I went to an annual church picnic in Eldon week ago and tasted something we need to discuss: green tomato pie. It sat on a little round paper plate among slices of peach pie, apple pie, berry cobbler and German chocolate cake. No other pieces of it were in sight. The ladies handing newly sliced desserts out of a square window to teenage boys and girls to ferry to a long paper-covered table did not reveal the baker’s name, just nudged the pie wedge closer and blew lose hair off their foreheads.
Intrigued, I leaned in and sniffed. No discernible tomato scent, but to be fair roasted meat and fried chicken, though across the hall, and mashed potatoes and green beans and pickles, were competing for nose attention. My very full stomach reminded me that I only had so much room. I did not want to squander my dessert choice.
Really good pie doesn’t need a lot of description. You know it when you taste it. Coconut cream pies are really good. Brown sugar apple is a family favorite. Green tomato pie reminded me of other sweet tomato dishes, other times—primarily my mother’s tomato chutney and ketchup. But pie?
The taste was meaty in a way. I heard someone say it was a bit like mincemeat. But if you knew in advance it was tomato, it was textured like tomato. It felt fresh on the tongue. All-in-all quite satisfying. I had to admit pie was good use of tomatoes that sometimes refuse to ripen. The anonymous baker had made a killer crust, too, flaky and tender.
The origins of green tomato pie are vaguely southern, vaguely from the use-everything-in-the-garden practical cook realm. I’d choose it again.
Green Tomato Pie
Pastry for 9-inch pie
1 cup sugar
5 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
4 cups thinly sliced green tomatoes
1 tablespoon white vinegar, or fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon butter
Mix sugars, four and spices. Arrange a layer of tomato slices on the bottom of the pie shell. Sprinkle with 4 tablespoons of the sugar and alternate layers of tomato and sugar until the shell is full. Sprinkle any remaining sugar, lemon zest, and vinegar on the top and dot with the butter. Place the top crust on, vent, and bake at 400 F for 40 minutes or until golden brown.
Nina Furstenau teaches food writing in the Science and Agricultural Journalism program at the University of Missouri. She is the author of “Savor Missouri, River Hill Country Food and Wine” and “Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland.” She writes a column, “A Spiced Life,” for the Columbia Tribune newspaper and blogs at http://www.missourilife.com/blogs/savor-missouri.