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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I took peaceful walks down the farm's half-mile long driveway, with the wind blowing across the fields as my companion.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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Yum. This looks delicious! I suppose you could substitute the cream for coconut milk if dairy allergies?
Thanks, Tracee. I haven't tried it with coconut milk yet, but I don't see why it wouldn't work. Should be yummy. I'll try it next time!
This looks great. I want to say a big thank you. I am currently in Brazil, far from family and home, but when I read the part about adding baking soda I was right back in my Grandmother's kitchen. She used to make a tomato soup (no bread) but she always added the soda. I never understood why, but it was one of my favourite soups. Thanks for taking me back to that time and space.
How heartwarming to hear that. Thank you, Shaun. I love it when food memories take us back to wonderful times, especially a grandmother's kitchen. And how great to have a chance to be in another culture (the food in Brazil must be amazing) even if home feels far away. Are you there for work or holiday? Are you there for long? Hope you bring back some super memories.
Yes, it doesn't look all that tasty, but we all know what wonder lies just under the skin of a finally-ripe tomato even if it has to happen in the confines of a brown paper bag! I have Black Krim, Manitoba, San Marzano and Green Stripey ready for..."something"?! I'd like to feature their amazing range of colour (rather than mixing them all together in a soup or sauce) but so far I am stumped. A lovely salad I guess with a minimal dressing. Those green stripey ones are amazing!!
Thanks for your fine photos and sharing your Thanksgiving. We DO have so much to cherish here in central and northern Alberta.
Just a thought: Mulligatawny, a "pepper water" tomato-based soup of India brought to a Mulligan soup of the Canadian prairies?
I think you might be on to something . . . there's definitely a similarity in the name!
My Mom made this when we were kids I have been looking for this it was the baking soda that stuck in my mind also she used canned tomatoes and crushed sleeve of crackers instead of the bread she made a large pot of it as usually 10 of us for a meal.
How cool to find someone else who knows this dish! It's so interesting to see how different versions of a dish evolve and change with different people and places. I hope it brings back warm memories for you, too!