It’s summer right now as I write this, not Thanksgiving, but for some reason the other day I was thinking of the fabulous and totally unhealthy dish known as tomato pudding.
In other places I’ve lived, no one had ever heard of it, but when I made it, people liked it a whole lot, once I explained that it’s not exactly pudding, and for that matter it’s not a dessert. They still liked it even after I told them what was in it, and there was general agreement it should be eaten as frequently as once every two years or so.
While Cincinnati has its chili spaghetti dish and goetta, and Columbus has…well, Wendy’s and White Castles (?), what does Toledo have its culinary hat to hang on? A wide variety of ethnic foods, yes, and sure, hot dogs (there’s Tony Packo’s, but the much better Toledo dogs are found at any Rudy’s Hot Dog restaurant, if you ask me). Is tomato pudding in fact, a Northwestern Ohio thing?
Could be, I thought. My native-to-Northwestern-Ohio grandparents made it every Thanksgiving, and often during the rest of the year as well. Tomatoes are a widely-produced crop in Northwestern Ohio, and Ohio has played a pivotal role in the ascendancy of the tomato in American food culture. My mother remembers the big H.J. Heinz factory in Bowling Green when she attended school there and the smell of tomatoes it produced. It made ketchup and pet food until 1975, and residents of a more recent vintage may remember it burning down in a spectacular fire on Dec. 11, 1980 (Heinz has a plant in Fremont now).
And then I hit the jackpot, from October 27, 1960.
Tomato Pudding had been a staple at the Tally Ho, a tearoom at 133 22nd Street downtown. The key, apparently, to duplicating this “treasured Toledo dish” is to follow the measurements and directions exactly. The recipe came from turncoat Carrie Wall, who made the pudding many years at the Tally Ho before defecting to the Gladieux Corp.
And here it is, Toledo History Box’s first and possibly last recipe.
TALLY HO TOMATO PUDDING
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup tomato puree
1/4 cup water
2 cups bread cubes, crusts removed
1/2 cup melted butter
Combine brown sugar, tomato puree and water and cook five minutes.
While tomato mixture is cooking put bread cubes in casserole and pour butter over. Add tomato mixture.
Bake 50 minutes in 325-degree oven.
For more evidence, there is this Mary Alice Powell food column from 2004. Here again, she claims that the dish is “a Toledo original,” so if we are to believe Mary Alice (and I’m inclined to, given her vast knowledge of food and restaurants and her long career at The Blade), tomato pudding is indeed a Toledo thing.
Mary Alice, whose columns continue to this day, made a huge batch of tomato pudding and served it to 43 people in her home and there were very few leftovers which proves, I guess, that Mary Alice sure knows how to entertain.