Photos by Zachary Cross
“Then the sun peeped over the edge of the prairie and the whole world glittered. Every tiniest thing glittered rosy toward the sun and pale blue towards the sky, and along every blade of grass ran rainbow sparkles...the bitter frost had killed the hay and the garden. The tangled tomato vines with their red and green tomatoes, and the pumpkin vines holding their broad leaves over the green young pumpkins, were all glittering bright in frost...The frost had killed them. It would leave every living green thing dead...The vines were wilted down, soft and blackening, so they picked even the smallest green tomatoes. ‘What are you going to do with the green ones?,’ Laura asked, and Ma answered, ‘Wait and see.’” From The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
It’s that time of year, or nearly so, depending on where you live in the Chattanooga area. The mountains have seen frost, and some of the valleys too. The end of the season potentially leaves unripe summer foods: peppers, squash, and tomatoes, to name a few. Ma Ingalls made good use of those green fruits that year, pickling the tomatoes and making a pie from a green pumpkin.
Yes, fruit. We often eat fruits of plants as vegetables, though pumpkins are as often made into desserts. Less often do people think of tomatoes as fruits or eat them sweet, though it was common in the Ingalls’ time to eat ripe tomatoes with sugar and cream. When I told Jeffrey, my husband, about this he tried out ripe tomatoes in his vanilla ice cream and declared it a winner.
Jeffrey’s love of tomatoes inspired my hunt for this week’s recipe. Traditionally for his birthday I’d made a fairly involved carrot cake, a really yummy recipe from Cook’s Illustrated. One year we returned home from vacation the day before his birthday. I did not have enough carrots in the fridge but I did have an abundance of green tomatoes in the garden. A new favorite was discovered! My kids are jealous that their birthdays fall in winter and spring when green tomatoes are not to be found.
There is one aspect to this recipe that resembles our favorite carrot cake: draining excess juices off the vegetable ingredient. The carrot cake recipe uses sugar, this recipe uses salt. Be sure to rinse and drain the tomatoes very well so the cake will be neither salty (the recipe does take into account any trace of residual salt) nor too wet.
Whatever variety of tomatoes you have will work with this recipe: cherries, large tomatoes, paste, any and all. If you don’t see green tomatoes at market, ask! That’s how I supplied the main ingredient for subsequent years’ birthday cakes.
I’m posting this recipe as originally written but my photo is of a cake made with brown sugar, hence the darker color. I also vary with the spices. Jeffrey loves ginger, so I usually include a teaspoon of dried ginger or more of fresh. This makes the cake taste like a moist gingerbread. I also cut back on the nutmeg and sometimes throw in some cloves. Tweak to your liking.
This is a cake made of a lot of tomatoes and a little batter. The batter starts out a little dry but the tomatoes add the final moisture needed. It’s a sweet batter, so cut back a little on the sugar if desired. It does not need a frosting but that can certainly be festive. Caramel sauce or chocolate sauce are other options to try as toppings.
4 cups chopped green tomatoes
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup butter
2 cups white sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Place chopped tomatoes in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon salt. Let stand 10 minutes. Place in a colander, rinse with cold water and drain.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x13 inch baking pan.
Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat until creamy.
Sift together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, soda and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add raisins and nuts to dry mixture; add dry ingredients to creamed mixture. Dough will be very stiff. Mix well.
Add drained tomatoes and mix well. Pour into the prepared 9 x 13 inch pan.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes in the preheated oven, or until toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean.
Go to Allrecipes for a printable recipe.
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