Hi Mr Sandford,
I saw your feature on Gardeners World with Monty Don and was interested in learning how to dry chillies and tomatoes. I noticed the contraption you seemed to be using but wondered where I could purchase one or how to make my own? Any help would be appreciated.
Denise in North Lincolnshire on 11 March 2013
Thank you for your mail. I dry everything on an upright Stockli Dehydrator. There are several different makes of upright dehydrators. I picked Stockli because the mesh is stainless steel rather than plastic. I wanted one that was completely stainless steel (being organic, I do not like using plastic) but could not find one. I have been using it for a number of years and it works fantastically well. I use it to dry a lot of vegetables and flowers and find it invaluable.
The Chillies are very easy. I put them complete with a little stem into the dryer and leave them on full power until brittle. This takes about 8 hours, maybe longer. I also dry capsicums which take a lot longer as they are so much bigger, maybe two days.
If you are going to crush or powder the chillies they are best done in a brittle state, i.e. when they break rather than bend. Those I do not want to crush I string up by skewering them with string and hanging in my lounge or kitchen. After a few weeks they go 'soft' but store very well: some I have had for over two years. When I need more crushed chillies I pop them back in the dehydrator to crisp up before crushing.
Remember, if you leave any moisture in the chillies they will go mouldy, but once dry they keep like this for years.
These are not quite so easy and take a little longer. When the tomatoes are perfectly ripe I cut them in half. For beef tomatoes I cut into three, and place skin-side down on the mesh. At this stage the pieces seem enormous but it is quite incredible how much they shrink. I place a few crystals of sea salt on each piece and leave the dryer on full temperature. The amount of salt is not that critical but the more salt you put on them the saltier they will be when finished.
Leave skin-side down until the tops are hard enough to turn over without getting juice on the mesh. This may take a good 24 hours. Keep turning every 12 or so hours until they do not feel sticky or squidgy to the touch. It’s a bit of an art to judge when they are just done. Leave to cool and bottle in a sealed bottle. They will get harder on cooling, and if you over-dry them they get very hard after a few days.
The best way is to overdo them to start with and gradually do them less as you get confidence. Remember if you do not dry all the moisture they will go mouldy in the bottle.
I bought my Stockli from UK Juicers with 7 trays (extra) but they are freely sold on-line. I did not get the timer option as I felt it would be useless. The time involved is so long I felt it easier to keep checking the vegetables as an hour or two makes no difference.
A good book about dehydrating is Mary Bell's Complete Dehydrator Cookbook
Hope this is of help,