A green tomato in early November is a moral dilemma.
Do you leave it on the plant, praying the rain will spare it long enough to ripen? Heh, sucker.
Or are you a hardliner? This particular type of gardener will hack their tomato plants in August to prevent new growth and give their existing tomatoes the best chance of ripening, then start yanking plants at the first sign of rain to make room for winter plantings.
And then there are those who refuse to give up the ghost, and hang tomato plants upside down to ripen, or wrap them in newspaper to cold store them.
I don’t have the garden space or patience to keep these late-stagers, nor do I have the house space or patience to let them ripen inside — but if there’s anything I hate, it’s wasting my garden, so I’ve come up with a few ways to use up the 23 kg of green tomatoes I end up with every year.
Fried green tomatoes
I didn’t say every way would be a new way, but fried tomatoes do not need a self-esteem pep talk from me. Green tomatoes are tart and crunchy and, if well seasoned and crusted, make a better excuse for deep frying than anything I’ve ever eaten at a fair.
The internet is littered with recipes and for Southerners, this is deeply personal. I strongly advise following a double-breading method (coat once in flour, once in breading) and seasoning the flour heavily (my not-so-secret secret). Any Trader Joe’s seasoning is a great shortcut here.
Sauce however you like, but you should make the sauce to match the seasoning. Yes, cajun seasoning and remoulade is a delicious combination, but imagine wasabi seasoning with a soy sauce/Kewpie/sour cream sauce instead.
Green tomato chutney
The people have spoken, and the people love chutney. I have tried to buy into this trend, but mostly, it’s like blow jobs: It’s something I do for other people.
What I can abide about a chutney is they ask you to balance sweet and sour while maintaining texture. Many people treat a chutney like a kitchen sink, but I say practice restraint. Choose something from each flavour profile: Sour is your tomato, spicy is an allium or pepper, umami can be a pickle with its juice, and sweet and salty are easy: Use sugar and salt. Rough chop your tomatoes and give your alliums or peppers a finer dice — no one needs a giant bite of pepper — and your pickles will fall in between. Add your salt and sugar to taste, along with a little vinegar to bring it all together.
There is a lot of variation to be enjoyed within that formula. For green tomatoes, recipes sometimes replace the allium with bell peppers and lean into the sweet with some golden raisins, or soften the tartness with malt vinegar over other kinds of vinegar. Brown sugar can be subbed for white, and the addition of ginger, mustard, allspice, and pepper can make it interesting. Then you get to think up all the ways you’ll use your chutney because honestly, hell if I know.
Green tomato jam
Jam, in my opinion, is mostly a way to divest of Ball jars, which are a commodity these days. Beginning canners make a lot of jam, and I always wonder who is eating it all. But I stand behind a green tomato jam. It is a delightful culinary surprise that earns its spot on a cheese plate, but what I like most about it is the simplicity.
A word of caution to jam noobs: Jam is a “fuck around and find out” culinary experiment. Do not change the ratios. Do not double the recipe. If you want your jam to gel, you gotta play by the rules of engagement. You want 450 g sugar + 1.4kg of tomato + 1 medium lemon. Yes, 450g of sugar. Get over it. You’ll have to, because if you short it, you won’t have jam. We’re also looking for 1.4kg of tomatoes after you remove your black spots, stems, cores, etc. Halve them, remove the seeds, rough chop and toss with the sugar and lemon in a ceramic or glass bowl and leave them overnight, covered, in your fridge.
The next day, low boil the mixture for 75 minutes, immersion blend, then pour into jars. You can refrigerate your jam immediately to eat within a few weeks, or, if you’re using wide mouth jars rated for the freezer, freeze them. You can also go the whole mile and process them to be shelf stable, following all the recommended guidelines for canning at your altitude. I enjoy a half pint jar for this use, which you process at the same times for a pint.
Stuffed green tomatoes
Everyone stuffs a red tomato but, while delicious, they are functionally a PITA. They’re soft and soggy and break easily. A green tomato, if seasoned right, is a sturdier vehicle, but also provides this perfect tart balance to the stuffing, which should lean toward sweet. To that end, I plucked a Honeycrisp apple and mixed it with some plump raisins, ground pork, and black rice to make this sweet and tart stuffed tomato. (Look at it. That colour can’t be beat.)
Pickled green tomatoes
I never gave green pickled tomatoes the time of day until I made them myself. And when I did, I skipped the big toms and went for the cherries. Pickled cherry tomatoes, it turns out, are a perfect cocktail foil. I couldn’t personally say, because I don’t drink, but Claire Lower has been conducting “long-term cocktail compatibility testing” that she assures me is very comprehensive. [Editor’s note: I do not know a more perfect cocktail pickle. — Claire]
I use a pretty widespread dill pickle recipe: 1 cup water, 1 cup vinegar, 1 tablespoon salt. Pack your jars with green cherry tomatoes, a good amount of dill and garlic cloves, and pickling spices (I like mustard seed and peppercorn, but you can legit buy a container of pickling spice), along with one grape leaf, oak leaf, or some Pickle Crisp. You can also add a hot pepper to bring up the heat index. Boil your brine, cool for 10 minutes, and pour over your tomatoes, leaving have an inch of headroom at the top of the jar, then close it up with a new lid.
These can hang out in your fridge and be eaten within a few weeks, but they need at least a week to really become pickles. You can also process them. Lesley Kinzel’s sous-vide method is the one I use these days, and one does not question Lesley Kinzel’s Pickles.
Green tomatoes usually have a compatriot this time of year: tomatillos. They’re late bloomers, and make a great garden clean-out project. I take all of my tomatillos, my green tomatoes, a few yellow onions (when they’re not on national recall), and at least one head of garlic. Thick slice the produce and lay it on baking sheets, sprinkle everything with a generous amount of salt, pepper, brown sugar, and lime juice, then roast them in a rimmed roasting pan in a 200-degree oven until they are a bubbly, juicy mess. It may take a few rounds.
Dump the vegetables and their juices into a food processor, along with a full head of cilantro — stems and all — and a bunch or two of chopped scallions. Add more lime juice and a little apple cider vinegar to taste. Pulse until it’s the consistency you enjoy. I like to get to a place where the cilantro and scallions still have crunch, but everything else is pretty well broken down.
You can use this as a salsa on its own, fresh out of the food processor, but it freezes beautifully. I love to slow cook chicken thighs or pork shoulders in it until they fall apart, and I’ve stuffed many tamales with a version of this. It is, hands down, my friends’ favourite item that comes out of my kitchen all year. 11/10, would recommend.
Imagine the above salsa if you left it fresh, crunchy and sharp, and it took 10% of the time and dishes. It can be yours.
Toss chopped green tomatoes with 1 part olive oil, 2 parts orange juice, and a healthy amount of salt and leave overnight. Now add chopped scallions and chopped cilantro and garlic. The tomatoes will macerate overnight and mix with the refreshingly sweet OJ, resulting in a bright and balanced salsa. Dip a chip in it, spoon it over shrimp tacos, or just throw it on any piece of fish or chicken.
OK, but really. What the hell are y’all doing with all this jam and chutney?