Tommacio, an experiment with tomato raisins

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    Tommacio on the vine.
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The press release first showed up in March touting the virtues of a new tomato raisin. I barely gave it a look, as I receive hundreds of press releases via -mail and snail mail, due to my job as a plant prognosticator.
I test plants a year or two before they reach the market in my job as a garden writer.

Then a scrawny tomato plant showed up in early June.  I added it to the tomato bed, along with the bevy of heirlooms I usually grow. And I finally read the press release.

Tommacio, which will be in stores next spring, is a thick-skinned cherry tomato that dries easily, according to its US. distributor, C. Raker and Sons. The resulting tomato raisin is a sweet gourmet treat, they said, that can be eaten out of hand like other dried fruit.

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I had my doubts, but any tomato that produced this summer was a winner, as far as I’m concerned, given the constant rain and chilly temperatures. Actually, this has been the year without summer where I live in the Upper Midwest.

Tommacio produced as promised (see Photo 1 above), even though the heirlooms struggled with blight and lack of heat. I was impressed and eager to make tomato raisins using the instructions in the press release.

The little cherry has a thick skin with large pores, traits perfect for drying, according to the Israeli breeders who spent 12 years creating Tommacio using a wild Peruvian species. No wonder it liked the cold nights this summer!

Leaving tomatoes on the vine to dry is the easiest way, but I was impatient, and the continual rain promised rot rather than air drying.  So I used the alternate instructions on how to dry the little tomatoes in the oven. (See Photo 2 above.)

The first hint that I was in trouble was the statement that Tommacio could be easily dried in the oven at 100 degrees F.  (38 degrees C) for three hours. My oven dial starts at 150 degrees F. (65 C). I dug out an oven thermometer to determine if I could achieve the lower temperature by setting the dial to “Warm.”

It didn’t happen; the thermometer still read 150. I figured that if I dried the tomatoes for a shorter period at 150 dgrees, rather than at 100, I’d achieve the same results.

No!

To make a short story of a wasted weekend, it took 13 hours at 150 degrees F. for the tomatoes to approach the appearance of a large raisin. (See Photo 3 above.) I let them cool overnight and refrigerated them, just to be safe.

The moment of discovery came Sunday afternoon when my husband and I first sampled a fresh Tommacio. As advertised, the tomato skin was thick and leathery, and the flesh was extremely sweet. It also had an intense “good homegrown” tomato flavor.  I liked them, even with the tough skin.

Then we each popped a tomato raisin in our mouths. My husband spit his out and exclaimed, “Yuck!” I wasn’t that crude, but I struggled to eat the “raisin” slowly to gauge all its nuances.

The verdict is that although the tomato raisin has the same sweet, intense tomato flavor as it does fresh, the skin ruins the mouth feel and flavor. It’s more leathery than it is in the fresh state, and it’s bitter.

We’ll enjoy the rest of the Tommacio crop fresh on salads or out of hand. (See Photo 4 above.) I’m thankful to have them, given the pathetic state of the rest of the vegetables in the cold garden. But, I won’t be planting them again.

If it’s edible and unusual, Doreen Howard figures out a way to grow it in her USDA Zone 4b garden.  She’ll try anything once, even smelly Durian.  A former garden editor at Woman’s Day, she writes regularly for The American Gardener and The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s Garden Guide.

Editor's note: Look for more blog posts by The Edible Explorer, Doreen Howard, at our blog archive. For more Monitor gardening, see our main gardening page and our RSS feed.

You may also want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. Take part in the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions. If you join the group (it’s free), you can upload your garden photos and enter our next contest. We'll be looking for photographs of fruits. So find your best shots of summer's blueberries, peaches, plums, etc., and get out your camera to take some stunning shots of early fall apples. Post them before Sept. 30, 2009, and you could be the next winner.

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