Some harvest traditions we have begun to feel in our bones, like having a pot of simmering tomatoes on the stove, every day from August 23rd to First Frost to put up for sauce and soup. But there is only so much sauce one can consume over winter and to look for other inspiration for tomatoes (and beans, and cukes, and fruits) we have turned to a book we slid from the bookshelf a month ago and haven't been able to wedge back in its place. Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning (Chelsea Green) has become our new kitchen companion. A book my parents gave to me for Christmas when the garden was no more than a glint in my crazed Vermont-driven eyes. It is a compilation of traditional preserving methods from folks all around France. The beauty of these recipes is that they rely on oils, vinegars, and salts to preserve your food instead of freezers and fridges and electric dehydrators.
One of the recipes that immediately called on me was the Sun-Dried Tomatoes in Oil (page 47). I first saw a recipe for Sun-Dried tomatoes on the visually-stunning and always mouthwatering blog Fig and Fauna back in January. But, because Megan and Rose have the pleasure of living in Florida and I in Vermont I had to table the thought for another 8 months.
When we moved up to Vermont in April Billy sent us the Sun-drying Rack from Lehman's as a farm-warming present. It has become indispensable in my sun-dried tomato effort. It is beautiful and wooden and completely quiet as it relies on the sun's natural power. You can also put the whole thing in your gas oven and it will dry using only the power of the pilot light if the sun is not cooperating that day.
It is important, before I go into the recipe to say that there is a concern about the growth of botulism in infused oils. Botulism is an anaerobic bacteria that can live in conditions where there is no oxygen, like in infused olive oil. Food safety officials would recommend that if you preserve anything in olive oil it should be stored in the fridge and used immediately. While the threat of botulism is terrifying it is also very very rare. And, much like the warnings on raw milk bottles (including my own) I try to take such U.S. government edicts with the proverbial grain of salt. Grandmothers of the Mediterranean have been storing sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil since the First Tomato ripened, much in the same way thiat the world has been drinking raw milk since the first cow stumbled upon the first thirsty human. Some how life managed to continue on and flourish without everyone killing themselves from food poisoning. I would argue that it is more dangerous to buy a tub of conventional peanut butter or a California melon from a Rhode Island grocery store than it is to can your own food or milk your own cow. But that soapbox is for another day.
Please do your due-diligence when preparing any food in researching the dangers yourself and being as clean as possible.
For anyone who does not wish to take the risk, you can simply store this product in the fridge for immediate consumption.
Sun-dried Tomatoes in Olive Oil by Marie-Christine Martinot-Aronica, of St. Dizier, France
Very ripe tomatoes (plum, paste, oblongs are best; fewer seeds)
Olive Oil -- This can be used as a deliciously flavored cooking oil after the tomatoes have been eaten, so you needn't feel like it is a grand waste of expensive oil.
Clean, dry cloth
Slice your tomatoes in half (if using small tomatoes) or into 1/4"inch slices (if using bigger toms). Place them on a tray, set in the sun, sprinkle salt on the side facing up and cover with a light gauze or cheese cloth to protect against flies.
Flip your tomatoes twice a day to allow for an even sun-baking. Bring the whole shebang indoors at night so the evening's dew doesn't continually set you back.
Depending on how hot and windy it is where your tomatoes are the process should take 2-3 days. Your tomatoes are done when they are dry but not completely dehydrated. Wipe off any extra salt from the toms with a clean cloth. Taste one to test. They should almost have the consistency of a fruit leather. They are immediately delicious and I wouldn't judge if you ate all your dried toms that instant. I did. Try to plan for that.
Put your tomatoes into clean glass jars and cover with olive oil with approximately 3/4" inch of oil over the top of the toms coming to 3/8"inch below the rim of the jar. Seal tightly and store in a cool place.
The recipe concludes; in Italy, tomatoes preserved in this manner are eaten as hors d'oeuvres, with no additional preparation.