Backyard farmers have been harvesting ripe, yielding-to-the-touch tomatoes for a few weeks now. There are still plenty of greenish ones on the vine or a kitchen windowsill, hanging out there, awaiting more sun and their own readiness. Some will ripen; some will not.
The gardener, and the eater too, seek the ideal — a ripe, tart and sweet, dripping tomato that matches the memory of a tomato enjoyed, sliced and salted on a plate, in the shady backyard of youth. Waiting for it, they miss today’s chance to eat something very delicious indeed.
Last year, after school started and summer segued into fall, my neighbor Susan gave up on the last of her tomato plants and handed a cache of the stubborn green ones to me. In August, I had eaten a tastebud-altering fried green tomato BLT at a cafe in Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard. Wanting to replicate the meal, I leafed through cookbooks in the house. In the index of Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, under “Tomato(es),” I discovered two for “green”: pan-fried, and salsa.
About the green tomato salsa, Jimmy said, “This is one of the ten best things I have eaten in my life.” The kids and my friend Julie and I sat around the kitchen table in the afternoon with tortilla chips and, when they were gone, spoons, and ate it all. Last week, after fruitlessly searching for unripe tomatoes at the Newton Farmers’ Market, my friend Pam gave me the only one she had. Later, I called Susan, who was such a reliable supplier last summer, and cadged another one. From that tiny yield, I fried enough for two BLTs, and a little extra taste for the cook.
Resist perfectionism: Stop thinking of those green tomatoes on overgrown, leggy vines as works in progress. Pick them; prepare and eat them. Recipes are here. The experience might make you wonder, as Jimmy did as we cleaned up the sandwich mess, “What does ‘done’ mean?”
[Photo credit: Eli Guterman.]