Kitchen Gardening

Drying on the Vine

It turns out there’s an alternative to drying tomatoes in the oven or using a vegetable dehydrator in the kitchen. Just let the sun do the work.

Principe Borghese tomatoes are ideal for drying on the vine.
Photo/Illustration: Jodi Torpey

Sun-dried tomatoes have probably been around as long as tomatoes have. This ancient method of leaving tomatoes in the sun to dry takes more time than using an oven or vegetable dehydrator, but it’s worth it.

Instead of quicker drying methods that can overcook the fruit, sun drying allows the tomatoes to dry slowly. This method helps tomatoes retain most of their nutritional value and all of their tomatoey taste.

Because tomatoes lose their water content during the drying process, it makes sense to select a tomato variety that has a low water content to begin with, like plum or paste types.

tomatoes drying on the vine
Tomatoes can finish drying by hanging the entire plant upsidedown in a warm, sunny spot. Photo/Illustration: John Pendleton

For my on-the-vine sun drying experience, I selected a pole-type tomato variety called Principe Borghese (Lycopersicon lycopersicum) from Botanical Interests. This variety is a favorite of gardeners and farmers in Italy for its heavy yields of small, plum-shaped tomatoes that can be dried right on the plant. According to the seed packet, this variety gets its name from the island (Principe) where it originated and borghese which means middle class in Portuguese.

I started the seeds indoors in spring and transplanted one hardy plant into the patio container garden in early June. The plant grew into a nice-sized bush and the fruit grew in clusters. I resisted picking any of the tomatoes, opting to see how well they’d dry on the vine during the hot, dry sunny days of summer.

Some of the fruit had started to dry on the vine, but many of the tomatoes needed more time than there was warm weather. I pulled the entire plant up by the roots and hung it in a warm, dry spot to finish drying.

The tomatoes are continuing to dry, but it’s going to require some patience. Those that have dried completely are especially tasty. To speed up the drying process, I may have to pluck the rest from the vine and slow-roast them in the oven. Then a taste-test comparison will be in order.

Dried tomatoes can be stored in a jar of olive oil in the refrigerator, placed in the freezer or ground into powder or flakes to use as a flavoring. To use in recipes, rehydrate the sundried tomatoes by soaking in water or broth for several hours. Be sure to save and use the soaking liquid, too.

Have you used the sun’s energy to preserve tomatoes? Which varieties dried best for you?

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