TO EVERYTHING THERE is a season, and the first half of September is the season for absolutely ruthless tomato harvesting. A few, bless their juicy little short-season hearts, are on track to ripen before the rains return; if they’ve shifted from green to that wobbly yellow-orange shade, leave them be. Otherwise, they all need to be picked, so the plant won’t waste its energy.
Compost the small, hard, immature fruits — these are sadly unsalvageable — but collect those that have gained their full size; these are the famous green tomatoes that get fried; or pickled; or, in my house, baked into pie. The flavor and texture of this pie are remarkably like those of a tart, heirloom apple pie, and it’s a deeply cheerful way to head into cool-season cooking — the perfect filling for the days between peak peach and peak apple.
My recipe is based on one in the only cookbook my great-grandmother Emma ever owned: “Good Things to Eat,” published by the Daughters of the First Presbyterian Church of Salina, Kansas, in the late 1800s. The now-frail book is packed with ads for competing flour mills, and my particular wow-have-things-changed favorite, announcing, “Thrifty families use ice!” Her handwritten notecards tucked into the book include recipes for massive quantities of green tomato-pepper-cabbage chow chow and green tomato-raisin mincemeat, so it appears thrifty families also used every single unripened tomato that came their way.
Today, the look of the filling has a tendency to puzzle people. Green tomato pie isn’t very common in the Pacific Northwest, and with its seeds and small chunks of leaf-green fruit, it gets mistaken for tomatillos. Once, a friend frowned at a pie I’d made, slowly asking, “Is this … olives?” Even after I explain the filling, the expectation is that it’s savory, like fried green tomatoes, rather than sweet.
Emma’s original recipe used a lot more sugar, flour as a thickener and cider vinegar; I prefer the lighter texture of tapioca starch as a thickener and the flavor of the lemon instead of vinegar. You don’t absolutely have to make a lattice top, but if you opt for a less-complicated top crust, snip through the dough in a dozen places to create plenty of steam vents. I’ve also cut the filling ingredients by half to make a shallow, folded, single-crust galette with terrific results.
If you don’t grow your own tomatoes, the best sources for green tomatoes are gardener friends or neighbors, fruit stands and farmers markets; I’ve seen them exactly once in a Seattle-area grocery store. Get ’em while it’s hot, as they vanish all too quickly.
Green Tomato Pie
Makes one (9-inch) pie
2 prepared (9-inch) pie crusts, divided use
6 large or 8 medium green tomatoes (about 2 pounds)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons tapioca starch
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Zest from 1 medium lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg plus 1 teaspoon water, for egg wash (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 425℉. Line a 9-inch pie dish with one of the crusts, and refrigerate it while you prepare the filling.
2. Stem and slice tomatoes 1/4-inch thick, and place slices in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle sugar, tapioca starch, nutmeg, lemon zest and salt on top of tomato slices, and gently toss until well-coated. Pour filling into the lined pie dish, including all liquid and any undissolved sugar.
3. Cut the second pie crust into strips, and weave to make a lattice. Crimp the edges. Beat the egg and water together to make an egg wash. Brush the egg wash across the lattice strips and all around the edge of the pie. (There will be some left over.)
4. Bake on the oven’s bottom rack for 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 375 degrees; move the pie to the center rack; and bake for another 40 to 50 minutes, until the crust is deep golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot.