Preserving tomatoes / Poor man's plastination
November 20, 2016 11:10 AM   Subscribe

Our tomato plant has left us with some inedible but adorable balloon shaped tomatoes. Is there a good way to preserve them for a sculpture or art project. Like a shellacking process that would preserve the outside in some way

We've got a bunch of these guys (instagram). Any ideas on how to keep them? Or is photography the only preservative? Alternately, is there a process of dipping them in opaque plastic or some other medium suitable for a fairly handy amateur?
posted by es_de_bah to Media & Arts (10 answers total)
Adorable! Why are they inedible?
posted by bunderful at 12:01 PM on November 20, 2016

Leaving aside the question of why these are unsuitable for eating, you could cast them in dental alginate. It comes in a powder which you mix with water to form a goo that makes extremely detailed molds. Then you could use plaster of Paris or wax or paraffin to make copies. This doesn't preserve the actual tomato for all time, but it will allow you to record its shape.
posted by fancyoats at 12:16 PM on November 20, 2016

I don't see a way to preserve it with a coating, the inside would rot and gas produced would likely crack any coat thin enough to be transparent.

You could try taxidermying it. Skin it, tan the skin and wrap it around some foam.
How you could accomplish this with a tomato while preserving the colour, shape and ductility is beyond my knowledge.
posted by FallowKing at 1:30 PM on November 20, 2016

Best answer: Do you want them to be loose, or could you arrange them in a jar and pickle them in some way? Wouldn't last forever, but you'd get longer out of them.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 1:34 PM on November 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is a step shy of full plastination, but it starts the same way:

I think the tough skins on the tomatoes will hinder this kind of plastination. You might consider making a thin slice in the skin, from stem to the flower scar on the non-cosmetic side of a fruit, to allow fluid interchange. You can make your own vacuum tank using 2 inch schedule 40 steel pipe nipples and pipe fittings (2 inch valve for the port, and a bell adaptor and a small valve on the other end for the vacuum fitting). I don't think the venturi vacuum pump from Harbor freight will do it: You'll probably need the 100 dollar unit (75 microns! *I* probably need that 100 dollar Harbor Freight vacuum pump!).

Cautions: Know your own limits. Exercise good judgement. Don't endanger yourself or others. You might have to use an all brass gate valves, as acetone is incompatible with most plastics. Protect your lungs and eyes from acetone. Wear hearing protection. Pressure test your fittings before using them. Make adequate plans for mishaps. Be prepared for fire. Work outdoors.

You are entirely responsible for the outcome. Sounds fun, though.
posted by the Real Dan at 2:40 PM on November 20, 2016

They probably are edible; they look like a variety of heirloom yellow pear tomatoes to me. They were not as flavourful as some varieties but good in Greek salads or slow roasted with a drizzle of balsamic. Also a fairly hardy variety and were able to naturalise.
posted by quercus23 at 2:53 PM on November 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Late season tomatoes are often mealy and flavorless, despite looking fine. Trust the OP that they don't want to eat them, please.
posted by momus_window at 4:09 PM on November 20, 2016

posted by geekBird at 6:03 PM on November 20, 2016

Best answer: Grease the tomato with Vaseline and apply a thin layer of papier mache using newsprint or a higher quality thin paper, covering the tomato. When it is dry, slit the paper covering so you can remove the tomato, patch the slit with more papier-mâché and paint the outside. You can probably find a fake vine and leaves in a florist supplies section.
posted by bad grammar at 6:59 PM on November 20, 2016

Response by poster: Thank you all. I'm going to try the canning and the paper mache ideas. The real dan, that's a great process to know about, but a little above my pay grade.

And momus-window has it. They'd be fine if I needed to subsist, but I can't call these suckers tasty. Just pretty.
posted by es_de_bah at 10:17 AM on November 21, 2016

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