Tomato Wine

Yes indeeeedy, you did read the title of the post correctly! Today we’re talking about making wine from tomatoes. Turns out that you can ferment pretty much anything. My tomato wine adventure actually took place last year, but now that I’ve had a chance to try it I’m ready to share. Last year when I had so so many tomatoes in late summer/early fall (over 300 pounds from my little garden!) I was looking for ideas on what else to do with them. I made so much sauce and salsa and wanted to try some new ideas. Of course I thought to myself, “I bet I could make wine out of these.” Turns out there is a guy that commercially makes it (as I found on this blog), and I also found a smattering of recipes online on how to make it. So here’s what I ended up trying based on a few things I saw, and based on my experiences with fruit wines. It turned out pretty nicely!

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4-5 pounds of tomatoes – the sweeter the variety the better
3 lbs dextrose
2 tsp acid blend
1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
1/2 tsp diammonium phosphate
1 tsp yeast nutrient
2 campden tablets
Lalvin K1-V1116 yeast    

For full and complete procedures, see my post on making fruit wine. But here is the short version of what I did to make it.

Combine all ingredients except the yeast in a sanitized primary fermenter. Mash up the tomatoes a little bit. Put on the lid and wait a day.

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After 24 hours add the yeast. You only need about half the package. Put the lid back on and let it ferment away. Punch the cap daily with a sanitized spoon, and after about 5-7 days when the cap is broken up a lot and fermentation is starting to slow, strain off the solids, and move to secondary fermentation. Allow the wine to sit until all solids settle out and it becomes clear, and fermentation ceases. Bottle, age a few months, and enjoy!

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Again, this is the super short version of how to do this, so if you want to try another fruit or get more details, click here. Now, I know what you’re thinking. How does it taste? Will I like it? Well, it’s actually a really interesting flavour. I’ve only had one bottle so far, but basically it tastes like white wine when it first hits your tongue, then you get the tomato flavour after that. Its faint, but is definitely there and tastes mildly like tomato juice. It’s also a bit more acidic than white wine, or at least mine seems that way. The blogger I cited above said she would have just thought it was a white grape wine, but I can’t say I fully agree with that. However, the flavour would also vary depending on what variety of tomato you used, and that wine maker was a professional. It’s not the kind of wine where you would probably want to drink a few big glasses of it, or maybe it will be, but it’s a nice compliment to a tomato based meal, and could also be used in cooking in place of white wine. 

Are you going to try it?

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July Garden Tour

We’ve been having nearly 100 degree heat the past week or so and the garden is love love loving it. Here’s a little tour! It’s amazing how much has changed since my June 1 garden tour.

Tomatoes loving the heat.

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Broccoli. Wishing I got it in earlier because this heat’s not doing it any favours.

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The first few roma VF tomatoes.

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Pepper experiment is looking awesome! They are also loving the heat. So far I’d say no differences between the pepper sizes, however they are about to that size where the competition within a pot of multiple peppers might be starting to matter. Soon we’ll have peppers coming out our ears!

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The first bell pepper.

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The first jalapeno.

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More tomatoes. I am really making an effort to prune this year and keep them better guided into their cages than in previous years. I think it’s going well.

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The whole yard. I think I do pretty well with the little space I have 🙂

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Pretty purple pole beans.

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Purple!!

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Climb climb climb.

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More tomatoes, basil, and calendula.

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The chaos of a calendula, tomatoes that grew from seed on their own, and some dill that also grew on it’s own.

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Brandywine tomato.

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Carrots and cucs.

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The cucumbers are also loving this heat. I planted the exact same cucumbers as the last two years, like from the same exact seed packet, and the leaves of these plants are HUGE compared to last year. It’s going to be a gooooood cuc year.

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Babies!

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Massive zuch!

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Beets that really need to be eaten.

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Indigo rose tomatoes.

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Peas are dying, so I’m going to pull them shortly and plant some more beans. I’m definitely doing a better jobs at succession planting this year too.

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And that’s all folks! Having a good garden year?

To start seeds or to buy starts?

For me, this has been a question I’ve asked myself for the past few years, and I just changed my answer this year! I decided to dive in and grow my own, and here is why.

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Some crops (like tomatoes and peppers) really need to start inside and be transplanted outside when the weather warms enough, but the decision whether to start your own or buy them can be a difficult one for a beginner gardener (or at least I thought so!). To me, the answer is easier if you have a really tiny garden, or a really massive garden, but when you are somewhere in between, as I am, the decision can be a little more difficult. With a small garden where you just grow two or three tomato plants, buying a couple quality starts is likely more worthwhile than buying a whole pack of seeds when you only want a couple, and investing in grow lights (but if you want to, go for it!). On the flip side, it makes the most sense to start your own seeds, I think, if your garden is really large. So, if you are currently in the middle somewhere with me, I thought I’d let you in on the math that I did to make my decision. I have about 180 square feet of garden, and in the past three years that I’ve had this garden I’ve usually purchased starts for my tomatoes, peppers, marigolds, alyssum and broccoli; so I thought I’d break down my math for you based on those plants only. Everything else that I grow I just seed outside anyways, so we’ll ignore that part for this math. So how much would it cost me, each year, to buy the starts for my garden, versus starting my own seeds?

Buying starts:

Let’s say I buy all my veggie starts for $2.50, and a pack of 6 flowers for $4.00, since that’s about the ballpark of what I spend on them. Based on last year my cost would be as follows:
12 tomatoes  $30
4 peppers       $10
4 broccoli       $10
12 alyssum     $8
12 marigolds  $8

                       $66

You could, of course, also spend more if you’re buying larger starts, etc.

What if I buy the seeds and equipment needed to start my own? It gets a little more complicated if you are also buying multiple varieties of tomatoes and pepper (which I did). So here is the cost for the seeds I actually purchased this year. And as a note, these are certified organic, non-GMO seeds (the tomatoes and peppers at least), so are also on the higher end of cost.

Indigo Rose Tomato  $2.75
Roma VF Tomato       $2.75
Gilbertie Tomato       $2.75
Brandywine Tomato  $2.75
Marigold                     $1.69
Calendula                   $1.69
Alyssum x2                 $3.38
Broccoli                      $3.20
Jalapeno                     $2.75
Red Bell Pepper        $2.75

                                   $26.46

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Supposing I only bought one variety of tomato, and one colour of alyssum, I could of course reduce that down as well, by as much as almost $10. However, there are some other expenses; I also bought seed starting trays, and a seed starting soil blend. Also, to get a good tomato or pepper start, they do like a lot of light, so  I invested in a grow light this year, and the stand that came with it. Some people also swear by using heating mats, because optimal germination temperature for tomatoes and peppers is pretty warm (75-85 F approximately). I didn’t go for that this year, so I’m not including that in my math. Adding all my accessories to my budget I get:

Hydrofarm JSV4 4-Foot Jump Start T5 Grow Light System   $80
Seed starting trays (48-cell insert plus outer tray) x2           $10
Black gold seedling mix (16 qt)                                                $10.99

                                                                                                    $100.99

All-inclusive, this year’s new endeavour then comes to $127.45, versus my $66 for buying all my seed starts. While it sounds cheaper to buy the starts, I’ll now reuse my grow light and trays every year. I also have seeds leftover, that if I store in a cool, dry place will still be good for next year. In fact the alyssum is from last year and I still have more seeds left over, and they are germinating just fine. You can also save money in other places, like by making your own seed starting mix, or sharing the cost of seeds with a friend who also has a small garden. You can also save your extra seeds for the next year. The price of how much electricity the grow light will use (especially if you have a few) also could factor into the math, but I’m not really sure I can make a good guess at that.

As an additional note on the grow light, I am really happy with it so far. If you want to buy a light on it’s own, and build your own stand, you could go that route, but if you are looking for one that comes with a stand, this setup is really nice. The height of the light is also adjustable so you can raise it as the plants grow, and the stand is very easy to assemble. They also make a 2-ft version if you are looking for something smaller.

All-in-all I’m happy with my decision, despite a bit more upfront cost. I also just enjoy the fact that I can watch the seedlings grow, make sure that they are properly hardened off before planting outside, and move to larger pots when I need to. I also like that I can have more control over the varieties that I plant (I’ve never seen Gilbertie before for instance). So, if you have a little extra time and money, I think it’s well worth it. But hop to it soon, spring has sprung!

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Do you buy your starts or grow your own? Any new and exciting plans for this year?

 

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Choice Salsa

In this year’s new edition of the salsa recipes for canning publication, PNW 395, our lovely extension friends added an awesome new recipe for those of us who love a little more choice in our lives – “choice salsa”! For this recipe, what you get to choose is the proportion of peppers to onions. Want a ton of peppers in your salsa? Or an equal mix of onions to peppers? Whatever your preference, you get to choose! Pretty great eh!?

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Ingredients:
6 cups cored, peeled, chopped tomatoes
9 cups chopped onions or peppers (of any variety)
1.5 cups bottled lemon or lime juice
1 tablespoon canning or pickling salt

Here’s how we made it:
Blanch, peel and chop your tomatoes. My favourite way to deal with all the tomatoes is to core them, dip them in boiling water for 30 or so seconds, dip them in ice water, peel and chop them. Next chop up all the onions and peppers – you choose how much! But it has to total to 9 cups of onions and peppers, for 6 cups of tomatoes. This worked out really well for us because we made a big batch of Chile salsa, and then with the remaining tomatoes we made the choice salsa. It worked out well because I always have trouble buying the correct amount of peppers for a recipe. I grow my tomatoes, but buy the peppers and onions, so when I have 40 pounds of tomatoes, I have to figure out the right number of peppers to buy. This is HARD. So it worked super well that we used up all the rest of the peppers we had, then topped it off with the onions, since if you buy extra onions they store way better than peppers! So great! We ended up with a recipe fairly heavy on the peppers, but I think it turned out really well. I do find the lemon juice flavour to be quite strong though, so I think next time I might try half lemon, half lime.

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Prepare the canner, jars and lids. This recipe yields about 6 pints. Mix all the ingredients in a large stainless steel pot. Remember, do not alter the ratios of anything. You get 6 cups of tomatoes, 9 cups peppers/onions, and 1.5 cups of lemon juice. No reducing the lemon or adding extra veggies OK! Adding other dry spices is ok though, so if you want cumin, oregano or something else, add that now too. Heat all the ingredients to a boil over medium high, stirring occasionally. Simmer for at least 3 minutes, then fill your hot jars, leaving a half inch head space. Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner (sea level), covered by at least 1-2 inches of boiling water.

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After the 15 minutes turn off the heat, remove the canner lid, wait 5 minutes and remove the jars to a hot pad or towel. Cool 12-24 hours, remove bands, check seals, clean, label and store.

This salsa is a great one because it’s super chunky – here it is compared to my other favourite salsa. Chile salsa on the left, choice salsa on the right.

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Spicy Tomato Vegetable Soup

I first made this soup back in the pressure canning week of my Master Food Preserver class, and I could not wait until tomato season rolled around so I could stock up on this deliciousness. This soup is so good, and I just love that every ingredient is in season right now, which means every ingredient I either grew or picked within 10 miles of my house. That’s the best! This recipe is from So Easy to Preserve, which by the way is now out with its newest edition if you’re looking to get your hands on that. I just ordered a couple copies for myself and others. 🙂

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Ingredients:
6 cups chopped tomatoes
2 cups chopped tomatillos
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup chopped green pepper
1/2 cup chopped and seeded hot pepper
6 cups whole kernel corn, uncooked
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp hot pepper sauce
5 cups tomato juice
2 cups water

Here’s how we made it:

Chop, chop, chop, and chop some more. But really, that’s basically all there is to it. When I made this recipe at home by myself I got a hand cramp from too much chopping, so invite a friend over for goodness sake. For the tomatoes, core, blanch and peel them before chopping. For the tomatillos, remove them from the husk, wash and chop them without peeling. For the onions and carrots just peel and wash them and chop them into soup sized pieces. Wash and seed the peppers and use gloves to cut up the hot ones. For the corn, either cut it off the cob and measure 6 cups, or use frozen corn.

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Combine all the veggies in a large stockpot. Add in the tomato juice, water, and all the seasonings. For the tomato juice, you can either make juice by pressing some tomatoes through a food strainer, or use store bought. I bet you can guess which one I prefer. I think that the ratio of solids to liquids in this soup is a bit off, so it could probably use more like 6 or 7 cups of tomato juice. And just to justify this, the reason I think it’s OK to adjust the recipe in this way is because these are the National Center’s soup recommendations. The processing is the same with whatever combo of foods you have, unless you add seafood, and they just say to cover with liquid. Plus, tomato juice is the most liquidy and most acidic ingredient in this recipe. Anyways, bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. While the soup is simmering, prepare your canner, jars and lids. This yields about 9 -10 pints of soup.

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When it comes time to fill the hot jars, it’s important to follow these instructions for filling them to ensure safe processing. Using a slotted spoon, fill the jars about half full with solids. The head space for the soup is going to need to be a full inch, so when filling halfway, keep in mind that you should be filling it halfway to that point. After the jars are half full with solids, fill them with liquid, leaving an inch head space.

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Such pretty jars.

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Remove air bubbles, adjust head space, wipe rims, and apply the lids and bands, tightening to finger tip tight.  Place the jars in your pressure canner with 3 quarts of water and begin heating the canner. Once all the jars are in the canner, close and lock the lid and get the canner heated up. Once your canner starts to vent a steady stream of steam, continue to vent for 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes, apply the weight. Bring the canner up to 11 pounds of pressure (10 for weighted gauge; sea level). The processing time for this recipe is 60 minutes for pints or 75 minutes for quarts. Begin the timer once at or above the correct pressure, and maintain that pressure throughout the canning time. After the processing time is complete, turn off the burner and carefully remove the canner from the heat. Wait until the pressure is completely returned to zero and the safety nubbin thing drops. Remove the weight, wait 10 more minutes, and then remove the lid of the canner and remove your jars to a hot pad or towel.

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While the jars can, eat any leftovers that you had.

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Ta-da! Gorgeous soup. And so damn delicious. After 12-24 hours, remove the bands, check the seals, wipe clean, label and store. Then repeat a week later because this soup is super good.

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Canning Crushed Tomatoes

Crushed tomatoes are probably my third favourite way to preserve tomatoes, after making salsa and tomato sauce. It is one way that I try to preserve them every year though, because crushed tomatoes can be used for such a wide array of dishes. I use a lot of the jars to make chili throughout the winter, and crushed tomatoes are also great for soups, stews, sauces, you name it!

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Two great publications to refer to for tomato products are this USDA guide, and and PNW 300. Keep in mind that you can both raw and hot pack tomatoes, and that there are guidelines for both hot water bath canning them, or for pressure canning them. Hot packing and pressure canning will of course require the shortest processing time, whereas cold or raw packing and hot water bath canning takes the longest. For example, if you raw pack whole or halved tomatoes, they need to be water bath canned for 85 minutes! So you may want to consider cracking out the pressure canner for whole packs, as the processing time is only 25 minutes. Nice to have options though, isn’t it? This time, I did a hot pack of crushed tomatoes. Typically, this is how I use tomatoes anyways, so it’s the way I most commonly preserve them. It’s a shorter processing time than packing them whole, and produces a very nice product.

Here’s how its done! First I cored and blanched them.

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Then threw them in cold water to cool them off. Peel and cut the tomatoes in quarters. If you are doing a big batch, check out this post by Erica, from Northwest Edible Life, one of my very favourite blogs. She shows her strategy for blanching and peeling large batches of tomatoes.

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Mash about a quart or so of the tomatoes in a large pot and bring them to a boil. You want enough in there and mashed that you fill your pot 2-3 inches deep. Once at a boil, continue to add quartered tomatoes slowly to the pot, stirring frequently. After you have a good layer of crushed ones, just stir the rest in without crushing them. Wait until it returns to a boil, add more, and so on until all the tomatoes are in the pot. You’ll need about a pound or pound and a quarter per pint, so if you are aiming for a full 7 quart batch, you’ll want at least 14 pounds. The PNW publication says 2.75 pounds per quart, which might be a little bit high, but in the ballpark of 15 -18 pounds should equal a canner load. Meanwhile, prepare your canner, jars and lids. I think it’s worth it to do a full batch since the processing time will be 45 minutes. If you do a whole pack and an 85 minute processing time you had better be doing a full load or you’re just silly.

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Once all the tomatoes are added, maintain a boil for 5 minutes, then fill your hot jars. Make sure to acidify your tomatoes when filling the jars. This means adding either 1/2 tsp per quart of citric acid or 2 tbsp per quart of bottled lemon juice. I like to just add it to every jar first so that I don’t have a chance of forgetting. Remember that this is an important step because tomatoes are on the borderline of pH levels safe for hot water bath canning, so the extra touch of acid ensures that you will have a safe, botulism free product. Also as a note when filling jars. What I like to do is use a slotted spoon to get the crushed pieces that stayed more in tact, and fill jars first with those. But still make sure you have enough liquid in there so it’s still a good crushed tomato pack. Doing it this way I label my later jars as being more runny, and use them for purposes such as soup, and the others where I want more of a meaty product. If you have juice left over at the end, use this to make up some sauce or something. I threw my leftover juice in the freezer to use this weekend when I make a big batch of spaghetti sauce.

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Place the jars in the hot water bath canner, covered by at least 2 inches of water, and bring to a full rolling boil. When processing for these long processing times, if your canner barely fits your jars you may need to add water part way through. Especially if you are doing 85 minutes, water will boil off. Bring some water to a boil on another burner and add it to your canner if too much water is boiling off. Alternatively, pressure can the tomatoes at 11 pounds of pressure (sea level) for 15 minutes (25 if doing a whole or half pack, or a raw pack). With venting for 10 minutes, bringing the canner up to pressure, and waiting for the pressure to return to zero, it probably doesn’t actually save a ton of time, but there still could be an argument made for pressure canning being easier. I think I will try to pressure can some whole ones shortly and let you know how it goes. After 45 minutes, turn off the heat, remove the canner lid, wait 5 minutes and remove the jars to a hot pad or towel. Cool 12-24 hours, remove bands, check seals, label and store.

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Sometimes you can get a little separation occurring in your jars like in the image below. This isn’t something you need to worry about though, it’s just because the tomatoes were boiling in the jar so the solids were pushed up to the top. Once the jar is completely cooled and you have checked the seal, give it a little shake and mix the liquids and solids back together.

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After a little shake it looks perfect. Label, store and enjoy all winter long.

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Dehydrating Tomatoes

This year has been amazing for tomatoes in the Pacific Northwest. I am really sad for those of you who haven’t had a great season, but here we certainly have. Come visit and I’ll share with you. 🙂 One thing that I love to do with my tomatoes when they are coming in faster than I can process them for canned goods is to dehydrate them. This is great for tomatoes that are getting pretty ripe and you won’t be able to can, and I really love doing grape or cherry tomatoes. They require very little preparation and make a delicious and nutritious snack.

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To dehydrate your tomatoes, you are welcome to blanch and peel them if you like, but I really don’t see it being worth the time and effort. Peels are delicious too. My favourites to dehydrate are romas and cherry tomatoes. For the cherry tomatoes all I do is wash them, cut a tiny sliver off the core end, then cut them in half. I like to place them cut side up, peel side down, so that they make less of a mess on the trays. For romas I wash them, core them, and cut them in 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices and place them on the tray. And again, if you don’t have a dehydrator, this one is the one I have, and I really have enjoyed it so far.

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Tomatoes should be done at 135 – 140 F in the dehydrator, and will take between 10 -18 hours to dehydrate. I have been cutting them up a few hours before bed and letting them go over night, which is working out quite well. In about 14 hours they are about where I like them, with 4 full trays. They should be a bit leathery but not moist at all.

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Four full trays when dehydrated will make a little less than a quart of delicious little snackies! I find the best way to store them is in a mason jar with a reusable lid. They don’t last long, so I’ll be making a few more batches! mmm mmm good.

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