Preserving the Harvest: Tomato Leather

Tomato leather recipes and how to preserve tomatoes
Preserving the harvest really starts in spring time with garden planning.
Which is what I am in the thick of right now!

Roma style and paste tomatoes are a big part of our fall harvest every year. We can them, freeze them, eat our weight in them fresh, and even dehydrate them.

Making tomato leather was a new tomato preservation method that I tried last year. We had an incredible crop of tomatoes, an abundance, and one way or another I was determined to preserve every last one of them…

My tomato leather turned out great! It is something I plan on adding to my yearly tomato repertoire.
And I will tell you exactly how I did it!

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Tomato Leather:
-step by step instructions of how to make tomato leather
-why I didn’t add anything except tomatoes to my tomato leather

-how to reconstitute tomato leather
-lots of ideas on how to actually use tomato leather

-how to store tomato leather

Tomato leather is just like regular fruit leather (if you don’t know what this is, think fruit roll-up) but made from tomato sauce. Unlike say, a luscious blueberry or sweet apple leather, this tomato leather isn’t meant to be eaten straight-up. Although you can, and I think people do…

I’ve heard that some people use square of tomato leather on a BLT sandwich.
Interesting. And a little weird.

I first saw the idea for tomato leather in this book: Food Drying with an Attitude, by Mary T. Bell. How can you not love a book about dehydrating food with at title like that!  And actually, it has become one of my favorite dehydrating books. Click on the picture to find it at Amazon (usually for under $10)!

I looked at several recipes before making my tomato leather. Most of them called for extra ingredients, which I wasn’t interested in, and frankly didn’t think were needed.

I didn’t add anything except tomatoes, and here’s why:
Honey– now, I add honey to my sweet fruit leathers, but that is for more pliability and a sweet taste, which isn’t an issue for my tomato leather.

Apple Sauce– I think people add this to make it hold together, but as long as you cook the tomato sauce down and spread it thick enough on the tray, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Lemon Juice– maybe people add it to prevent the leather from turning brown, but cooking it down will stop the enzymatic action of that, so it isn’t necessary. Tomatoes are plenty acidic and don’t need the lemon taste-wise, and there is no risk of botulism here, so lemon isn’t needed for that.

Salt– yes it is a preservative, but so is dehydrating, and it isn’t added to sweet fruit leathers… plus, I prefer to add salt when I reconstitute the leather and cook with it.

Spoiler Alert:
My plain, nothing-but-tomato leather came out just wonderfully! It held together well, came off of the fruit leather tray easily, is pliable, and 7+ months later it hasn’t turned brown. And it tastes great of course.

I bet right now you are thinking that tomato leather sounds like a pretty cool idea.
I bet you are also wondering what in the world you would actually do with it.

While I always appreciate tutorials for great preservation techniques, what I love even more are practical uses for their products. I don’t want to make tomato leather if I can’t think of any ways to use it!

Many uses of tomato leather center around rehydrating it first, which is very simple and quick.

General Reconstitution Guidelines
Cut or rip tomato leather into pieces that will fit into your pot or pan.

Start with enough water to just cover the leather pieces. It is easier to add water if you want a looser sauce, than to boil the extra water out if you’ve added too much.

Simmer water and leather together on medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes.


What to Do with Tomato Leather
Marinara Sauce

In a pan sauté onion, garlic, shredded carrot and dried or fresh herbs in olive oil. When everything is cooked, add in your reconstituted sauce and cook for several more minutes.

Pizza Sauce
Place tomato leather into a small amount of boiling water. Add dried Italian seasoning and garlic for instant pizza sauce.

Tomato Paste
Add tomato leather pieces to the least amount of hot water possible. Better yet if you can pulverize the leather in a blender or food processor first.

Chili, Soups & Stews
Add squares of tomato leather directly to your pot of simmering chili, soup, or stew in order to thicken it and add extra tomato flavor. Try some in my Italian Venison Stew!

Tomato Cream Sauce
Sauté onion and garlic until softened, then add in heavy cream or half and half and add tomato leather directly to it; simmer very low until leather has softened.

Tomato Sprinkles
Cut the leather into fine strips or whirl in the food processor or blender to make a fine crumb. Use for a topping on eggs, a green salad or even broccoli. Add some to chicken with pesto, or use in veggie dips. Roll it up in a pork or beef roulade. How about on a turkey sandwich or wrap? It is great in deviled eggs, crock pot recipes, vinaigrette dressings, and in hamburger patties. Tomato basil bread, anyone?


How to Make Tomato Leather
A paste variety tomato (see my guide to choosing the best tomato varieties!) is best, but any tomato except for cherry should work for leather.

Step 1: De-Seed
The best way to cut a tomato for seeding depends on the type of tomato. For round tomatoes, cut them in half at the equator, separating them into top and bottom halves to expose the seed pockets. For roma and paste varieties cut them longitudinally; usually at the stem end of the tomato they appear just slightly wider one direction, which is the direction I cut through. I scoop the seeds out with the handle of a spoon and then cut out the stem nubbin. Yes, stem nubbin.
cut tomatoes

Step 2: Puree 
The seeded tomato halves then go into a blender (or food processor) and get whizzed up until smooth. I do not remove the skins because they will be blended up (and they are full of nutrients). Working in batches, eventually I have a pot of pureed tomato! I didn’t puree mine very hard, which you can see from the top picture that there are some seeds and some pieces of skin. Puree yours more, if you’d like.
tomato leather before

Step 3: Cook
Simmer the tomatoes for one to two hours, until it is thick and reduced by about half of its original volume. Allow the thick tomato sauce to cool until almost room temperature.
tomato leather after

Step 4: Dehydrate
Use a ladle to scoop the tomato sauce onto a fruit leather sheet or tray. You can also use a parchment lined tray.
tomato leather on tray

I did not use any oil or cooking spray on my fruit leather sheets (never do). You might consider it if using parchment or if your dehydrator’s instructions recommend it for fruit leathers.

For my Excalibur Dehydrator I tried several different sauce-spreading methods and found that for my trays lined with Paraflex sheets, the best way was to make a pile of sauce in the center and then gently giggle the tray back and forth to spread it (affiliates). This is what gave me such perfect circles.

If you are using a round or other dehydrator, use a spatula to spread the tomato sauce all around your fruit leather or lined tray.

Dehydrate according to your machine’s setting for fruit leather.

I did not flip the leather at all during the dehydrating.

My tomato leather took about 12 hours, but yours may take more or less depending on how thick it is and the power of your dehydrator. It is done when there are no wet spots left.

tomato leather dry

Speaking of thickness, I wanted mine as thick as possible, which ended up being just shy of ¼” thick (wet). By the way, there is a fine line between trying to get a thick layer of sauce on the tray and having sauce spilling off the sides of the tray.

You can attempt to dehydrate in an oven, but it can take a long time (and use a lot of energy). Use a silicon baking mat or parchment paper on your baking pan. Spread the tomato sauce 1/8” thick and bake for 6-12 hours at 150 degrees F (or the lowest setting).

I adore my Excalibur Dehydrator, and am certain that it paid for itself in less than a year. It is easily one of my most essential preserving, homesteading, healthy living tools. I used a round dehydrator for many years before getting an Excalibur, and it was fine for my beginning-dehydrator endeavors, but I really can’t recommend the Excalibur enough!

5. Store
I stacked my dehydrated sauce circles and placed them into a gallon-size zip top freezer bag for storage. I keep them in the pantry with the rest of my dried goods. I just rip off a few pieces off whenever I need some. You can also cut them into squares so they are ready at a moments notice (a clean kitchen scissors is the best tool for the job).

There you have it, just one more way to preserve summer’s bounty!

Do you make tomato leather?
What are your favorite ways to use it up?

This post may contain affiliate links, which means that if you click through them and end up purchasing an item (any item, not necessarily the one I recommended even!)  I may receive monetary or other compensation. The price you pay is unaffected by using this link, and buying stuff you were going to get anyways through an affiliate link is a great way to support your favorite blogger and fellow homesteader! Thanks!

This post is shared on the Homestead Barn Hop #151The Gathering Spot #92, Thank Goodness Its Monday #62, The Scoop #110, Clever Chicks Hop #78, Homemade Mondays Week 72, Tuesday’s With a Twist #50, Backyard Farming Connection Hop #72, We Like to Learn as We Go #96,

 

Comments

  1. Bev says

    I made tomato leather last fall. Used it on a ham sandwich — spread homemade mayo on a slice of bread a piece of leather to fit and spread more mayo on the leather — added a couple of Applegate ham slices and finished the sandwich with another slice of bread. Cut the sandwich and put in a sandwich bag and placed in my lunch bag.
    I used a lunch bag from Avon that has a pocket on the side that fits a small frozen ice pak. I could not believe how good that sandwich was!
    Next I used the leather on a toasted cheese sandwich. I used the Mary T Bell recipe and used my Excalibur Dehydrator with home grown Rutgers.
    I have 14 Rutgers — grown from seed from last years crop.

    • crystal@wholefedhomestead says

      Sounds great! I love Mary T Bell’s book- how can you not pick up a book called “dehydrating with attitude!”

      • Rose Cimaroli says

        I added tomato paste instead of cooking the liquids out because cooking for a few hours, I think takes the nutrients out so adding tomato paste thickens my milled tomatoes and ready to go into oven right away. One less step.

  2. amy says

    Hi We make it like spaghetti sauce, garlic, basil, oregano, salt and olive oil but I do not cook mine. They sadly are from cans. Everything organic. We dehydrate for about the same time then refrigerate. I have been concerned it might mold but I will try a sheet in the pantry. I do not have a farm so I buy organic canned tomatoes in bpa free cans by the case from Azure Standard. It works well for us and our storage limitations. We are weird….we just eat ours. Addicting. Praying for that homestead someday:) Take care:)

  3. Miriam says

    I have a question about the tomato leather – when I make mine they tend to stick to the paraflex sheet (I have a sonoma dehydrator). Is it because a) I spread it too thin – did that so it would take less time as plan to whiz it in the blender when it’s done and don’t need the sheet to hold together or b) maybe (again trying to speed it up) I may put it on the sheets when it’s still too warm?

    I know this is an older post so I’m hoping you see this question as I will have a large harvest this year.

    • crystal@wholefedhomestead says

      Probably too thin of a layer. I put it on the sheets while warm (not hot) also, so I don’t think that is it.

      I actually put the tomatoes on the paraflex sheets quite thick- about as thick as I think I can get it without it spilling over the sides. On the edges where it is thin, it does tend to stick a little more. Once I get an edge up though, the whole things peels right off of the paraflex.

      Try thicker and let me know if that works better! Oh- one other thing that could make it stick is if it isn’t all the way dehydrated.

  4. says

    Oh, I think I’ll be trying this! Our tomatoes finally started producing smallish but very tasty fruit, and I’m looking for some way to preserve them besides canning. Thanks for the info!
    ~~Lori

  5. Melissa Druitt says

    So glad to have found your site. : ) I realize this is an older post, but if I may ask a few questions?

    Do you think this recipe would lend itself to an appetizer platter?

    Do you think that this would turn out well, even for a first timer, using an oven?

    How did you make, or where did you acquire the super cool images/illustrations used in the step-by-step portion? I LOVE them.

    THANK YOU KINDLY!

    Melissa Druitt

    • crystal@wholefedhomestead says

      Hi Melissa- thanks so much for your kind words!

      Yes, I think this would be a unique and interesting addition to an appetizer platter! I would probably use a kitchen scissors to the leather into thin strips or something… a little goes a long way.

      I haven’t done a lot of oven dehydrating myself, so I would recommend you start with one batch to see how it turns out. But yes, I think it is totally do-able, even for a first timer!

      The pictures I took with an app on my phone called “Toon Camera” – it’s so fun!

      Hope that helps! -Crystal

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