Sun-dried tomatoes had their figurative moment in the sun in the 1980s and ’90s, moving from an exotic, jarred luxury imported from Europe to being manhandled into the likes of bagels, cream cheeses, tortillas and on top of every pasta, salad and pizza from high-end restaurants to the family dinner table.
Dried tomatoes were in their early heyday when local caterer Carey Lokey started growing the red orbs in the Shenandoah Valley, dehydrating them in ovens and selling them in various cuts: halves, minced, julienned and dried to a bacon-bit sprinkle.
L’Esprit De Campagne started in 1984, and still operates in Winchester, mostly under a partnership with food producer and importer FOODMatch. Lokey’s tomatoes now fall under Divina’s label (best known for gourmet olives) and everywhere else, unmarked: in the dressings of ready-made sandwiches at to-go shops and the salad bar at Wegmans.
Though Lokey doesn’t need to maintain his original brand—it makes up “half of one percent of what we do,” he says—the decision to keep it going is “probably emotional, more so than profit driven.” It’s still stocked at the Dinner Bells Kitchen Cupboard in Lovettsville and at local Whole Foods Markets. It’s harvest season now, and those little dried bits would be a delicious throwback topping on this summer’s fresh tomato salads.