Photos and Story by Clint Keels
It’s that time again.
Bathing suits and White Claws (maybe) are about to hibernate for seven or eight months around Travelers Rest. The days of sweating upon immediately hopping out of the shower are shifting to days of open windows in the house and cut off air conditioners.
We see it in the flip of a shadow, around the yard, in the trees. Morning looks a little different in late August and early September if there’s reprieve from the haze and the humidity. The apex of crisp and tempered joy all in the name of a season is inbound and one our community is famous for – Fall.
But not just yet.
Before we don scarves and flannel, a few more weeks of heat are going to hang around, giving us a chance for one last feel good hit of the Summer – a Tomato Pie.
If you spend time perusing food journals, restaurants around the South, or the internet you’ve seen tomato pies in all variants if you’re looking. Bacon in this one. Tarragon and Old Bay in that one.
If you’re not careful on the hunt, you’ll easily get overwhelmed by the options out there.
No matter what goes in them, tomato pies are a signature dish here in the South and are to be celebrated just as such. By design, they are a simple and logical way to make use of that surplus sitting on your countertop or out in a sun-lit laundry room. They also make great gifts and wonderful side additions to brunch, lunch or supper with friends and family.
You can put as much or as little culinary effort into preparing them as you like and they truly are a blank canvas for the star of our summer gardens. The melding of rich and out front flavors from the tomato, cheese and mayonnaise at its most humble has the potential to signal high praise around the table or yard when brought out. Fresh herbs, thin circle cut onions and leftover bacon from breakfast can easily find a job for taste in layers or mixed in.
Whether you’re shaving gruyere, hand pinching basil from a terra-cotta pot or mixing in a pre-shred from Publix, the versatility of the tomato pie lends itself to any home cook.
Start with frozen or homemade pie shells. Deep dish shells tend to hold up best if stacking and layering ingredients is your thing. Give them some time to thaw / rest on the counter while you prep and slug on a beer.
Double yourself a few paper towels on a hard plate, slice your preference of tomato variety (Cherokee Purple & Big Rainbow are a favorite around here) in about 1/4” slices place them on the paper towel and lightly salt both sides. This helps promote a slight dehydration. Let them sit roughly 30 minutes or so to absorb some of that salt, then start constructing.
The mixture of cheese and mayonnaise should be about the consistency of another classic Southern staple – pimento cheese. Use a thin layer of it directly against the skin of the shell. Think of it as a moisture barrier of sorts keeping the bottom from getting soaked by residual liquid.
Repeat the layering process until you’ve leveled off near the crimps of the pie shell. Once completed, set that oven to 375 degrees and let it ride for about 35 minutes (I don’t time ours; just eyeball them and use the 2 beer method; 2 beers = roughly 30 minutes). Look for the top layer to start taking a golden brown or “cooked” color toward the finish line.
As tempting as it will be to dive straight in with a spoon and not share, resting them is an important part of the process. Not only will you save the roof of your mouth and the whole interior of it from scalds, it allows ingredients to settle and to take their assigned duty in your new creation. You can use some time tested method like Joanna Gaines might do, resting it on a windowsill, or just put a trivet under it on your counter. Either works just as good as the other.
The turn of season can be bittersweet on summer garden enthusiasts. It’s tough pulling up those drained and worked plants after the gifts of a season come and go. We form relationships with our plants as much as we do the bounty and soil supporting their life.
So make haste of time and seize what you can from these last days of heat and try your hand at a tomato pie.
If you’re not growing your own tomatoes this year or have already snatched up your plants, there are still a few local farms selling at our Saturday market, but hurry. When the frost comes, tomato pies will be high on the shelf of mind and we’ll be digging slow holes back to Spring, waiting to prep our gardens and do it all over again.
What you’ll need:
• 2-3 large tomatoes of your choice
• Grated cheese of choice (mild cheddar and sharp combined are great).
• 2 TBSP of Duke’s
• Salt & pepper to taste
• 2 Frozen pie shells
Grate cheese (about 2/3rds of each block) and combine in bowl with Duke’s. Salt and pepper the mixture or season how you like. Spread a thin layer of mixture on the bottom of the shell then layer tomatoes in covering the mixture. Repeat until you’ve built it up. Bake on 375 degrees or until it looks done to you. Rest and let cool. Cut into pie slices and serve with Sunday dinner or any favorite meal y’all gather up at.
*This is a basic recipe and starting point for any home cook to use. However, take the time to make it yours; considering flavors, textures and audience when preparing and researching ideas. There is source upon source right here in our lovely county and online to guide you through the process. Enjoy and HAVE FUN making them!