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The Taste of Summer
July 6, 2005

      They are everywhere!  Fields clumped with green bushes covered with greener fruit stretch out across the countryside.  In-town gardens gleam with scarlet and yellow.  Vegetable stands spill over into bushel baskets.  Tomatoes abound.

They should.  It’s July in Southwest Georgia.  

“How many?” I asked Joel Hudgins, the Decatur County Extension Coordinator.  There’s not an exact answer—other than “lots.”  I used Joel’s figures to do some back-of-an-envelope calculations.  I figure that our commercial tomato crop is well over a million pounds of the red fruit.  And remember we have two crops every year.

      About right now harvest is almost over for the spring crop.  The fall crop will go into the ground soon, and in October, we’ll have tomatoes again.  Joel says that after corn, tomatoes are the biggest food crop in the county.  Most of them will appear in   fresh markets all along the Eastern seaboard.  Some go south into Florida where harvest takes place earlier.  A few may make it into our own grocery stores and vegetable stands.

      But that is only the commercial tomatoes.  Home gardens are full as well. Seems like every where I look, I see tomatoes.  

       They were on my mind a couple of weeks ago when I went to Atlanta to visit with friends in the Southern Foodways Alliance about our common interest in food and history.  I offered to bring along some of the refreshments.  Our hostess told me not to worry since I was coming from out of town.

      Then I offered to bring a South Georgia tomato pie.  This was different.  “Please,” my hostess e-mailed back, “bring the tomato pie.”  I took two of Barbara Tennille’s classic pies.  This is what summer tastes likes. (And it’s a summer tradition with Stirring up memories to share this recipe every year!)

Barbara Tennille’s Georgia tomato pie

9” pie shell

2 or 3 large tomatoes, thickly sliced

salt and pepper

sweet basil, coarsely chopped

2 or 3 green onions, chopped

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Fill the pie shell with tomatoes, sprinkle with salt, pepper, green onions and basil.

Combine the mayonnaise and cheese and spread over tomatoes.  Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees.  This should serve six.  Likely, it will serve four.

Sometimes, it seems like there may be too many tomatoes.  Neighbors bump into each other walking next door, each bearing a bag of tomatoes.  If you should have leftovers after the salads, the tomato pies, and don’t forget the tomato sandwiches (eat them over the sink!), try drying some.  The traditional method is under cheesecloth in the sun, but you can get the same great taste in a slow oven.

Oven-dried tomatoes

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Tomatoes

Fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, oregano, parsley, sage)

Garlic

Preheat the oven to its lowest setting (around 200 degrees). Lightly oil a cookie sheet or baking pan with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Slice tomatoes crosswise into 1-inch slices. If you are using Roma tomatoes cut them in half lengthwise.  Remove the seeds with your fingers. Pack the tomatoes tightly together on the pan; they should fill the entire pan. Drizzle the tomatoes lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with fresh herbs if desired (use thyme, rosemary, oregano or garlic, alone or in combination). Leave the tomatoes in the oven until they are shriveled and dehydrated without being burned.  This will take from six to eight or ten hours depending on the size of the tomatoes and their moisture content.  Check them often and remove as they dry out. The flavor will be richer and more intense the longer the tomatoes are left in the oven.

            Stored dry in zipper bags in the refrigerator, the tomatoes should last indefinitely.  Stored in olive oil, they’ll go for about three months.  You can soak the dried tomatoes overnight in olive oil to get the same effect as storing them in the oil.

Here is a good way to put those freshly dried tomatoes to good use. Paula Chambers shared this spectacular recipe with me. I can’t think of a tastier way to enjoy summer.

Paula’s Tomato-Basil Cheesecake

For the shell:

1/2 cup dry bread crumbs

2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Coat the bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring form pan with the melted butter.  Combine the crumbs and cheese and press onto the bottom of the pan.

For the filling:

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/3 cup pine nuts

1 cup dried tomatoes, chopped and soaked in olive oil

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 1/2  pound cream cheese

1 cup ricotta cheese

1/2 cup finely chopped scallions

1 cup sour cream

4 eggs

Blend cream cheese, ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese and eggs until smooth.  Add basil, garlic, pine nuts, sun dried tomatoes and scallions.  Mix well.  Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 45 minutes or until the center no longer moves when you shake the pan.  Transfer the cake to a rack and cool it completely.  Remove the outer ring of the pan.  Spread sour cream over the cooled cake and garnish with green onions, chives, basil and fresh edible flowers.

Serve with crackers.    

There’s a whole range of edible flowers you can use for decoration:   the  flowers of herbs (basil, rosemary, lavender and mint), roses, nasturtiums, hibiscus, honeysuckle, impatiens and even the lowly dandelion—though they are best when very young.

I’d love to share your favorite tomato recipe.  Remember we have that fall crop coming up. 


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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network