Over the years, I have seen a number of recipes in old school Southern community cookbooks for green tomato cake. The idea intrigued me – it sounds so old fashioned and resourceful to me. I could just imagine a cook making the most of everything in the garden to create something special, or I like to imagine that this cake is born of scarcity, a recipe that uses what’s on hand rather than expensive or hard to come by fruit. I don’t actually know the origin. I marked those pages with little sticky flags and for a long time, never went back to them. The truth is, I’ve never really known what to do with green tomatoes, so I don’t usually have any to hand. Of course, fried green tomatoes (and there is a great recipe in my book Pimento Cheese the Cookbook) and once I made a fantastic green tomato marmalade, but I lost the recipe and can’t seem to find anything similar. So those little sticky flags languished and curled on the cookbook shelf. Until the day I bought a basket of green tomatoes at the farmers market to make some fried slices, but the dinner got cancelled, I didn’t want to do it just for myself etc etc, which left me stuck with some green tomatoes. I remembered those marked recipes and started to work. It took me many tries to land where I wanted. That the first attempt may not have been right, but there was something there to make me keep trying.
Some of those original recipes were of the old-fashioned kind that assume a lot of existing knowledge. One actually said to chop tomatoes fine and stir into a tube cake batter. Add cinnamon and nuts. That’s the entire recipe. I searched the internet and found a few examples to try. There are sheet cake and Bundt cake ideas, but I like the dense beauty of a Bundt. Most of the recipes had nuts and/or raisins and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg or apple pie spice. I liked those, but they really just seemed like spice cake with a stunt ingredient, not a special flavor all its own. I wanted more interest from the green tomatoes. So I stripped it back. Instead of beating butter and sugar, I went for a flavorless oil not to distract and to help keep things moist. A little lemon juice brightens it up and the vanilla is mellow and complimentary. This cake doesn’t shout green tomato, there is just this lovely, earthy mysterious background note.
I turn to green tomatoes from the farmers market at the end of the full, red juicy tomato season. They offer one last gasp of tomato as we move into Fall. This is one of those cakes that could be a dessert or a breakfast or an afternoon snack. You could try a simple glaze on top or drizzle it with honey or serve it with ice cream. It’s tender on the inside and with a wonderfully sweet crust.
Green Tomato Vanilla Cake
2 medium sized green tomatoes (a little less than 1 pound total)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup canola oil
4 large eggs
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
Cut the tomatoes into rough chunks and place in the bowl of a small food processor. Pulse until the tomatoes are finely chopped – do not puree, just break them up into small pieces (you can also do this by hand). Scrape the tomato into a strainer and sprinkle over the salt. Leave the tomatoes to drain, stirring and pressing down a few times, for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 12-cup Bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Put the flour, both sugars, baking powder and soda in the bowl of a stand mixer and turn it on low speed to stir together until combined and any clumps of brown sugar are broken up. Add the oil and beat to combine, then add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating in each egg before adding the next. Beat in the lemon juice and vanilla until combined. Add the chopped tomatoes and beat for a few seconds, then use a spatula to evenly distribute the tomatoes. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 – 50 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn the cake out on a wire rack to cool completely.
The cake will keep tightly covered for a day.