled jars in a saucepan of cold water. Make sure each jar is covered with water. Sometimes I place a tea-towel around the inside of the saucepan to stop them clicking as the pot boils. Bring the saucepan of water and jars of tomatoes to the boil and LEAVE TO BOIL FOR AT LEAST 20-30 MINUTES. Turn off the stove and remove the jars when the water in the saucepan has cooled. Label your jars and store them away for whenever a recipe calls for peeled tomatoes!

You could even use some of the smaller tomatoes for this. The flavour is intense and so a little goes far.

Using a dehydrator: cut the tomatoes in half and place cut side up on the trays. Do not salt. Check at intervals because not all the tomatoes will dry at the same rate. Remove them as they dry and place in a dry glass jar.

Using your oven: Cut the tomatoes in half, sprinkle salt over the cut sides and place on an oven tray. Set the oven to low (100 C) and leave the door slightly ajar. Check regularly because they can burn if kept too long.

Making genuine Sun-dried tomatoes: The ideal time is during the hot dry months, so probably January to March in Melbourne.

Construct a drying box using polystyrene foam cases, readily available from the greengrocers. Use the ones that have air slits. Cut part of the top off the box so that one of the sides is taller than the other. This allows more sunlight in. Line the inside with Al Foil to reflect some of the heat. Cut the small tomatoes in half lengthwise and sprinkle with cooking salt. Place these on cake cooling trays (the slatted varieties) and then put these in the foam boxes.
If you have any sheet glass panes/perspex handy this will speed up the drying process enormously. Place these on top of the box and face the box so that it gets the most of the afternoon sun. It should be insect proof at this stage. If there is no sheet glass handy, use flynetting on the top of the box.

Bring the tomatoes in every night or if it is humid weather. Otherwise they really only take a day or two at the most to dry.

When dry, place them in clean jars and cover with a good quality olive oil. Let the flavours mature for about a month or so. Then use them for a taste burst with fresh crusty bread. The olive oil remaining can be used in salads for a flavoursome change.

If you don’t want to preserve in oil, the dried tomatoes will freeze well.

Try not to eat them all at once as they are delicious!