I can think of few recipes that sound less appetizing than “tomato pudding.” I love tomatoes and every manner of pudding, but as far as I’m concerned, those two things don’t belong together—or so I thought.
There’s a variety of tomato pudding recipes out there, because (as with any old Southern dish) every family has a different version. I followed a recipe with just 5 ingredients. After pouring 3/4 cup of sugar over the contents of a can of tomatoes, I almost gagged. I tore several pieces of bread and scattered them across the surface and doused the mixture with 1/4 cup of melted butter. The mixing bowl smelled irredeemably tomatoey, while also cloyingly sweet and acidic and buttery—let’s just say I wasn’t looking forward to giving it a try. Lastly, the recipe instructed to season the surface with salt and pepper before baking the whole thing for 35 minutes.
Soon after it was placed in the oven, my kitchen was filled with a tomato soup aroma and all I could think about was the sugar cooking into that mix—it seemed like a terrible idea. My timer rang, and I retrieved the casserole dish. After taking out a scoop and allowing it to cool, I made sure my spoon got a piece of bread and tomato in one bite. Everything about that bite was delicious, and I was humbled.
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Tomato pudding actually balances sweet and acidic with salty and buttery. The bread pieces absorb everything from the sugary tomato juices to the butter, and they create a sturdy doughy texture that contrasts deliciously with the wet and soft tomatoes. After roving through my recipes, I found one thing that I could compare it to: Southern pineapple casserole. You know the stuff—it graces every Southern homecoming or funeral, and what makes it delicious is how the salty and fatty cheese contrasts with the sweet acidic pineapple and the buttery crushed cracker topping. Like pineapple casserole, tomato pudding is not quite a dessert but it’s definitely sweeter than a traditional side dish.
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The moral of this story is that you shouldn’t pass judgment on a recipe before tasting it—and you should find a place for tomato pudding on your table. But maybe think about it calling it something else.