While most gardeners are pretty sick of tomatoes by the time fall rolls around, Joe Tomas looks forward to harvesting his green tomatoes with the same enthusiasm he enjoyed while picking the first juicy red fruit in July. Joe comes from Italy and green tomatoes were an important part of his familys vegetable harvest. We stored our green tomatoes so that we could have vegetables during the winter, he says.
Joe left his village of Solano in Reggio Calabria for the United States when he was just 14 years old. He traveled alone aboard the Cristoforo Colombo and was met at the dock in New York by his uncle who lived in Connecticut. I arrived in 1955, and Ellis Island was closed in 1954 so we came off the ship directly in the city, he says. My uncle drove me to Norwalk and I started working for a neighbor, a paesano, who did landscaping. Joe attended night classes and a neighbor helped him learn to read English. Joe's brother joined him from Italy a few years later and they started building houses. Today, Joe Tomas works with his three sons, Joey Jr, Anthony and Carm building houses throughout Fairfield County.
The highlight of a trip to Joes home in Wilton is a tour of his backyard, where apple, plum, peach and pear trees grow together with tomatoes and peppers, eggplant and beans. A large flock of chickens, guarded by a handsome rooster, roam in their own space next to a pergola with a grapevine. The shed behind the house is the center of operations for all sorts of things, which on this particular day included pressing a truckload of Merlot and Cabernet grapes for Joe's Winery's 2010 vintage.
The shed is also where Joe stores a ceramic crock with his preserved green tomatoes. I cut the tomatoes in half round the middle, put them in layers in a basket and salt heavily. After 24 hours, I squeeze them and remove as many seeds as I can, he says. The salted and squeezed tomatoes go into a crock with garlic, fennel, hot peppers and oregano. A plate weighed down with a rock Joe has been using for years sits on top. After about four weeks the tomatoes are ready to eat or to store through the winter. When you want to eat them you rinse them well, then soak for several hours. We eat them like a salad, or we dust them with flour and semolina and fry them.
Looking for something sweeter to do with your green tomatoes? Stay tuned to this space well have another recipe coming soon.
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