One of the perks of being a garden writer is receiving plants to trial in my own garden. Last spring a box arrived with six tomato plants from C. Raker & Sons, Inc. According to Raker, “The gourmet quality snack tomato, referred to as the ‘sweet raisin tomato’, is grown for its high sugar content. The fruit’s sweetness intensifies when dried.”
This summer, one of the hottest on record here, the plants grew and produced scads of tomatoes. I caged them rather than using stakes and didn’t do any pruning. They got fertilizer twice during the growing season and watered whenever I could get to the farm where my main tomato crop was trying to survive.
The sometimes care and blistery weather didn’t faze the Tomaccio tomatoes. This heartiness probably results from their ancestors. Tomaccios were developed in Israel from wild Peruvian tomato species. The crop just keeps coming.
Instead of following Raker’s suggestion to dry on the clusters, I picked them from the clusters since they didn’t all ripen at the same time. I tried drying them in the oven at 250 degrees overnight (see Raker’s drying info below) but didn’t care for the results. That’s when I decided to purchase a food dehydrator. It was inexpensive and so worth its cost. (I now dry herbs quickly and easily and even main crop tomato slices.)
The dehydrator doesn’t shed much heat. There is no oven turned on or stovetop pot of boiling water for canning to heat up the kitchen.
The Tomaccios dried perfectly. First, I prepared them according to the dehydrator’s instructions by poking them with a fork and even peeling some of them. That was too much work, though, and the peels remained on the bulk of the crop. I dried five trays of the little sweet treats and in the next day’s batches, I didn’t even give them a poke and they still dried perfectly.
My friend and fellow writer, Sharon Thompson, took home some of the tomato raisins I made last week. She said she, “managed to use them in 3 different dishes. They really add an intense hit of tomato sweetness - perfect in my Greek shrimp to accent the fresh tomatoes and perfect in a vegetable sauté with corn, green peppers and okra - yum!”
The Tomaccio tomatoes are the only red cherry-type tomatoes I grew this year. I actually prefer their flavor dried rather than fresh from the vine.
I suggest that not all cherry tomatoes are good for drying. During the drying process, I mixed in a few yellow cherry tomatoes, which are so very good straight from the vine. They did not retain their flavor through the drying process and lost substance, becoming just a mushy shell. I like eating these fresh but I won’t be drying them.
Make a note to try Tomaccio tomatoes next year. They have the right amount of meat and perfect texture for drying. If you dry them to the raisin stage with a little give in their texture, they make great snacks and recipe additions right out of the jar. If you dry them to the crunch stage, you can then even pulverize them and use them like a spice. Store either in clean sterilized containers. You can also add olive oil to them and refrigerate. This makes the dried tomato oil so popular to use in recipes. Find Chef Linda Weiss’ recipes for making and using dried tomato oil on our Articles page in the article titled Recipe-Dried Tomatoes.
Raker’s recipe for drying, “The tomato (Tomaccio) was bred to dry naturally in clusters cut off the vine. To accelerate the drying process, tomatoes may be placed in a 100º F oven for about 3 hours. The sweet dry delicacy may be snacked on like other dried fruit.”
By Kate Karam for Monrovia
Photograph courtesy of Monrovia
As landscapes are getting smaller and gardeners have less time to care for them, these naturally smaller plants are taking a larger role. They look great year round, come in all kinds of shapes, forms, and colors, many are water-wise once established, and most thrive in extreme climates. However, the real reason we love them is the way they provide strong structure and play well with floriferous bounty during the growing season, becoming stars in their own right during the winter. If you live in zones 4 - 8 you have the largest range of choices, but there's something amazing for just about every zone!
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