Readers, I asked you a few weeks ago, the question of our times: Who the Hell Cans. I followed that up by asking you if you do not can, can you simply concentrate and freeze? Yet maybe to my warped mind, canning seems downright mainstream to question, who the hell dries their food. We have have a local chef popular and notable enough to be asked to compete on Iron Chef America, who is also popular and notable for his work with the canner. Just yesterday, he was teaching a class on canning at Vie, and he will soon be teaching a canning class at the Chopping Block. If canning can be hard work, it also evokes nostalgia. It brings well-worn but favorite foods back to the home. A good deal of the interest in canning, I believe, is about the recipes, the relishes, chutneys, jams and jellies, pickles, that canning produces. It is only partially about the preservation. If you are really serious about putting aside, you not only can, you dry. Drying your food makes you sound not just like a locavore but like a survivalist.
Now, I say all of this as someone who's desire to dry has long succeeded more than his actual work in drying. My plans for drying have frequently gone awry. A 1/2 bushel of plums intended for prunes instead turned to mold. Ideas for celery powder for use in soups and braises remain conceptual. Still, when my wife and I purchased a new toaster oven last year, we specifically picked the one with a dehydrate setting. We are more than canners. We are driers.
OK, not we, like most of the hard work, it is she that has dried. Last week she took a big batch of Michigan plum tomatoes and dried them away. The nice thing about drying tomatoes is that you skip the skinning step. The tomatoes still need to be halved (the long way), cored and seeded, so pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees while doing the knife work. Put the tomato halves on a trays lined with parchment paper. Salt the tomatoes but not too much. Turn the oven down to 175 and insert the sheets. After a few hours, open the door but otherwise continue. Monitor the tomatoes after that, you do not want them to start cooking too aggressively. Occasionally, turn the sheets. The tomatoes will take about eight hours to dry nicely. Turn off the oven but allow the tomatoes to continue to air dry for several days, some recipes call for up to seven to ten days of air drying. My wife is not sure if she will wait that long. At this point, the tomatoes are ready to use but not ready to save. Long term storage requires the tomatoes one more step. Either the tomatoes can be frozen for a few days or they can be put back in the oven at 175 for a few hours.
Dried tomatoes are frequently used these days as a product in and of themselves, the dried texture being a feature of the recipes, like say a dried tomato pesto. Dried tomatoes, however, can be re-hydrated and used somewhat like you would use other forms of preserved tomatoes such as in sauces.
Complete list of what's been put aside here.