Whether treated as savory vegetable or sweetened fruit, green tomatoes are part of that thrifty branch of American folk cuisine that handles surprising ingredients with respect, and delicious results. Indeed, any child who grew up on the “Little House” series could hardly doubt it . . . the descriptions by the author, pioneer/settler Laura Ingalls Wilder, of Ma’s green tomato pickles and green tomato pie are as mouthwatering as any food writing in American literature.
Now, you don’t want the very hard tiny green globes that first appear on the vine; they’re immature, not yet tasty. You do want the end-of harvest green tomatoes: the ones that have reached full maturity but are not yet red-ripe. Look for a blush of red around the stem end; the tomato will feel heavy in your hand. Once picked—and of course, if you’re a home gardener, the first forecast of frost will send you out to do all the picking you can—mature green tomatoes keep well.
Check each to make sure it has no holes or bruises, wrap it in a sheet of newspaper, and store in an open box or basket on your kitchen counter (don’t refrigerate them). They’ll keep for weeks, inching towards redness. But once you’ve tasted their green excellence, it’s unlikely they’ll last that long.
Here’s an easy way to fry green tomatoes: Slice tomatoes at least 1/3-inch thick and sprinkle the cut edges with a tiny bit of sugar. Dredge slices in a mixture of flour and cornmeal, seasoned with a little salt, a lot of freshly ground black pepper and a dash of paprika. (Some cooks follow with a dip in beaten eggs, then in cracker crumbs for a thicker crust.) Heat vegetable oil (and a little bacon fat if you prefer) in a cast iron skillet about a third of the way full to 375F. Fry slices 2 to 3 minutes on the first side, then, after flipping them over, 1 to 2 minutes longer.
—By Crescent Dragonwagon