Food & Drink

A Classic Southern Combination

Make a batch of traditional green tomato marmalade and cheese pennies, just like they do at Western North Carolina’s John C. Campbell Folk School


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.”


  • Green Tomato Marmalade (Yield: About 6 cups)

    • 2 quarts small green tomatoes, sliced

    • ½ teaspoon salt

    • 4 whole lemons, halved and sliced paper thin, seeds removed

    • 4 cups sugar

  • Cheese Pennies (Yield: About 36 Crackers)

    • 1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

    • ½ teaspoon salt

    • 1 teaspoon dry mustard

    • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

    • ½ pound extra-sharp Cheddar cheese

    • ½ cup butter

    • 2 tablespoons ice water


  1. For the Green Tomato Marmalade: Combine tomatoes, salt, and lemons in a large, heavy saucepan.

  2. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Cook for about ten minutes. Drain well.

  3. Warm up sugar in a preserving pan, adding green tomatoes and lemon. Simmer until thickened and mixture reaches 220˚F, about 35–45 minutes.

  4. Pour into sterilized jars, leaving 1¼-inch headspace and seal. Water bath can for 5 minutes or keep covered in the refrigerator.

  5. For the Cheese Pennies: Whisk together flour, salt, mustard, and cayenne pepper and set aside.

  6. Grate cheddar cheese finely by hand or in a food processor.

  7. Add softened butter to food processor and cream together with cheese. Add dry ingredients. 

  8. Pulse machine while adding water until mixture comes together, no more than 30 seconds.

  9. Turn dough onto wax paper or parchment and shape into logs about 1 ½ inches in diameter. If desired, roll logs in finely chopped pecans, sesame seeds, or poppy seeds.

  10. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and freeze until hard enough to slice easily. Can be frozen for up to 3 months if double wrapped.

  11. Preheat oven to 400˚F. To bake, slice logs about ⅛ -inch thick and place ½ inch apart on parchment lined baking sheets. 

  12. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden. Cool completely on racks and store in airtight containers.

  13. Star Variation: Roll chilled dough about ¼ inch thick and cut into star shapes. Place ½ teaspoon of Green Tomato Marmalade on the center of each cracker before baking.

Excerpted from The Folk School Cookbook by Nanette Davidson