Somewhere in my house, carefully tucked away in a place so special I can no longer remember it, is a red ribbon from the Indiana State Fair. Actually, there are two of them; the first one, circa 1987, is framed alongside a photo of a stunned me pointing to my victorious peach-apple butter – second only to an entry by Mrs. Imogene Orme of Brazil, Indiana.
It was a momentous day, to be sure. I had first wandered into the Home & Family Arts building a few years before, where I stood amazed by the jewel-like jars of jelly and meticulously arranged preserved foods, which made the over-decorated wedding cakes and sagging cookies look pathetic. I counted the annual haul of oversized and ruffled blue ribbons draped over dozens of entries from said Mrs. Imogene Orme of Brazil, Indiana – and still recall the particular grandmotherly script she used to fill out each card. I may have experienced my first foodie pang standing before those old glass cases, wishing for a ribbon the way some young women wish for diamonds.
My first winning entry was a grand moment, but it was not my last. The next year I earned one for oven-dried tomatoes. These intense, chewy morsels are nothing like shriveled were-they-ever-real-tomatoes you find heaped in dusty piles at some food marts. They still had a leathery bend and richness that not only lent a certain umami to cooked dishes, but tasted like veggie candy.
It has been years since I’ve made them, but confronted this week with an abundance of garden-fresh Romas, I decided to try again. They came out so good I could not help but eye the citrusy, green Zebra tomatoes Tim snagged at the farmer’s market. They didn’t hold their color as well as I had hoped, and I was a bit heavy handed with the pepper, but the flavor is agreeably complex.
All you need is a rack to allow good air flow – I used one really meant for cooling cookies – and several hours of patience. I’m sure Mrs. Imogene Orme of Brazil, Indiana, wherever she may be, would agree it’s worth it.
Roma tomatoes, or whatever smallish varieties you like
Olive oil (I use Pam olive oil spray)
Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper
Additional herbs (optional)
Set oven to 250 degrees.
Lightly coat rack with olive oil and place over foil-lined baking sheet. Slice tomatoes lengthwise; I usually get three slices out of a Roma, but a small one may yield just two. Arrange on rack and lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper – add other herbs, too, if you like – then a light sheen of oil.
Place in slow oven and ignore for at least three hours. Don’t be surprised if it takes longer. They are done when mostly dry but not crispy. You may want to pluck out the more done ones and place the juicer slices back in the oven.
Cool completely and store in sealed container in refrigerator. Saunter back to the kitchen now and then to open the container for another whiff of their heady perfume, created by clever you. Insist that others sniff, too, and likewise marvel.
Remember, these are the real deal: Don’t soak in hot water before using. Just slice (or not) and add to about anything. Eat often. Make more.