Every high-altitude home gardener knows that, come late summer, a gang of hard green tomatoes will remain hanging like bullies on their withered vines.
These fruits are laden with meaning. They’re not only harbingers of fall, but edible lamentations of summer’s end, nurtured tenderly for months and then stalled by the onslaught of late-season freezes. Homegrown vegetables are precious; we know exactly what it takes to make them. A quick glance at a cageful of green tomatoes reminds us that, despite our best efforts, some will just never become what we hoped. But, oh, these green tomatoes hold a secret of their own: they are not only edible, but as entirely delicious as their sun-ripened counterparts.
So be not weary, home gardener, for though these late fruits will never know the glory of a homemade pasta sauce or the delight of being bitten into like an apple over the kitchen sink, they do harbor their own singular and standalone potential. Firm, smooth, and often perfectly unblemished, green tomatoes are beautiful. They are tough, too, and will often maintain their dignity through a first frost.
Picking them at the very last minute is key: gather all remaining green tomatoes at once before too much cold turns them into woebegone balls of mush. This practice will inevitably lead to a stock pot’s worth or more of the fruits, depending on the size of your garden. Perhaps you will end up with several bushels. All the better! Generations of savvy cooks have learned that green tomatoes usually arrive avalanche-style in large quantities, so their recipes have been honed and passed down with this in mind.
Take a day or a weekend to do something wonderful with your green tomatoes, to salute their valiant evanescence and wave the last flag of summer.
Classic Fried Green Tomatoes
The best fried green tomatoes start with the best cornmeal, so spend the extra buck or two on the stone-ground good stuff. Avoid tomatoes with red or yellow semi-ripened spots; these will not hold up in a pan of hot oil.
4 green tomatoes, sliced ¼ inch thick
1 cup all-purpose flour, divided
¾ cup cornmeal
Pinch each of cayenne, smoked paprika, and white pepper
Salt and black pepper to taste
¾ cup whole buttermilk
Coconut oil (for frying)
Whisk together egg and buttermilk in a bowl. In a separate bowl, combine ½ cup flour, cornmeal, and seasonings. In a third bowl, place remaining ½ cup flour.
Dredge tomato slices first in flour, then dip each in the egg mixture, and then dredge in cornmeal mixture. In small batches, fry the slices in a skillet of oil ½-inch deep and heated to almost 350 degrees. Keep an eye on the temperature, and do not allow the oil to smoke.
Cook tomato slices until golden, about 2 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels, and serve immediately with crumbled goat cheese or remoulade.
Green Tomato Relish
Makes 5 pints
Tangy with a delicate sweet spice, this relish will become your new pantry staple. Stir it into batches of slaw or potato salad, spoon it over bowls of slow-cooked black-eyed peas, or simply use it to top burgers and sausages.
5 pounds green tomatoes, seeded
2 whole fresh pimiento or red bell peppers, seeded
1 extra-large sweet onion
¼ cup pure kosher salt
2 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
½-1 cup white sugar
2 small cinnamon sticks
1 anise star
1 ½ teaspoons whole cloves
1 ½ teaspoons whole allspice
Roughly chop the tomatoes, peppers, and onion. In batches, pulse them in a food processor to mince and then mix together in a large pot. Stir in the kosher salt, cover, and allow to sit overnight. In the morning, heat the vegetables to boiling and cook for about 5 minutes and then drain, pushing out as much liquid as possible.
In a separate saucepan, stir together the vinegar, sugar, and spices. Boil for 5 minutes and then strain out the whole spices. Combine the vinegar mixture with the vegetables in the large pot, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Ladle hot relish into 5 sterilized pint jars, leaving a half-inch of space at the top before putting on lids and rings. Place sealed jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes plus 1 minute for every 1,000 feet you live above sea level (i.e. 6,000 feet above sea level = 16 minutes).
Consult a trusted resource such as the Ball Blue Book Guide To Preserving before attempting home canning.
Spiced Green Tomato Jam
This jam is a revelation. Exotic cardamom and heady vanilla beans team up to make a fragrant treat worthy of jam cookies, cakes, smoothies, or yogurt bowls.
4 pounds green tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon freshly-ground cardamom
1 vanilla bean
Juice of one lemon
Place tomatoes in a large pot and add the sugar, ground cardamom, and lemon juice. Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise to remove seeds, scraping the pod halves with the back of your knife and adding them to the pot. Cook mixture on medium-high heat, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pot so as not to burn the jam, until desired thickness is achieved. Cook time could be an hour or more, and using a stick blender once the tomatoes have softened helps add smoothness.
Spoon a bit of the jam onto a very cold plate. If it gels, it is ready.
Remove pot from heat and allow to cool. Eat jam immediately and store leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer for later use.