Nothing says summer like big, juicy tomatoes

By Kay Harrod Published:

There are few vegetables that elicit as many memories of summer as tomatoes. Hardly a person that I encounter doesn’t have a story, especially about childhood, that doesn’t include eating a tomato right out of the garden. My personal story involved a stolen salt shaker from the kitchen.
Men who toiled in the fields during the summer used them for hydration. I can see my grandfather, S.M. Harrod, wiping the sweat from his brow and biting into a juicy tomato, maybe two. Then it was back to work.
Friends from the country often dropped off bushels on our front porch. One bushel got me in real trouble.
“Don’t take my good salt shaker out on the porch,” Mom warned as she and Dad headed out to visit an ailing neighbor.
That salt shaker sat on our stove and on our table. It was white glass, about seven inches tall and had this architectural look to it; always reminded me of the McClure Building.
Of course the minute they were out of sight, I grabbed the shaker, positioned myself near the basket of ripe tomatoes and sat down on the cool concrete. You can guess how this story ends. My hands became slippery and soon the shards of glass, mixed with salt, lay around me.
It was not a pretty scene when the folks arrived home. I felt horrible; I loved that salt shaker too, but not as much as my mom. I don’t recall anyone asking me if I had cut myself.
Those were the days of summer and aromatic tomatoes that graced our tables in a multitude of ways, leaving acid burn around and in mouths because of eating too many.
Heirloom or hybrid
During my early days I paid no attention to varieties; as long as they were beautifully red, ripe and juicy, that was all I required.
Probably in the last ten years, I have come to recognize the difference in what we call “heirloom” tomatoes and “hybrid” tomatoes.
Lee Ann Jones explained the difference recently to Jennie Penn and me at the Farmers Market. We were complaining about how much waste there is with those tomatoes that have the bumpy or gnarly green bottoms.
“Those are the heirlooms,” she told us as she explained that the demand for them has grown — pinks, stripes, chocolate — all grown from heirloom seeds. Only the hybrids have red, even flesh with little waste.
Of course the explanation is a lot more complicated but we’ll leave it at that simplification.
This summer I visited a farm in Shelbyville that touts its organic growing and grows 72 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, I learned how finicky many of them are and how this grower wasn’t able to pick them in bushels because of their need for certain kinds of soil, sun and rain — at least for the varieties she was growing.
If there is any doubt in your mind about exactly how many varieties of heirlooms there are, a good place to start is with the lists on tomatofest.com. I certainly had no idea.
Instead of just talking about tomatoes, there are a multitude of ways to prepare them including just slicing one and putting it on a sandwich. The taste can’t be found in the winter and I seldom buy them, but in the summer there’s not a sandwich I fix that isn’t graced by several slices of tomato.

Recipes

Tomato Pie
This recipe is especially for Becky McCauley who told me at a recent event that she sure would like a recipe for a good tomato pie and the easier the better.
There are two types that I know about, but I’m going out on a limb and provide a recipe for a tomato pie that has been popular in these parts for several years.
1 pie crust.
Now since Becky wants it easy. Go to the grocery store and buy a pie crust. I like the ones in the refrigerator case, but if even that requires too much trouble, get a deep dish crust from the freezer aisle.
Precook the crust at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
Let cool.
Slice about 2 pounds of red tomatoes and place on paper towels.
Salt generously and let stand for 30 minutes and pat dry.
Mix together ½-cup good mayonnaise, ½-tsp. coarse black pepper, three green onions chopped, two tablespoons of chopped fresh basil and ¾-cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese.
Sprinkle ¼-cup grated or shredded parmesan cheese over bottom of cool crust.
Layer tomatoes.
Spread mayo mixture over top and sprinkle a finely chopped basil leaf or 2½ tablespoons of parmesan cheese over top of pie.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.
Let cool for about 10 minutes and serve.
Gazpacho
This recipe from Tyler Florence combines the best of several summer ingredients. Served by Sharon Bale, it may be the best gazpacho I have ever eaten. Sharon cautions the half of a serrano chile pepper may need to be reduced to one third. For her it was a bit too hot. For me, it was perfect. Bring on the heat. If you don’t make another cold soup this summer, definitely try this one.
1 large ripe tomato
½ serrano chile, deseeded (or less)
2 cups cubed seedless watermelon
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
¼-cup extra virgin olive oil
2 T minced red onion
One half English cucumber, seeded and chopped
2 T minced fresh dill
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
¼-cup crumbled Feta cheese
Puree the tomato, serrano and one generous cup watermelon in a blender. Add vinegar and olive oil and pulse. Add red onion, cucumber and dill and season with salt and pepper; puree until smooth.
Chill for at least 30 minutes. If it seems too thick when you pour it from the blender, you can add a tablespoon or two of water. Sharon said hers was not too thick.
You can even chill cups or small bowls, if you have time.
Pour soup into 4 cups. Top with a few sprinkles of Feta and divide the remaining cup of mouth-size cold watermelon cubes into each cup.
Macaroni salad
1 box (8 oz.) elbow macaroni
2 cups plum or cherry tomatoes, diced
3 cups avocado, diced
2½ cups fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed
½-cup fresh basil leaves, torn
1/3-cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
Salt and pepper to taste
Directions:
Combine tomatoes, avocados, mozzarella, basil, olive oil and lemon juice in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Let mixture marinate for 20-30 minutes.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Cook elbows one minute less than recommended package cooking time. Drain and pour onto a flat surface, such as a serving platter. Drizzle with a small amount of oil and let cool.
Add cool pasta to ingredients in bowl; check for seasoning, toss and serve.
Cooking Note: Never refrigerate tomatoes. Leave them in a bowl on the counter or sitting in a window until ready to serve. Remember they are the warm sunshine-bringers to our taste buds.

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