Sydney is battling Covid-19’s super contagious delta strain. We’re in deep lockdown and advised to do all our shopping online. I don’t have a car, so I’ve used online shopping for years. But only for certain things—bags of kitty litter, laundry powder, rice, tinned tuna, etc—bulky or heavy goods I can’t carry home, and non-perishables. I like to pick out my own fresh fruit and vegetables. And I always check ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates on milk, tofu, yoghurt and other fridge items.
The current restrictions have changed that; I’ve added fruit, vegetables, dairy and other chilled foods to my online orders. With mixed results. Sometimes the delivered produce are fine, half a butternut pumpkin, almost three weeks in which to use a tub of ricotta; but sometimes the ‘use by dates’ are ridiculously short for a household of two adults. I’ve also received squishy sweet potatoes, badly bruised apples—and green tomatoes. To be clear, I hadn’t ordered green tomatoes, they just came that way.
Johann Wilhelm Weinmann, Phytanthoza iconographia,1737 – 1745
Tomatoes aren’t always red or round. They come in many shapes and in every colour from daffodil yellow to near black. Some varieties, like the well known Green Zebra, stay green even when fully ripe.
By coincidence, not long after my unripe tomatoes were delivered, I came across green tomatoes during a walk along the harbour foreshore. (Lockdown restrictions allow us to leave home for exercise.) Three irregular green tomatoes lying on the mulch in one of the park’s raised borders. I concoct a narrative to explain their presence. I imagine them semi wild, tomatoes of character, the offspring of a plant seeded from the discarded scraps of someone’s barbeque or picnic.
What can I do with green tomatoes? (I left the three in the park to become compost. I’m talking now about the ones the supermarket sent me.) Do I put them in the fruit bowl next to a banana and see if that will coax them to redness? Or do I use them as they are?
The first recipe that springs to mind is invariably green tomato chutney. Hmm. A couple of maybe nots. One. Years ago when we were living in the Blue Mountains, my partner burnt the bottom of my big Le Creuset pot trying to make green tomato chutney. The memory of that disaster—the smell, the scraping, the forever-after scratched surface—lingers. Two. Green tomato chutney can be a hit or miss affair; it can turn out tasty, but it can also turn out not very nice. And realistically, how much homemade chutney will we eat in a year?
Green tomatoes need longer cooking than their red counterparts. A little sugar, a little spice. Could I use them in a tagine? With leeks, chickpeas, a handful of raisins. Or how about a South Indian green tomato dahl …