Saturday, September 27, 2014

In Praise of The Excalibur Dehydrator and The Preservation of Tomatoes

September is the time of year for processing, processing, processing tomatoes.  Pick your weapon: the canning jar, the freezer bag, or the good ol' dehydrator.  I have to admit, after sweating over the stove canning sauce, I have to sing the praises of the ease of dehydration.

I love the idea of solar dehydrators and I think our south facing kitchen window is prime real estate for some "solar drying add on" that could be extended out the window in sunny weather.  But, I digress.  As far as electric dehydrators go, we have a great one.  The Excalibur, a gift from my mom, has been a workhorse when it comes to drying tomatoes.  It costs maybe about 40 - 50 cents per 12 hour drying cycle or so, using about 400 watts.  I can tomatoes and tomato sauce as well, but in terms of little work for big return, drying tomatoes is very rewarding.

Jaune Flamme.  A bit juicy for drying but I'll take it any day, any way.  So delicious!

Dried Tomatoes
A few things I've learned when drying tomatoes...

1) Variety matters.  Meatier, drier tomato varieties are better than super juicy varieties.  Common sense, I know.  Any variety works though, and will, eventually, dehydrate to a nice, leathery state.    A few varieties that I have tried and really like for drying include my favorite, Juliet, and a new trial this year, Heather.  Juliet is like a large grape, slice in half and dry, and Heather is a blocky, tennis ball sized tomato with not so thin skin, easy to slice and not much juice.

Juliet.  My go-to drying tomato.

2) Rotate!  Rotate the trays 1/2 way through.  I find at about 130 degrees a full load of tomatoes dries in 12 - 16 hours, depending on how thick I slice them.  I check every 6 or 8 hours and remove the dried ones and put the "not-done-yet" ones back in.  About 1/2 way through, I rotate the drying trays 180 degrees since the heating fan is in the back of the unit, the back 1/2 of the tray dries first.  Overall drying in the Excalibur dehydrator is much more even than the round models with a heating element in the bottom.

Excalibur dehydrator.  Comes in 4, tray, 5 tray and 9 tray models.

3) Dream Tomato Sauce is easy.  This involves rehydrating some dried tomatoes in hot water and then pulsing in a food processor with olive oil and herbs.  Pasta. Parmesan.  Sigh.

So, when your boiling water canner makes you tired just looking at it, consider dehydration!  I think this type of appliance would be a perfect thing to share between households, since it does cost a nice chunk of change.  I know this sounds like an ad, but trust me, I am getting no kickbacks for endorsing the Excalibur.  It's just simply the queen of the dehydrator lineup.

Dried and Fresh, together.  

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