Tomato Man Has Bounty Of Green Gold

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Fried green tomatoes are a delicacy that many have never experienced, but those who have are passionate about them.

As you might expect, Scott Dahlman, owner of Dahlman Gardens on Red Baron Road in Payson, is an aficionado.

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Just a few of the "billions and billions" of green tomatoes awaiting diehard aficionados at Dahlman Gardens. Owner Scott Dahlman says fried green tomatoes are a delicacy "to die for." Dahlman's greenhouses are located off Chenault Parkway on Red Baron Road about a mile past the airport.

"They're just to die for," he said.

While they're usually associated with the South, Dahlman remembers enjoying fried green tomatoes as a boy growing up in Minnesota. They were, of course, immortalized in Fannie Flagg's book "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe" and the 1991 movie version starring Jessica Tandy and Kathy Bates.

Whether you're a fried green tomato veteran or just a novice, this is the perfect time to make a trip to Dahlman's greenhouses for a few pounds of green tomatoes. While the red tomato season is winding down, Dahlman has plenty of green tomatoes just right for frying.

"I've got billions of green ones -- just billions and billions," he said.

You don't need sophisticated culinary skills to fry green tomatoes, according to Dahlman.

"There's no trick to it," he said. "If I can do it, anybody can."

There are dozens of recipes for fried green tomatoes, but here's how Dahlman does it.

"You just cut them about 3/8 of an inch thick," he said. "Some people dunk them in a little egg batter first. Then a yellow corn meal. Then just a little olive oil in the bottom of the pan. Salt and pepper to taste. Maybe garlic -- whatever you want to put on there. Just medium to high heat and brown them up about 20 minutes. It's pretty similar to eggplant."

Dahlman has been growing tomatoes, lots of tomatoes, in his two greenhouses behind the airport for five years. He starts 1,400 plants from seed each year.

A Valley transplant, Dahlman was just looking for something to do for a living when he saw a "For Sale" sign on the greenhouses. At the time, he wasn't into gardening period, let alone tomatoes.

"It was a total accident," he said. "I went from 30 years of construction to this. It was quite a change."

Now Dahlman lives, breathes, and, yes, eats tomatoes. It's more than a full time job.

"The selling season runs from July 4 to Christmas usually," he said. "I work about 80 hours a week and then have two months off, but during those two months I'm swamped trying to do all the stuff I should have done during the summer."

The only variety of tomato that Dahlman grows is called a cabernet.

"They just kind of sell themselves," he said. "The previous owner used to sell them to AJ's. They'd turn around and sell them for $3.99 a pound and they couldn't keep them on the shelves."

Dahlman's Rim country customers agree. In fact, hundreds upon hundreds of loyal customers make the trek out to Red Baron Road every summer.

"They're the best tomatoes you ever had," Payson resident Lynne Brophy said. "I tell everybody I know to come out here and get tomatoes."

Pine resident Jeanne Medley grew up in the Midwest, where tasty tomatoes are a birthright.

"I have visited every farm in this state looking for a good tomato," Medley said. "Dahlman Gardens advertises ‘The Best Tomatoes in Arizona.' They are."

Dahlman uses a hydroponic growing system.

"The plants grow in plastic bags specifically made for growing tomatoes," he said. It's a true hydroponic system, even though they're not floating in water like everybody thinks they have to be. They're in 80 percent peat moss and 20 percent perlite.

"Every time they get a drink, they get fertilized. That's the hydroponic part."

Each plant takes about a quart of water a day, twice that in the heat of summer, and Dahlman avoids pesticides whenever possible.

"I get mostly aphids in here, but also thrips and whiteflies," he said. "When I do I try to use beneficial bugs like ladybugs and lacewings to eat the bad bugs. This season I turned about 100,000 bugs loose in here."

When he closes down in December, the first thing Dahlman does is make a giant batch of soup with the tomatoes he has left over.

"I stick it in the freezer and have tomato soup all winter long," he said.

Dahlman charges $2 a pound for his tomatoes, both red and green. He usually has some seconds around that you can pick up for $1 a pound.

If you're still hankering for some red tomatoes, the best time to get them is Dec. 1 through Christmas when Dahlman holds his annual half price sale.

Dahlman Gardens is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through Christmas. Take Airport Road to Chenault Parkway to Red Baron Road.

Things to do with green tomatoes

With a little imagination, green tomatoes can be adapted to all kinds of recipes, but here are some that specifically call for them.

Fried Green Tomatoes

  • 4 to 6 green tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • salt and pepper
  • flour for dusting
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • cornmeal or bread crumbs
  • bacon grease or vegetable oil

Salt and pepper the tomato slices; dust lightly with flour. Dip slices in beaten egg, letting excess drip off, then coat well with meal or crumbs. Fry in hot grease or oil until browned, turning gently (about 3 minutes each side). Keep warm in a low 200 to 250 degree oven, if frying in batches.

Lorraine's Green Tomato Relish

  • 4 cups ground onions, 6 to 10
  • 4 cups ground cabbage-1 1/2 head
  • 4 cups ground green tomatoes
  • 12 ground green bell peppers
  • 6 ground red bell peppers
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 6 cups sugar
  • 4 cups vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons celery seed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons tumeric

Combine onions, cabbage, green tomatoes, green and red bell peppers and salt and let stand overnight. In the morning drain well. Put veggies in large pot and add sugar, vinegar, water, celery seed and tumeric. Cook for 20 minutes on a simmer, stirring frequently. Pack into hot sterilized jars. Yield: 6 to 10 pints.

Note: If enough green and red peppers cannot be found other colors can be used. If only green ones can be found, use all green ones and add some pimentos, the kind you buy in jars in the market. Drain pimentos and add for color contrast.

Oven-Fried Green Tomatoes

  • large green tomatoes
  • beaten eggs
  • 1 (5-ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Grease two 15x10x1-inch baking pans. If you don't have two pans, bake tomatoes in batches. Slice tomatoes 1/4-inch thick. In a shallow bowl mix eggs, milk, water, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Put flour in a shallow bowl. Dip each slice into egg mixture, then into flour. Dip each slide into egg and flour again. Arrange tomatoes in pans, so that edges do not touch. Bake uncovered in 400 degree oven 20 minutes, turning after 10 minutes. Makes about 28 slices.

Green Tomato Cake

  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup shortening, melted
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 1/2 cups diced green tomatoes
  • coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream sugar, shortening, eggs and vanilla until smooth. Sift flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg into egg mixture. Blend together. Stir in nuts, raisins and tomatoes. Pour into greased 9x13-inch pan. Top with coconut if desired. Bake for one hour. Serves 12.

Green Tomato Pickles

  • 4 quarts sliced green tomatoes, loosely packed
  • 1 quart sliced onion, loosely packed
  • 1 cup pickling salt, divided
  • 2 (1 lb.) pkgs. brown sugar
  • 6 cups vinegar, 5-percent acidity
  • 2 small red chile peppers
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons whole mustard seeds
  • 1/4 cup celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon whole allspice
  • 1 tablespoon whole cloves

Place tomatoes and onion in separate bowls; sprinkle 3/4 cup salt over tomatoes and 1/4 cup salt over onion, mixing well. Cover both bowls and let stand at least 4 hours. Place tomatoes in a cheesecloth bag, and squeeze gently to remove excess juice. Repeat this procedure for onion. Discard the salt liquid. Combine tomatoes, onion, sugar, vinegar, chile peppers, mustard seeds, celery seeds, and pepper in a large Dutch oven. Tie allspice and cloves in a cheesecloth bag; add to tomato mixture. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, and cook, uncovered, over low heat 20 minutes or until tomatoes are tender. Pack tomato mixture and liquid into hot sterilized jars. leaving 1/2-inch head space; wipe jar rims. Cover at once with metal lids, and screw on bands. Process in a boiling water bath 10 minutes.

Yield: 2 quarts.

Green Tomato Pie

  • 6 medium green tomatoes, about 1 3/4 pounds
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Serves 6-8

Pastry for a 2-crust pie; additional sugar for topping.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Blanch tomatoes in boiling water for 20-30 seconds. Remove from water, core and peel. Cut prepared tomatoes into 1/4-inch slices.

In a large saucepan, combine sliced tomatoes with 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove tomatoes from liquid with a slotted spoon, reserving boiling liquid. Combine flour, 1 cup sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and lemon zest. Add flour mixture to liquid. Cook, stirring constantly just until boiling. Remove from heat and stir in butter until melted. Gently stir in prepared green tomato slices. Cool slightly 10-15 minutes, and spoon into the unbaked piecrust. Top with top pastry crust, crimp and seal edges. Cut venting slits in top crust and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.

Chilled Curried Green Tomato Soup

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 large potato, peeled and cubed
  • 4 large green tomatoes, peeled and cubed, about 2 pounds
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • additional fresh mint for garnish

Heat oil over medium-low heat in a large saucepan. Add garlic, onion and curry powder. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is soft but not browned, about five minutes. Add tomatoes, potato, stock, cilantro, mint, and sugar. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 35 minutes.

Puree soup in batches in a blender or food processor. Return to saucepan and stir in cream. Let cool and season to taste with salt, pepper and additional sugar if desired. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Taste and adjust seasonings before serving. Garnish with mint and/or cilantro leaves, if desired. Serve cold.

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