The Rarest of Greek Tomatoes

Cultivated since 1875, the Santorini tomato is a warrior. Inundated by sunlight and cruelly lacking water (with only the morning dew to quench its thirst), this intensely sweet tomato variety is a source of local pride.

The Rarest of Greek Tomatoes

Cultivated since 1875, the Santorini tomato is a warrior. Inundated by sunlight and cruelly lacking water (with only the morning dew to quench its thirst), this intensely sweet tomato variety is a source of local pride.

Since being awarded with a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), the cultivation of this tomato has been experiencing a full resurgence on the island.

This little fruit owes much to the Bolshevik revolution. With the fall of the tsar, the exporting of Greek wines to Russia, its principal client, stopped completely. As such, these tomatoes, which had been grown here for forty years, became Santorini's main source of agricultural revenue.

Yannis Nomikos is today one of the farmers who has put these small, meaty fruits back into the limelight. "The climatic conditions here are so difficult that the plants grow close to the ground to avoid the wind and only produce small cherry-sized tomatoes, but with a highly concentrated sweetness."
Yannis is so proud of this tomato that he has nicknamed it "my red jewel". Son of three generations of local winemakers, he gladly opens the doors of his farm to visitors so they may see him performing this artisanal work.
Around his white house, there are only a few acres of plants. The others are in the fields surrounding the east coast of the island. "And here, the yield is more than just slim," says Yannis. "I can produce only 500 kg per hectare, while large industrial farms can easily attain 40 tonnes..." 
Among the local dishes featuring these fresh tomatoes, the star is obviously the tomatokeftedes, tomato fritters. They are the crowing jewel of the meze that can be enjoyed for a few euros on the dazzling port of Oia, at Sunset Tavern, or in the centre of the island, in the village of Pyrgos, at the restaurant Sélène.   
In all of these restaurants, beyond the Santorini tomato, you can also find the island's two other agricultural gems featured in local dishes. There is the fava, a type of white lentil that has been growing here for five centuries, and the even more astonishing young leaves of wild capers, which are slipped into salads with feta.
But since I am here to tell you about how Yannis and his pals are bringing the Santorini tomato back into style, you should know that this plant was once already the star of the island back in the 1920s. At the time, no less than ten factories used the fruit to produce tomato sauce. One of them, in Vlychada, has now been converted into the Tomato Museum.
Built on the shore so that the tomatoes could be washed in sea water, the former Nokimos factory produced 1.5 million cans per year. Even the cans were made at the factory during winter. This visit is highly interesting and will perfectly supplement your budding collection of tomato knowledge.
And though you may not believe how highly concentrated in sugar these tomatoes can be, I am here to tell you that it is no tall tale. When preserved like candy, some restaurants in Santorini serve them with rice pudding. Hint: This dessert is best enjoyed straight from the kitchen!
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