Tomato Hornworms, Sphinx Moths, and Tiny Fried Tomatoes (with honey)

IMG_5407                                                                                         Horizontal sunlight at sunrise; the turkey appears to notice the light.

Aunt Linda Here:

It feels fresh here this morning here, after a substantial (and substantially needed) rainfall last evening.  The nearly horizontal sunrise early this morning lit the red comb of my roosters/hens making them appear to glow. And the turkeys’s feel magical, in and of themselves, especially in the “betwixt and between” light,  when it is not quite dawn and not quite day. Season-wise, we are also betwixt and between, it being not quite summer and not quite fall.  There are changes in the garden as well. One change is the type of insects that abound this time of year.








In the photo above, you can see that Tomato Hornworms are quite nimble; this one could challenge the most skilled yoga master, as it eats away at my lemon verbena.

Our gardens, in addition to offering the freshest food available,  also function as mystical playgrounds for the many intricate plant-insect interactions that (most often) occur beyond human view.  Here in the desert southwest, some of our most beloved plants and insects have maintained their  mystical names: Queen-of-the-Night Cactus Flower,  Sacred Datura, and the Sphinx Moth are just a few.

Before the The Sphinx moth transforms into the wide-winged (up to 4 inches), long- tongued (there are different varieties; some have tongues up to 14 inches!) moth that pollinates the Queen of the Night Cactus Flower and the Sacred Datura,  it needs to feast.  This feasting occurs so often on our tomato plants, that this “hornworm” is commonly referred to as “The Tomato Hornworm”.  It’s scientific name is Manduca quinquemaculata, and it is is this larva of the Spinx Moth (also commonly referred to as Hawk Moths, or Hummingbird Moths; they fly with such strength and agility that they remind us of birds!) that you find on your tomato plants this time of year.  These hornworms can grow to the surprising size, of about 4 inches in length. When they are large enough, they form into the dark brown pupa we sometimes find hidden in the soil. It is during this stage that the larvae are transforming into the large-winged, long-tongued moth that you may have seen hovering over cactus, and other, flowers as night falls.




Because of the of  the sacrifices a tomato plant makes, suffering through the feasting of voracious tomato hornworm, I hate to let  any of the the end of summer green or harder red  fruit go to waste.  Because I love to love to grow smaller “cherry” style tomatoes, it is those that I most eat and cook with.   Here in the desert it just makes sense to follow Nature’s lead, and plants with smaller leaves and fruit  tend to thrive.  This is a survival strategy for a harsh desert environment. Each time a plant opens its pores, which it does in transpiration, it looses water. Replacing the water is critical, so the smaller the surface area the less water is lost and more.   “Cherry” tomatoes, like the Punta Banda, Chiapas, or wild Texas varieties (you can get seed at Native Seeds SEARCH) are prolific!  Cherry-tomato plants, in my experience, require less water. And they produce and produce and produce; I have enjoyed the fruit of the Chiapas Tomatoes (some years) throughout  Nov/and even December!

So this recipe honors these little humble tomato-heroes, who grow despite desert heat and the voracious chomping of hornworms. I used Punta Banda tomatoes, but the standard cherry tomatoes that grow in your garden, or that you get at the market will work as well.

Recipe: (for 3  people/servings)

-1 large egg

-1/2 cup milk (buttermilk for a richer result; almond milk works is you are vegan)

-1/2 organic cornmeal (I used medium grade)

-2 tablespoons Mesquite flour

-1/2 teaspoon salt

-1/2 teaspoon pepper

– crushed chiltepin (optional)

– 1/2 all-purpose flour OR  try coconut flour. So many folks today opt for a gluten-free option, so I used this flour (for the first time) in the recipe.

– 3 cups cherry tomatoes – or three large tomatoes.

– coconut or vegetable oil

How to:

Whisk together the egg and milk. Combine the cornmeal, salt, pepper, chiltpen flakes, and 1/4 cup flour on a shallow dish or plate.

“Dredge” the tomatoes first in remaining 1/4 flour, second in the egg/milk mixture, lastly in the cornmeal/mesquite/chiltepin mix.  It is a messier affair with the coconut flour, but fried tomatoes are hardly “neat”  to begin with.  And that is exactly what I like about them. So much of life has to be so tidy, and precise. This food, like the end of summer, and change of seasons, can be messy —  but oh so tasty!

In a think bottomed pan, pour coconut oil to about 1/2 inch depth, and heat to medium-high heat. Use whatever vegetable oil you prefer – I I like coconut oil for this as it has a lower smoke point, and it goes with the sweetness of the coconut and mesquite flours.  Carefully drop the tomatoes into the poil, and cook until golden. Drain them on paper towels.





Try with all purpose – and if you, like so many, today are opting for a more gluten-free option, try coconut flour. It is a messier affair with the cocnut flour, but fried tomatoes are hardly a neat affair. And that is exactly what I like about it. So much of life has to be so tidy, and precise. This food, like the end of summer and change of seasons can ne messy in its expression. Added mostly new world ingredients



Perhaps it was the sweetness of the cornmeal, mesquite flour, plus coconut flour, but these fried tomatoes had a flavor reminiscent of corn bread. Between that and the Picante of the chiltepin, these little freid tomatoes LITERALLY called our for honey. I ate them sweet and spicy, as you can see below – and with a cup of non-sweetened coco. I loved how many New World ingredients this recipe offers:  Corn, Mesquite, tomatoes, chile, — and chocolate!










6 thoughts on “Tomato Hornworms, Sphinx Moths, and Tiny Fried Tomatoes (with honey)

  1. So interesting about sphinx months and their long tongues! I too prefer cherry tomatoes and now like them even more now that you mentioned that they consume less water. I’m still harvesting them here in Connecticut. The cocoa picture is delicious!


  2. For my entire life I have been the hija that could find the tomato worms. My father always sent me out to glean them from his plants. I’m very surprised to know that they become the sphinx moth. I would love to see the pupa.


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