I say tomato, I say tomato

It occurred to me a week or two ago that I had not yet made tomato pie this summer. It’s one of my favorite things to make. I got the recipe from Heather at Home Ec 101. At one point, I had a blog post with the recipe, including a few of my own minor tweaks, but it got deleted with most of the other blog posts when a hacker took down my site.

This tomato pie is a wonder — somehow better than the sum of its parts. It’s summer on a plate, it really is, and it’s wonderful made with good ripe home-grown tomatoes. It’s a double crust pie (bottom and top) with a layer of tomato, onions and basil topped by a layer of shredded cheese, mayonnaise and bacon, with the crust above that.

So I was delighted yesterday when I was talking to my father on the phone and he offered to give me some home-grown tomatoes. I didn’t think he was even growing any this year (then again, they might have come from one of his parishoners).

I stopped by yesterday evening while my laundry was in the laundromat, and picked up four large tomatoes — just enough to make tomato pie.

But when I got home, I realized one of the tomatoes was very, very soft. I wasn’t sure whether I’d get to make the pie tonight (Thursday) or Friday, or even Saturday, and I really wasn’t sure this tomato would make it. So I peeled and seeded that tomato, cut it up and put it into my dehydrator to make (not really sun-)dried tomatoes, one of my favorite snacks.

That meant I would need a fourth tomato — or maybe two small Romas — to make the pie. I happened to realize that today, Thursday, was the day for the Bedford County Farmer’s Market.

It rained here at about the time the market usually starts, so there weren’t many vendors, but I went straight for the first tomatoes I saw.

The trouble was, he wasn’t selling individual tomatoes. I either had to take the $3 basket, or a $2 basket with some smaller tomatoes.

I took the $2 basket. I figured I would find something to do with the rest of the tomatoes.

After work, I ran to Kroger to get pie crust, a fresh tin of basil and other ingredients for the pie. I looked at the canning supplies, and found a dual-branded Ball/McCormick package of pre-measured spices for making salsa. The spices can be used either with fresh tomatoes or canned, and the only other things you have to add are lemon juice and salt. And there were canning instructions. I also bought some short-and-squat pint canning jars that looked like they’d be good for salsa.

When I got home, I peeled all the tomatoes at once. Peeling tomatoes is hot and sweaty work in an apartment with no air conditioning. You have to stand right next to a pot of boiling water. You put a tomato in the water for about 10 seconds, pull it out, then cut a little X in the skin with a paring knife and the skin pulls right off.

I took the three remaining tomatoes from Dad, and one of the farmer’s market tomatoes, and put the tomato pie together. I completely forgot to salt the tomatoes and let them drain in a colander, which not only seasons them but pulls out just enough moisture to make the finished pie a little less watery.

While the pie was in the oven, I chopped up the remaining tomatoes and simmered them on the stovetop with the storebought spices, lemon juice and salt (plus a few extra red pepper flakes, just because). The instructions for the spice pack called for four pounds of tomatoes and I only had three pounds, but I went ahead and added all of the other ingredients at their prescribed levels. The acidity from the lemon juice helps to keep the canned product safe and shelf-stable, so a little bit of extra wouldn’t hurt, and I didn’t think a little extra spice would hurt either. A tiny taste of the warm salsa from the saucepan makes me think I was right.

By the time the pie was ready, I had filled the jars and was waiting for the water in my canner to come to a boil. I had enough for two of my nice pint jars. I thought the excess would have to go into the fridge, but it turned out to be just enough to fill a half-pint jar (and, fortunately, I was able to find a never-used half-pint lid).

It looks like all three jars have sealed, which is always a good thing. There are few sounds as satisfying to someone who cans as the “pop” of a lid sealing as the jar cools. I won’t know for sure until tomorrow morning, when they’ve cooled completely and I can pick one up, take the ring off and have a closer look.

And the pie turned out well — as it always does.

So it was a tomatoey evening, after another busy day at work, and I am satisfied but tired.