Growing, Drying And Using Homemade Tomatos

Some tips on how to grow, dry and incorporate tomatoes into your everyday cooking.

Even if you were blessed with a green thumb you may find growing tomatoes a challenging task. Some frustrated gardeners refer to the tomato as the "fruit of the devil" for its tendency to cause headaches, however, when a crop is successful all the work and frustration is usually worth it.

Choosing the soil for your tomatoes is the first big step. The best soil has a percentage of compost, peat-moss, or other organic matter in it. Lime and fertilizer can help soil so long as it is in the proper doses. You should test your soil with a soil test prior to planting so you know what to add to your foundation. Generally speaking soil will take just under one cup of lime and roughly one-half cup of fertilizer per plant. The lime eliminates nutrient imbalances and prevents rotting, while the fertilizer helps in the growing process.

When you are ready to plant space the seeds at least one and one half feet apart and position the rows roughly three feet apart. After the seeds are planted they should be fed with a combination or starter solution and water.

Starter solutions can be purchased at general garden stores and will have detailed instructions on measurements and times of feeding. Be sure not to over feed your plants, as the starter solution's high acidic value can burn the roots of the tomatoes.

Once the tomato plants have reached the adolescence stage and are sprouting they should be caged. Staking is an option too, although this method produces fewer (but larger) tomatoes. Stakes and cages can be purchases at almost any garden or hardware store. If you use stakes be sure to avoid hammering the objects into the roots of the plants. It is vital that the tomatoes get plenty of water as they grow. The soil must be soaked to at least six inches deep at seven day intervals. Composted leaves and mulches that retain water are great for tomato growth.

So for years you've failed at growing a budding tomato crop and now that you've taken the advice above this season's batch has finally come through. But now what are you going to do with all these juicy red fruits? If you have an excess of tomatoes one option is to dry the fruit. Making your own sun-dried tomatoes is actually quite easy, plus it will save you cash in the grocery check-out aisle. Here is how the pros do it.

The first thing you must have is the proper tomato. Although the large plum tomatoes may look the most appetizing the best tomatoes for drying are the small meaty tomatoes. The most popular tomato for drying is Principe Borghese, but plum and Roma tomatoes work nicely as well. After you have the right type of tomato you must cut the fruits down to size. The cherry tomato size tomatoes and the Italian shaped tomatoes should be halved. The larger tomatoes need to be sliced into ½- ¼ inch slices.

Before you let the tomatoes sunbath you need further preparation. First, steam blanch the tomatoes in a colander over luke warm water for several minutes. Spray a non-galvanized screening rack with Pam and lay the tomato slices on it. Cover the rack with some nylon netting or cheesecloth and place the rack in the direct sunlight for approximately four days. The tomatoes should be flipped every one to two days to expose both sides to the sun evenly. The weather needs to be warm to hot and very dry for the proper effect. Some tomato experts say that using shallow wood-framed trays can be used as well as screening racks. Regardless of the tray you use the product can be stored for up to a year inside glass jars.

If you do not have the patience or climate for authentic sun-drying but love the taste of chewing fruits you have two other options""using a dehydrator or an oven. If you use a dehydrator first drain the tomatoes on a paper towel. Then take the drained tomatoes and place them on the racks of a dehydrator. Make sure you leave plenty of room between the chunks of fruit for the air to circulate. When the tomatoes are situated properly turn the machine on. Drying tomatoes in the dehydrator takes roughly ten to fifteen hours, depending on how thick your chunks and slices are.

If you do not have access to a dehydrator you may oven-dry your tomatoes. The process is the same except you place the tomato slices on racks in the oven. To dry tomatoes the oven should be set between 140 and 150 degrees and will take anywhere from ten to twenty-two hours. You can tell that the tomatoes are ready when they are rubbery yet bendable. They should not be sticky and will have the feel of a raisin. Do not over dry the tomatoes, as they will loose all their taste.

You can re-hydrate your tomatoes slightly by dipping them into distilled vinegar or wine. Putting the re-hydrated tomatoes in a jar with olive oil and herbs into the refrigerator will preserve them for several days to weeks. Bon appetite!

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