Summers on the Canadian East Coast are a mixed bag, weather-wise. For folks in Cape Breton, they can be downright frosty affairs. In his brilliant novel, No Great Mischief, Alistair MacLeod describes a Nova Scotia grandmother who bursts into tears driving by a field of overripe tomatoes being ploughed under near Leamington, Ontario, the closest this country gets to a tomato hotspot. The reason for her tears will resonate with anyone who’s tried to grow tomatoes in a cool, foggy climate: “She was fifteen hundred miles from her preserving kettle, and had spent decades of summers and autumns nurturing her few precious plants in rocky soil and in shortened growing seasons. In the fall, she would take her few surviving green tomatoes and place them on the windowsills, hoping they might ripen in the weakened sun which slanted through her windowpanes. To her they were precious and rare and hard to come by. The lost and wasted tomatoes which she saw outside of Leamington depressed my grandmother for days” (2).
Oh, Grandma, I feel your pain!
With three frost warning alerts in my inbox from gardening friends this week, I knew it was time to rescue the tomatoes. The salvage team–me, husband Ian, and son Will– gathered the last unripe stragglers in a Rubbermaid tote and staggered back to the house with enough raw material to keep a green ketchup factory busy for weeks.
One can only eat so many fried green tomatoes each fall, I’ve found, so I got to researchin’. My own grandmother, like MacLeod’s Cape Breton granny, had her own ways of handling the unripe, if not unwashed, masses and I’ve got a couple of my own favorites:
Tomatoes-Are-Fruit-Too Pie Filling
(also known as Green Tomato Mincemeat. If you think you don’t like that traditional Christmas pie, suspend your disbelief and try this one!)
2 quarts green tomatoes
10 tart apples
1 cup suet
1 cup cider vinegar
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup mixed peel
1/2 cup molasses
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
The juice and rind of 1 orange and 1 lemon (watch for seeds)
1 pound raisins
Chop tomatoes into smallish chunks. Cover with boiling water and boil for 20 minutes; drain. Add fruit, spices and all other ingredients and boil slowly in a thick-bottomed pan for 90 minutes. Mixture will be thick and smell heavenly. Add it to unbaked pie shell and bake until crust is golden brown. This pie filling freezes well.
Pizza With Green Tomatoes, Pesto, and Mozzarella
In 2003, I visited Italy with pretty much the sole purpose of eating as much Italian food as possible. I worked on a an olive farm in Tuscany and a farm co-op outside Rome, travelling around the country on my days off and grazing my way through some of the best cuisine of my life.
In Naples, I walked into a pizzeria just as they were pulling this green and white beauty out of the wood-fired oven: true love blossomed.
Empty 1 envelope active dry yeast (or about 2 teaspoons of same yeast from a bottle) into a bowl with 1 1/2 cups of warm water. Add a teaspoon of honey or sugar and stir, then let stand until yeast starts foaming. Now add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and 4 cups of unbleached white flour, stirring in one cup at a time, going from a wooden spoon to your hands as it gets stiffer. Keep extra flour on hand to release sticky dough from your fingers while you’re kneading. Knead on a well-floured surface until dough is smooth and stretchy, then oil your bowl again and cover with a plate. Chill your dough overnight in the fridge–this will allow the dough time to ferment and give your dough an awesome flavour.
The next day, remove dough from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for an hour or so. Then stretch it out on a baking sheet that’s well-greased with olive oil. You can let it rise again once it’s on the sheet if you’re patient enough; I wasn’t, and it turned out fine.
1 medium-sized green tomato, sliced
a couple of tablespoons of pesto (make your own and freeze, for bonus taste points!)
a handful of fresh basil leaves, if you have some
enough mozzarella cheese, in slices, to cover your pie
Spread pizza with pesto, then artfully arrange green tomato and mozzarella slices on top.
Preheat oven to about as hot as it will go without broiling: 525 degrees F. Bake pizza until golden brown–20 minutes or so. Keep an eye on it! Once it’s done baking, finish with fresh basil leaves and enjoy.
Pickled Stuffed Green Tomatoes
I discovered the lovely food blog Natasha’s Kitchen in my never-ending search for ways to preserve my end of season green tomatoes. This one, from Natasha’s Ukrainian family heritage, is a happy marriage of the sour and the spicy, courtesy of the jalapeno pepper filling for the tomatoes. If you’ve got a zillion green cherry tomatoes hanging on into October and not ripening, like I usually do, this recipe is a good solution.