Tomato Mulligan is an old-fashioned prairie dish, quite unlike anything you’ve probably had before. Made from a few simple ingredients – tomatoes, bread, and cream – it’s so much more delicious than it sounds. Hearty, creamy, and filling – it’s a delicious thick kind of soup. (Skip to recipe)


tomato mulligan with cheese
Thanksgiving is always such a rich and full time of year. I have much to be thankful for. As I think of all the things, great and small, that have blessed my life this year I feel heavy and humble. I lost one of my best friends to cancer, but am thankful to have had her in my life for 35 years. This fall we had our first child get married (gulp), but we are blessed with a great new son-in-law to our family. I have taken risks in my life that I didn’t have the courage to do before; entered the Recipe to Riches contest and made it almost to the finals, started writing for our local newspaper, am finishing off some big writing projects started 5 years ago. Losing someone makes you realize you have to grab life and live it.

Our family, despite a few bumps, is healthy and thriving.

tomato mulligan; birch tree in fall on Marvin and Mabel's driveway

Those are all good and wonderful things. And so are the few valiant roses still blooming in the garden in our cool fall weather. And the sweet smell of the banana loaf baking in the oven as I write this. And the memory of a cozy lunch I had with a friend last week. Life is full of good things, and I am so thankful for them.

tomato mulligan; pitchfork in the fall garden

This Thanksgiving reminded me of that. We spent it with Raymond’s parents on their farm in northern Alberta and were busy with family activities every minute – we are so lucky.

grasses in the fall, at Marvin and Mabel'smore grasses in the fall, at Valhalla

Andreas, Albert (our German exchange son), Raymond, and I got to go quadding with Raymond’s brother and family – what a wonderful time spent deep in the uninhabited forests of northwestern Alberta. We raced along moss-covered and leaf-littered paths, through swampy bogs, and alongside peaceful hidden lakes.

tomato mulligan; quadding at DownTimber Lake

tomato mulligan; quadding at DownTimber Lake

Stopping the quads to listen to the stillness gave us light-filled moments amidst the exhilaration of bouncing and flying through the glowing fall-decorated forest.

tomato mulligan; Andreas and Albert on the quad

I took peaceful walks down the farm’s half-mile long driveway, with the wind blowing across the fields as my companion.

tomato mulligan; Marvin and Mabel's driveway

tomato mulligan; the view from the end of Marvin and Mabel's drivewaytomato mulligan; dried grasses in fall, at Valhalla

We shared a bountiful Thanksgiving feast with a house happily crammed full of family, from ages 2 to 93. We laughed and cooked together, told stories, and played cards around the old farm table.

I hope you also had a Thanksgiving that filled up your soul.

tomato mulligan; fall at the farm in Valhalla

The table at the Thanksgiving feast was laden with a smorgasbord of perfectly roasted turkey and ham, scrumptious salads, vegetables, pickles, gravy, and even more luscious desserts.

tomato mulligan; Thanksgiving feast at June's

Yet, the one dish that stands out in my mind from this Thanksgiving weekend is the humble Tomato Mulligan my mother-in-law, Mabel, made us for lunch one day. This curious dish is a recipe she remembers her mama making, so it’s been around awhile, since Mabel is 88 years old. It’s made from a few simple ingredients that, when combined, are so much greater than the sum of their parts.

tomato mulligan is a lovely lunch

Mabel made the mulligan with fresh tomatoes she still had from her garden, but she says in the past she always made it with canned tomatoes – because in northern Alberta 50+ years ago, there were no tomatoes grown in gardens. Tomatoes were too delicate for northern climates. Nowadays, with pre-started tomato plants, and greenhouses and coddling, tomatoes can be grown up north, but they often have to be ripened inside, after the frosts hit. However, canned tomatoes were a delicacy that was available years ago.

tomatoes for tomato mulligantomato mulligan; Andreas squishing the tomatoesadd the bread to the tomato mulligan

No one knows where the name came from. It’s just always been called Tomato Mulligan. When the family had lots of cows to milk, Mabel made it with fresh cream, but now she often makes it with canned evaporated milk, and it’s hard to tell the difference.

Tomato Mulligan, started as a thrifty way to use up a bit of stale bread, but when you eat it, that’s not what you think about. You just think how absolutely delicious it is. Creamy, tomato-ey, and so simple yet rich.

Born of necessity in long ago times, this delicious dish got lost in the more sexy recipes of modern times. But it’s worth reviving. If you make it with two slices of bread, it’s like a thick soup – some distant Canadian prairie cousin of the Italian ribollita. If you add a bit more bread, it becomes a thicker stew-like side dish, kind of a tomato goulash. It would be great next to meatloaf or sausages. It’s even quite wonderful reheated and eaten for breakfast with a poached or fried egg on top.

fried egg on tomato mulligan

The baking soda may seem like a curious ingredient in the Tomato Mulligan, but its role is very important. (Think back to childhood science experiments, making the vinegar and baking soda volcanoes.) The soda neutralizes the acid in the tomatoes, so that when you add the cream, it doesn’t curdle. It just makes a luscious creamy tomato sauce. Nifty, really. Those pioneer cooks were way ahead of us.

 

I could eat this by the bowlful, and the teenagers, though skeptically eyeing the dish at first, changed their expressions to delight and shoveled second helpings onto their plates, exclaiming with surprise that ‘this stuff is really good!”

I urge you to try this – it is so much tastier than it looks. Really.

It’s my new comfort food, and I’m very thankful for the simplicity of a bowl of fresh tomatoes, bread and cream.

tomato mulligan; old combine by the driveway at Marvin and Mabel's

* * * * *

Kitchen Frau Notes: You can make this with fresh tomatoes, peeled first, or a large can of whole or diced tomatoes. Mabel used leftover homemade white dinner buns, but I’ve tried it also with gluten-free bread and it worked well, too. It’s best with white bread because it breaks down easily, but I tried one batch with whole grain bread, and though it had a bit more texture, was still very tasty.

tomato mulligan

Old-Fashioned Tomato Mulligan

  • 1 large can (798 ml/28 oz) whole peeled tomatoes, or 2 lbs fresh, ripe tomatoes
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup (120ml) heavy cream or canned evaporated milk
  • 2 slices bread (gluten free if necessary)
  • salt and pepper

If you are using fresh tomatoes, heat a saucepan of water to boiling, and drop the tomatoes in. Let them boil for a minute or so, until the skins start splitting. If there are a few tomatoes whose skins are stubborn, give them a poke with the tip of a sharp knife and if the skin splits, the tomato is ready. Remove them from the water with a slotted spoon, cut out the cores with the tip of a sharp paring knife, and slip them from their skins. Dice them into large pieces and place them in a saucepan. You should have about 3 cups tomatoes.

If using canned whole tomatoes, empty the contents of the can into a saucepan and – here’s the fun part – get in there with your hands and squish the tomatoes to break them up. (You can also be more elegant and cut them up with a knife, but where’s the fun in that?)

Stir the baking soda into the tomatoes and watch the bubbling action start. They will foam up slightly – that’s the soda neutralizing the tomato acid. Stir well to get the soda fully incorporated. Add the cream and the 2 slices of bread, either diced or torn into small pieces.

Place the tomatoes over medium-high heat on the stove and bring to a boil, stirring often. If using fresh tomatoes, let them cook for two or 3 minutes to soften them. If using canned tomatoes, they just need to come to a boil. Give them a good stir to help the bread soften and break down. Season to taste. Canned tomatoes need about ½ teaspoon salt, fresh ones need about 1 teaspoon. A good grinding of fresh black pepper finishes off this dish.

So simple, nothing else is needed. Serve in bowls as a soup or stew, with a chunk of cheese to it, or a salad.

If you want to serve the Tomato Mulligan as a side dish, stir in another slice or so of bread, until it is thick enough to sit on the plate, like a kind of soft puree.

Makes about 4 cups Mulligan, enough to serve 2 to 3 as a light lunch or 4 to 6 as a side dish.

Guten Appetit!

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Tomato Mulligan - delicious creamy tomato bread soup. An old Canadian Prairie Recipe

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tomato mulligan; Albert and Andreas quadding