Is there anything from the summer garden as beloved as the tomato? There is nothing I love more from my garden, and August is the peak of flavor and freshness. This is the time of year when devoted gardeners are often found in the kitchen, lovingly cleaning and processing bushels of homegrown produce to preserve for fall and winter. The only thing I like more than eating fresh tomatoes is preserving them with the quiet knowledge that I’ll savor them all year.
Canning and preserving is a time-honored tradition that I was lucky to have learned from my grandmother. I remember many hours standing over a sink full of ripe tomatoes being washed, peeled, cored, chopped, simmered and turned into sauces, salsas and paste. I was always fascinated by the water bath method of canning that would seal our tomatoes in their jars and keep them airtight and safe until some cold winter day when a jar would be pulled from the pantry to become part of that night’s chili or stew. The few times we had to use store-bought cans of tomatoes only served to make us appreciate the fruits of our labor all the more.
As much as I would love to give you a primer on home canning, there is far too much to learn than can be taught in a few paragraphs here. Instead, this month I share two of my most closely guarded secret tomato recipes with you, beloved readers. We start with a recipe that everyone needs, whether they realize it or not. A Bloody Mary isn’t tough to make, but if all you’ve ever had is the prefab bottled mix, your taste buds are going to stand up and salute when you whip up a pitcher of my Bloody Good Marys. Fresh, seasonal ingredients (and making your own tomato juice) make all the difference in the world.
Next up is a southern staple made even more famous by a major motion picture of the same name. Fried green tomatoes are a side dish that is good enough to be an entrée. If you’re anything like me, you will always find yourself wishing you made more.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a garden at home. Local farmers markets all over the country are teeming with the good stuff right now, so you will have no trouble finding exactly what you need to make these great plates!
A Bloody Good Mary
When it comes to a Bloody Mary, it’s all about the mix. Instead of buying a bottle, let’s start by making some fresh juice. If you have a juicer, that’s the quickest, easiest way to get where we’re going. Just juice the following:
- 2 pounds tomatoes
- 2 celery stalks
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 jalapeno pepper
- 1 carrot
- ½ medium Vidalia onion
- Small handful of fresh parsley
- 1 lemon, peeled
CHEF’S NOTE: No juicer? Just puree all of the ingredients in a food processor or high-powered blender until smooth, and then pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove the pulp.
- To complete the mixer, stir in:
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1-2 teaspoons fresh cracked black pepper
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
For the perfect Bloody Good Mary, fill a tall glass with ice, add 1 ounce of vodka, and fill with homemade mix. Top with a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce and garnish generously with a celery stick, carrot stick, olives, a lemon wedge, or whatever else strikes your fancy.
This Mary mix will keep in the fridge for a few days, if it lasts that long. If you run out of vodka, it’s a pretty tasty veggie juice all by itself.
Southern Fried Green Tomatoes
- 2 medium-sized green tomatoes
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- Garlic salt
- Sea salt
- Red pepper flakes
- Cayenne pepper
CHEF’S NOTE: If you are feeling adventurous, try tomato poppers using halved green cherry tomatoes. They’re a delicious surprise addition to any salad!
Slice the tomatoes into slices about ¼-inch thick.
Combine all of the dry ingredients (that is everything except for the buttermilk and oil) in a shallow bowl, and pour the buttermilk into a second shallow bowl.
Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
While the oil is heating, dip the green tomato slices in buttermilk and immediately coat both sides with the flour and cornmeal mixture.
Fry dredged tomato slices for between three and five minutes per side.
It doesn’t get simpler than these tasty bites, but if you want to make a restaurant-worthy plating, make a green tomato stack by alternating slices of fried green tomato, fresh mozzarella and even country ham. Drizzle the lot with vinaigrette and serve! I also love to serve fried green tomatoes between two slices of bread with mayo and hot sauce.
Michael Nolan is a professional gardener and food writer based in Atlanta. His digital cookbook, “Food Camp: Kitchen Survival Skills,” is available on Amazon or through his website, MyEarthGarden.com.