In the summer of 1994, Larry Butler and Carol Ann Sayle had a big problem. The owners of Boggy Creek Farm in Austin, Texas, were all set to harvest a big crop of organic tomatoes that were ripe and ready for market. But a storm blew through, and the couple was left with 1,200 pounds of damaged tomatoes. Because Austin is so humid, sun-drying wasn’t an option. “We were heartbroken,” they say.
But not for long. Larry and Carol Ann decided to try smoke-drying some of the damaged fruits. They built a slow fire, tended it for four days (“we didn’t know then that tomatoes needed that much time”), and wound up with something even more delicious than expected. The smoke-dried tomatoes were so good that the couple built a smokehouse on their other farm 80 miles north of Austin and started growing a special crop of roma tomatoes just for smoking. The smokehouse setup is simple and the fire is slow, so the tomatoes still take three to five days. Larry and Carol Ann say that oak is best for smoke-drying tomatoes, as opposed to mesquite, which is fine for grilling meat but imparts too strong a flavor for the slow-smoking that gives Boggy Creek tomatoes their remarkable depth and intensity.