I must confess that settling into our new house and starting a new job (which included developing a new website — www.roanokeriverpartners.org), has kept me from having time to collect my thoughts to write and post lately. I have sorely missed this outlet of creative expression. It’s sort of like a good friend has been absent from my life. After watching tonight’s episode of A Chef’s Life on PBS, I was inspired to sit down and expound about the culinary joy of homegrown tomatoes and all the cool things that we do with them here in Eastern North Carolina.
It just so happens that as I watched tonight’s episode of A Chef’s Life, which featured heirloom tomatoes, I had a pot of homemade vegetable beef soup made with my surplus tomatoes as well as a pot of cooked tomatoes for canning on the stove. Since there was so much going on getting re-established in the new house this spring, we were a little later than usual planting our annual garden. Thus, I have been in the middle of the peak production of my tomato crop the past two weeks. Like Vivian, I am intrigued by heirloom tomatoes. Being a Master Gardener, I am always looking to grow something new. This year as in the past couple of years, I planted several varieties of heirlooms to experiment with. I love their distinct individuality.
There are so many delicious uses for homegrown tomatoes but our hands-down family favorite is a good old tomato sandwich. During the summer, and early fall (this year), my husband and I never have to worry about what we are going to have for supper as long as we have a ripe tomato or two on hand. We are both big fans of the time-honored Southern classic, a homegrown tomato sandwich. Over the years our family favorite has evolved. We used to always do a version which included sliced tomato and green pepper and onion along with bacon and mayo. We also used to do an open-faced version with tomato, green pepper and onion which included cheese and was toasted.
Over the past couple of summers, we have settled on an up-dated tomato sandwich which we call a BBT — a bacon, basil and tomato sandwich. We swap our homegrown basil for the less flavorful lettuce and we add our homemade mayo. My husband grew up with his mother and his step-mother (and his grandmother before them), making homemade mayo. When I came to live on the farm, it was one of their family traditions that I loved and, for the enhanced flavor it provided, I felt it was well worth my time to make. Our latest favorite sandwich consists of some good kind of whole grain bread moistened with homemade mayo and layers of sliced tomato, crisp bacon and flavorful basil leaves. Of course, we also like a little salt and fresh ground pepper to finish it off. Just in case you might like to try this, I will share the recipe for our signature mayo, which I am planning to include in the regional cookbook that I am working on.
Shields Farm Mayo
1 egg, 1 T. lemon juice, 1 T. white vinegar, 1 t. dry mustard, ¼-½ t. cayenne, ¼ t. paprika (or more for color), ½ t. salt, 1¼ cup of oil
All ingredients should be at room temperature. Begin with a pint size jar and drop egg and seasonings into the jar. Add oil and using a wand blender, hold the blender on the bottom of the jar for 12 seconds and then slowly pull the blade through the jar to incorporate all of the oil. You can add additional seasonings that you like. This is a very forgiving recipe that always seems to perform well and never disappoints.
Ironically, I didn’t always love tomatoes. As a child, I didn’t understand the devotion that other folks in my family had with fresh tomatoes. I always loved the things that you could do with them, like make spaghetti or chili or soup, but I wasn’t a big fan of the simple, raw version. I am not sure when it all changed for me but as an adult, I have joined the ranks of those who eagerly await the first homegrown tomato of the season. I collect recipes and ideas for new creative uses for tomatoes all year in anticipation of their annual debut. I love to make a tomato tart with slices of different color and different shaped tomatoes. I love to do a platter of varying tomato slices drizzled with a good balsamic vinegar. I love to roast a pan full of cherry tomatoes with a little olive oil and lemon pepper to serve with a grilled meat. I’ll take a few good tomatoes to create something simple and tasty to perk up a meal any day. I swear you can taste the sunshine coming through in a homegrown tomato :)
I could go on and on but I will stop here. I think you get the picture … I am a tomato devotee. I intend to live out my days growing, experimenting with, and celebrating all the delicious things you can do with tomatoes. Growing and serving my own tomatoes is just one more of the benefits of living and eating close to the land :)
Here’s to the unending joys of the tomato!
From Carolina Carol