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Tomatoes have been a staple in gardens around the world for ages, and rightfully so. There are literally thousands of varieties to tailor to your grow space, region, and personal tastes. As survivalists it is important to know which types you and your family will enjoy, as well as which seeds to keep on hand for planting season. Tomatoes can form the base of a variety of foods and condiments which can bring comfort to you when things have gone south.
Home gardening can produce a great deal of food, depending on your space and how dedicated you are to maintenance. Tomatoes can be grown in the ground, on raised beds, in planters or pots, and in many other spaces. This makes them an excellent beginner crop with as little or as much upkeep as you choose. If space is limited, you can even grow tomatoes upside-down from hanging planters.
Virtually anyone should be able to grow tomatoes — in some cases, a single plant can yield as much as 30 pounds of fruit. With this in mind, being able to save your tomatoes for year-round usage is paramount for a prepper!
Rather than finding a way to pack fresh tomatoes into every meal to avoid spoilage, one should become aware of preservation methods to stock your prepared pantry.
Canning tomatoes is a process of heating them to kill any micro-organisms that would cause the food to spoil. Canning requires some special equipment that can typically be had for a small initial investment. This process also allows the canner to make a wide assortment of recipes such as salsas, chutneys, sauces, etc.
Dehydration is the process of removing moisture from food to impede the growth of mold and bacteria. Not all foods can be dehydrated, but tomatoes are an excellent candidate for this process, and doing so extends their shelf life dramatically. This process forms the basis for tomato powder.
Sun-drying tomatoes is another form of dehydration that can be used in areas with low humidity. This process takes longer than other forms of dehydration, requiring 2-4 days of direct hot sunlight. Due to inconsistencies in weather and humidity, sun-drying is only viable in warmer regions.
The last method for food preservation is freeze-drying. This method removes even more water content from food than simple dehydration, but requires a specialized machine. While freeze-dryers are available for residential use, they generally cost thousands of dollars and are impractical unless you’re processing vast quantities of food.
Tomato powder starts with fresh tomatoes. These can be from your garden, the farmers market, or even a grocery store. This author likes to use a variety of small cherry tomatoes and larger ones like the Beefmaster variety, and always chooses organic. The combination of large and small fruits lets you fit more pieces on the dehydrator trays. A traditional oven can also be used for dehydration if a true dehydrator is not available. The oven method is highlighted below as alternate steps.
Wash all of your tomatoes well. Even if they are organic tomatoes, there is still potential for pest waste or other undesirable debris to be on the skin. All tomatoes will need to be cut — for the smaller ones, we recommend cutting them in half and removing the core. For larger tomatoes, slice them approximately ¼-inch thick and remove the core. Remove any bruised or otherwise damaged areas and discard these. The cores and stems can be composted.
Arrange your tomato slices evenly around the dehydration trays. Be sure air can move freely around the pieces for the best results and even drying. (Alternate method: Lay the slices on a clean, ungreased cooking sheet and preheat the oven to the lowest setting.)
Set the dehydrator to the vegetable setting or 145° and leave the tomatoes inside for 6-8 hours. Check the tomatoes after 6 hours, if they are still thick or sticky let them sit longer. This applies to the oven method as well. Once the tomatoes are completely dehydrated they will feel stiff and break easily. If they bend, put them in longer. Any residual moisture can lead to spoilage.
Remove the tomatoes from the trays. To make tomato powder the dried pieces must be ground. This is easiest to achieve with a food processor. A high-quality blender may also work, or you can get an arm workout with the old standby: a mortar and pestle. Grind the tomatoes to a fine powder and place them in jars.
The best place to store the powder is in jars with the air removed. Removing the air from the jar can be achieved with a FoodSaver accessory attachment, or through various other dry pack canning methods. A desiccant packet can be placed in the jar as well to eliminate any remaining moisture, and an oxygen absorber can be included to further reduce the risk of bacteria growth. These jars should be stored in a cool dark place, and once used, the air should be removed before storing again. Tomato powder will last many months in these conditions.
Plastic bags can also be used for storage. The best method is to put the desired amount in the bag, then while the bag is almost sealed, slowly push it under water to expel the air inside before sealing the bag. This will ensure as little air as possible remains. Throwing in an oxygen absorber is also a good idea in this case.
The powder will begin to lose the vibrant red color over time and turn to a dull orange. If the powder has any white, green, or black color to it, this is a sign of mold and it should be discarded. If an off smell is detected, this is also a sign of spoilage.
In its dry form, tomato powder can be used as a thickening agent or simply sprinkled on meats. The most versatile use is to make your own tomato paste, which can then be transformed into sauces and soups. Tomato paste can be achieved by mixing a 2-to-1 ratio of powder to water.
Here’s another easy tomato powder recipe that adds more flavor with a few spices from your pantry:
Mix the tomato powder and water until the sauce has thickened. Add the other ingredients, and stir until smooth and fully incorporated. Add additional water in tablespoon increments to thin for use on pasta.
Tomato powder can be used during the cooking process of meats to enhance the flavor. Small amounts of the powder can be added to water to increase its nutritional value and taste (don’t forget to filter or purify suspect water first). The powder can even be used similar to bouillon to make a base for rice, stews, or similar dishes. The applications are limited only by your imagination.
As prepared individuals, it is paramount that we have a well-rounded knowledge base in the kitchen. Food is a necessity, however good food is a morale booster and can bring people together during trying times. Growing your own food and being able to preserve it is a valuable skill set we should all strive to hone. This author recommends checking out a few books for more information on food preservation:
Alexander Crown served as an Infantryman with the Scout/Sniper Platoon of the 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment in Ft. Richardson, Alaska, where he specialized in radio communications and reconnaissance. Since separating, Alexander spends his time as an avid outdoorsman and hunter with an appreciation for self-sufficiency in the form of gardening. He also enjoys woodworking, firearms, and reloading. You can follow him on Instagram @acrown509.