The walk-in freezer at the back of the barn—next to the baskets of alliums, behind the table where sunflowers sat—was the spot.
It was the spot where the pretty, sellable produce was stacked up in crates, ready to make the transition from a life among bugs and prickly vines to one with humans in an air-conditioned kitchen. It's also where you could sneak a seat out of Vermont's late-afternoon sunshine.
Lots of the tomatoes we picked that summer never made it in there.
Some ended up smushed beneath our boots in the greenhouse. Others ended up in a bad bin because the tomatoes were rotten in spots, or slightly mushy, or picked too soon—or because the bin itself was bad because someone accidentally fully closed it, suffocating the tomatoes halfway to stew.
It was probably me: 18, passing time before college. This family-run farm is where I ate my first kale and drank my first hemp milk. It's where I learned how raspberries grow and how powerful food can really be. I also learned to stick and poke.
On one of my nights to cook dinner, I committed to dealing with all the “no-good” tomatoes I was probably responsible for. So many ugly, warm tomatoes.
Moosewood and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian were the only two cookbooks in the house, likely left by other WWOOFers as a gesture of gratitude. I looked in them every time it was my night to cook, thumbing through the index of Bittman's tome to find all the ways I could use up the most of whatever wasn’t good enough for market.
The other farmers didn’t need to do that.
A tomato cobbler from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian seemed like something that’d use up a lot of tomatoes, especially if I had to make three batches for all the mouths. The tomatoes would burble with garlic and basil, their slouch no longer a downside. The topping would be basic pantry ingredients I’d pull from the rolly plastic tubs below the metal kitchen counters. It would be homey, cheap, and doing good by the tomatoes I'd neglected. Of secondary importance: We’d get to eat tomatoes prepared differently than all the ways we’d eaten them for lunch or breakfast earlier, or meals the previous days.
The rotten tomato boxes were emptied, and dinner was basically pie. You bet folks took this kid more seriously after that.
- 5 tomatoes, cut into large wedges (add more if the bottom of the pan isn't completely filled with tomatoes)
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons chopped basil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
What's the best way you know to use up not-so-hot tomatoes? Tell us in the comments!