top of page

Green tomatoes - not always fried

"fried green tomatoes are only "Southern" because a movie made them that way." Sam Dean/Bon Appétit

Yes I know - it's the wrong time of year to be talking about green tomatoes, but this is a lucky dip post and the page I turned to was a recipe for green tomato pie. Which I shall come to - the book too.

The first thing we all think about when we think about green tomatoes is Fried green tomatoes - as shown here in a recipe from Jessica B. Harris. It seems to be firmly in the American psyche, and ours too that this is a dish from the south of the United States. Jessica B. Harris, who is American confirms this, citing that it is served with duck etouffé in New Orleans. And indeed Ainsley Harriott plays with this with his recipe for Fried green tomatoes with duck confit mousse - a rather posh and probably complicated canapé.

However, it's a myth. According to American food historian Robert F. Moss

“they entered the American culinary scene in the Northeast and Midwest, perhaps with a link to Jewish immigrants, and from there moved onto the menu of the home-economics school of cooking teachers who flourished in the United States in the early-to-mid 20th century.”

The first recipes appeared in the mid 19th century. He wrote a lengthy article on the Serious Eats website about the history of the dish which is really quite enlightening, and confirms that it was the film that really brought it into people's consciousness.

And I have seen this confirmed elsewhere. So there's an interesting origin story that isn't an origin story. It was a lovely feel-good movie by the way.

On the left is a version of Fried green tomatoes from Steve Parle of River Cottage. His are battered, but mostly they are fried in polenta or breadcrumbs, though I did see one version that used cornflakes. I guess it's just one of those recipes that people play with by adding spices, or using other kinds of coatings - panko breadcrumbs would be fashionable I'm guessing. Tradition has it I think that it should be cooked in bacon fat, but that too is a variable.

And you have to do it with green tomatoes - unripe ones that is - not Green Zebras because:

"Slicing, coating them in a corn meal breading and pan-frying, which is one of the most common methods of cooking green tomatoes, wouldn't work with a ripe tomato — its soft texture and all that juice would just make it a soggy, clumpy mess." Danilo Alfaro/The Spruce Eats

But fried green tomatoes are not really part of the lucky dip. The book is this one - one of my very favourite books that I refer to over and over again. It's one of those A-Z books on vegetables although she also includes herbs. It's not vegetarian although there are, of course lots of vegetarian recipes within. There are beautiful pictures but not of everything - including Green tomato pie which is the lucky dip recipe. I found a recipe online for Sweet green tomato pie from Evelyn, a Kentucky farmer on a website called, simply, P. Allen Smith. It's not the same but is similar although it too does not have a picture.

Beverley Sutherland Smith makes a galette kind of pie but you will find lots of pictures online of ordinary open tarts, lattice tarts or pies. Below is the prettiest one I could find - I suspect the filling ends up looking a bit gooey and brown, but it might well be an interesting thing to do if you have a whole lot of green tomatoes and don't know what to do with them.

In my browsing on the net I also found one other sweet recipe - this time for a cake by Diana Rattray on The Spruce Eats website. She called it Green tomato cake with nuts. Slightly weird although I suppose no more weird than carrot cake, pumpkin pie and chocolate and beetroot cakes.

But green tomatoes are basically sour:

"Green tomatoes are tart, acidic, sometimes downright astringent. They have a firm, almost crunchy texture and they're much less juicy than ripe tomatoes. Cooking them definitely mellows out the astringency, however." Danilo Alfaro/The Spruce Eats

And since most of us think of them as something that comes from a glut or from a bit of a disaster in that your tomatoes are not ripening the first line of defence tends to be to go the preserve route. And here you will find recipes for chutneys, ketchups, pickles, salsas and sauces - there are heaps of them out there. I have vowed not to grow tomatoes this year as they are a bit of a trouble and you have to protect them from birds, possums and other mysterious creatures in the night. I also never seem to get many actual tomatoes from my many plants. However, having spread compost in my small veggie patch I have heaps of tiny tomato plants springing up all over the place. Maybe I'll succumb and transplant some of the sturdier looking ones, or maybe I shall be ruthless and just throw them out. We'll see.

Anyway I found a couple of recipes as samples as it were - one from Nigel Slater who makes a Mixed tomato chutney which he claims is better than pure green tomato and some Pickled green tomatoes from Cornersmith, which I have to say look very beautiful.

I have actually made green tomato chutney before and I think it was Beverley Sutherland Smith's recipe - a minty one. But really if you are going to make a chutney you could do no worse than follow Luke Mangan's advice - which is open to you to add, subtract and vary in any way you like:

"Take 3-4 whole green tomatoes and cook them down slowly in a heavy-based pan until they reach a jammy consistency with about half a cup of brown sugar, 100ml white wine vinegar and spices (such as cardamom, turmeric and cinnamon). I also add grated ginger, grated apple and raisins. Enjoy on toasted sourdough with soft cheese… amazing!"

Beverley Sutherland Smith, whose book is inspired by her kitchen garden actually includes several recipes for green tomatoes as well as the pie and the chutney. There is also a soup and pickled slices, so she has just about all the bases covered.

I'll conclude because it's time to go and cook that strata that I talked about yesterday - crossing my fingers on that one.

It was actually quite difficult to find very many unorthodox recipes for green tomatoes although I did see several people suggesting you put them on pizza and those salsas got used in a variety of different ways. Perhaps the most interesting were Abruzzo green tomato pasta from a website called Simply Italy, although there was no picture, other than one of the ingredients. There were other pictures but I don't know whether they would have been the same dish. Cornersmith also offered a Green tomato and ricotta salad - you soften the tomatoes by sprinkling the slices with salt before assembling; Grilled green tomatoes with burrata and green juice from Bon Appétit and Thai green tomato curry from Linda Duffin in the Huffington Post.

I feel I am not being enthusiastic here, which may be true. The green tomatoes do not thrill - except perhaps for chutney or pickles, although maybe I really should try a fried version. Besides they are hard to come by if you do not grow your own. The supermarkets do not sell them. Beverley Sutherland Smith's book though - I am very enthusiastic about that and if you ever see one in a bookshop or charity shop. Buy it. It is full of wonderful things, some of which are regular dishes on our table.

Related Posts

See All


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page