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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Green Tomato Pie

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I made my first Green Tomato Pie a very long time ago, back in Connecticut, in the 70's. We lived in the middle of an agricultural area in what would become primarily a commuter town. Today those fields,  needless to say, are filled with tarmac circles and rows of McMansions. Then, though, in a dilapidated 1790's farmhouse, we were surrounded by cornfields and some nearby shade tobacco and potatoes. Those last two required tons of pesticide, and I spent a lot of time gathering in my toddlers, pets, and laundry and closing windows whenever a new application began. There have been long-term health issues from exposure to these aggie cocktails, but that's another story.

We had a super garden there, plowed up the first spring by a local farmer, full of good black Connecticut bottom soil. I was, and still am, a haphazard gardener. Still, we got lots of food out of our plot:  lettuce, chard, spinach, beets, beans, melons (which were often stolen by the even poorer neighbor's kids), winter and summer squash, pumpkins, and of course, tomatoes, and peppers. I inter-planted herbs like basil, oregano, thyme, sage, and flowers, marigolds and nasturtiums, as "protectors."

I was darn proud of this pretty and productive garden and spent time in it daily. Eventually, my husband dug a trench around it and half buried fence to discourage the groundhogs and bunnies who'd zeroed in on all this tasty stuff. I often encountered snakes there, hunting for field mice, bugs and frogs. Once, arms full of produce, and not really looking where I was going, I bare-foot stepped on a lovely long red and white corn snake. He was basking in the path, I think, all hot from the sun. He felt dry and smooth, like warm leather. I screamed, leapt into the air, and dropped the vegetables. He, apparently uninjured, slithered for it, disappearing as fast as he could go into the weeds. Hard to tell who was more scared.

One year, a hard frost hit the valley and my still growing plants hard and left me with buckets of green tomatoes. I set them out along the porch in rows, some wrapped in newspaper to see if they'd ripen. In those days, friends of friends, traveling across country, would sometimes drop in and crash on mattresses on the floor of our mostly empty 13 room house overnight, on their way from the West Coast or the Midwest to colleges/first jobs in NYC or Boston. I was the good housewife who could produce a hot supper with fresh from the garden sides at the drop of a hat. One evening, when we'd had some warning, I decided to produce a pie, but I was nearly out of apples--an unusual occurrence for me, as I'm an apple aficionado. Most autumns there was usually a basket stashed in an unheated room somewhere. Not this time.

I'd heard of green tomato pie, but there was nothing about it in my trusty Joy of Cooking. Determined to go ahead, it was time to punt. I had a single apple, a big sweet Cortland, and lots of tomatoes, so I just went ahead and used an apple pie recipe, only substituting chopped tomatoes. As usual, I put in lemon juice, cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg, some brown sugar and some white, as well as mixture of flour and cornstarch. It smelled good and looked fine.

Somewhere in the middle of the first slice, after supper alongside fresh cups of coffee--the things we didn't worry about doing in those days!--one of the guests said, studying a bite poised on his fork, "Uh, this isn't an apple..."

So, I explained. By that time, however, the weirdness had been overcome by the comforts of sugar, fruitiness, and fresh baked. Everyone finished their portion--even my children, who were initially as alarmed by Mom's revelation as anyone. I was entirely pleased, though, when this same guy asked for seconds.

Now, of course, no one is going to freak out over green tomato pie. You can Google it. It has been blessed by Paula Dean and other cooking show stars, as a real ol' time Southern treat. It has even acquired a certain cache. IMHO, I think it's probably just one of those ideas born of the plain old make-do spirit of a gardener's home cookin'.

~~Juliet Waldron

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