Nanette Davidson is up to her eyeballs in peaches, but as soon as she’s done with her last batch of preserves she’ll turn her attention to tomatoes—specifically green ones.
For twenty years Davidson led culinary classes at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Cherokee County, North Carolina, where Appalachia-inspired students can learn such skills as watercolor painting, basic blacksmithing, or even how to play the dulcimer. The school’s organic vegetable garden grows a variety of heirloom tomatoes, which Davidson took advantage of to create meals in the dining hall and for students’ cooking classes. “We gathered them from July to the first frost, generally in October,” Davidson says.
Today Davidson lives in Brasstown, North Carolina, where she tends to a bountiful garden with her husband. When they gather green tomatoes, she saves some to ripen for other recipes. But most of them go into her green tomato marmalade, which she finds pairs perfectly with her buttery, nutty take on cheese crackers, called pennies.
“The colors are beautiful together, orange and green. And the [flavors] pair very well,” Davidson says. “It’s like serving a chutney or fig preserve on a cheese board.”
Davidson adapted her marmalade recipe from the Shakers, an English religious group who brought their craftsmanship to America in the 1740s. Her recipe uses lemons sliced paper-thin to help the marmalade set properly, and enhance its sweet and sour flavor. The tang complements Davidson’s pennies, which have layers like a pie pastry and the texture of shortbread.
Davidson likes rolling her dough in toppings for an extra flavor before slicing and shaping, favoring “sesame seeds for their nuttiness or pecans for their butteriness.” In The Folk School Cookbook, Davidson shares more than 200 recipes, including her cheese penny stars and marmalade, which she adds before baking.
“They’re a pantry staple for a classic Southern home,” Davidson says. “They give that crispy, savory ‘something’ to a drink table.”