Hartley Magazine

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A Vintage Year for Tomatoes

It’s safe to say it hasn’t been a vintage year for tomatoes and I think mine have fared worse than most. A late start, a dull, cool summer, and a decision to leave my bubblewrap up as shading (it seemed like a masterstroke at the time) have left me with an abundance of ripening tomatoes, but not a great many ripe. Autumn is now very much upon us and it is time to give up ripening hopes.

Chutney is the obvious way to go, but I have already made one batch this year, and I think one batch is enough (we are still working our way through last year’s batches two and three). And the only other thing anyone seems to do with green tomatoes is to make like Mary Stuart Masterson and fry them, southern style. I’ve always resisted this because – well – it sounded disgusting, and because every recipe I’ve ever looked up ends with ‘they really are nice’ which sounded more like plucky optimism than genuine observation, but in the spirit of not entirely wasting my growing efforts, I gave them a go.

Most recipes call for them to be dipped in egg then coated in fine cornmeal. I had neither but was reassured that just slicing and coating in flour and Cajun spice mix was perfectly acceptable. Fry in bacon grease for authenticity, or butter and oil if you’re doing this on a whim, like me, and dont have much bacon grease to hand. A few minutes on each side, until the coating is brown and crispy and the tomato soft, then drain on kitchen paper. And do you know what? They really are nice. Much more tomatoey than you’d imagine they could possibly be so unripe, but more vegetable and less sweet. I genuinely like them and will be making them again. And I know just how unconvincing that sounds.

  • Marcus Offer

    I am surprised that so many people seem not to be able to ripen green tomatoes off the vine: I grew two varities this year, Black Russian and Olirose, both outdoors because of lack of space in the greenhouse. The early warm spell helped counter the cool summer, maybe, but we are in York, so the temperature isn’t exactly tropical. When the first frost of winter happened here in early/mid-october the plants died but the tomatoes survived since, forewarned, I picked all the ones that were large enough to keep indoors. These all ripened in the end even those that were totally green to start with (obviously if you’ve got some colouring up they will ripen anyway) and we ran out in late November! The flavour maybe wasn’t as great as vine-ripened tomatoes might have been, but for cooking (in stews, pasta sauces and curries) they were fine. No need for chutney or any other recipes: just slice and cook – and eat raw if you like them raw (Olirose are especially nice). Perhaps one should wait a little longer before giving up on green tomatoes? I just left them in a bowl on the kitchen worktop till they turned red, one by one (though Black Russians turn brown/black rather than red – and are delicious to eat cooked and raw.). Perhaps a bunch of banans in an adjacent fruit bowl helped too?