At 30 days, my tomato seedlings are 3-4″ high. They actually began germinating at about 4 days, and the last stragglers were poking through the soil by the 8th day. The seeds were from last spring- so I wasn’t sure that they would all appear, even though I’ve been pretty good about keeping them away from light and moisture. Just to be sure, I planted 3 in each little peat pot, and then thinned them down to one seedling per pot.

These tomato seeds were planted a month earlier than last year’s batch- in an effort to get ahead of the season. After gardening in the Pacific Northwest – a very different climate – its taking quite some adjustment to figure out what to grow when in the desert climate of Phoenix, Arizona. Its definitely a continual trial and error process!

Last year we ended up buying quite a few tomato transplants – my seedlings weren’t nearly as big as I needed them to be in order to get them into the ground before it got too hot. It was also my first time trying to grow tomatoes from seed- so everything was new. Despite the rumors, it ended up being surprisingly easy to actually get the seeds to grow (helped no doubt by my little grow light set up, peat pots and a big countertop) – it was much harder to get the plants in the ground at the right time.

In Arizona, there are two growing seasons for tomatoes- “spring” (mid-February through early April) and “fall” (September). With the exception of the Sungold cherry tomatoes, the seedlings that I had planted really needed until the late fall/early winter to grow big enough to produce fruit. Unfortunately, just in time for frost!

I had also planted some Early girl transplants in the fall- and so there were a ton of green tomatoes by mid-December, when the frosts began. We gave one of our friends, an avid cook, an armful of the unripe frut- she talked of fried green tomatoes, chutney, and most importantly, the east coast practice of letting the green ones slowly ripen indoors. I was a bit sceptical, but I took four or five inside for myself, and left them out on the kitchen countertop, but left the rest outdoors, covered with frost cloth, in the vain hope that they still might ripen. B and I left town the next day- back east for the Christmas holidays. We were gone for 10 days- long enough for me to imagine coming home to the stench of rotting tomatoes, and fruit fly galore!

It actually took another month after we got back for those tomatoes to ripen- and when we finally tasted one, it turned out to be just as “tasty” as a supermarket tomato in the dead of winter. No real surprise there- considering how those supermarket tomatoes are harvested and ripened! Maybe our tomatoes tasted slightly better- or at least, I wanted to imagine that they were- after all they were still our tomatoes!

But I found a way to make them taste absolutely delicious- oven roasting. With just a little sprinkle of sugar, salt and pepper, they slowly caramelize and intensify in flavor as their juices dry out- leaving small, slightly leathery, bursts of tomato flavor. The recipe I used is from Martha Stewart- I’d tried it years ago, when we were living in Seattle, seduced by the photos in the magazine spread, and our community garden plot produced more tomatoes than we could eat. We had a surplus of tomatoes this past summer too, here in Phoenix. But when its 115 degrees outside, you don’t want to turn the on the oven in your already-sweltering kitchen, no matter how many extra tomatoes you have! But a surplus of organic, home-grown, yet not-so-tasty tomatoes in the dead of winter are just itching to be turned into these morsels, while warming your kitchen at the same time.

Oven Dried Tomatoes

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living

A mix of tomatoes (cherry tomatoes cut in half, other larger tomatoes sliced into quarter inch thick slices- enough to cover a baking sheet when spaced 1/2 to 1″ apart.

1 or more tablespoons sugar

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Arrange tomatoes slices and halves cut side up, spaced a minimum of 1/2″ apart. Sprinkle with sugar, salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer pan to oven; dry until juices have stopped running, edges are shriveled, and pieces have shrunken slightly; timing will vary depending on the variety, ripeness, and desired degree of dryness, 1 1/2 to 6 hours. (Mine only took an hour and a half). Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container, refrigerated, up to 3 days, or frozen, for up to 6 weeks.