In my first book Savory Pies there’s a recipe for Fresh Tomato Pie. It’s a pie I often think about and almost never have the energy to make. You see this pie is best in the summer when tomatoes are at their peak. Exactly the wrong time to make a complicated pie involving a cheesy corn cracker crust and a whole lot of oven time. My traditional version of a Fresh Tomato Pie requires pounds of tomatoes sliced and layered with a truckload of mayo. It has a ton a flavor and heap of calories. Which is why I recently began thinking about converting my Fresh Tomato Pie into a bit lighter and a bit simpler Fresh Tomato Tart.
Changing a classic pie into a tart could be a risky endeavor, every cook in the South probably has some version of this pie. I’m sure there are bound to be arguments on what exactly constitutes a proper Fresh Tomato Pie. So I’m asking, please, keep those arguments to yourself. Because this time the pie may be a tart, but it’s still inspired by my memories of eating a slice while sitting on a sofa under the blazing hot shade of a porch in Cairo, Georgia.
This was the first time I had Fresh Tomato Pie. It was the early 1980s – just before my first spring break from college. My girlfriend Pam (yes, girlfriend!) loved food. She came from a very culinary family. A strictly Southern culinary family. Her food traditions included cornbread at most meals. Well, I mean meals that didn’t include biscuits. You get the idea.
College kids today would be shocked, but when I was in college most kids passed spring break in the homes of their parents. Pam and I both had parents who demanded this of us, so we did as we were told (another thing that would shock kids today). Despite exams and all the busy work of a semester’s end, Pam insisted we have one more meal up north in Cairo, Georgia with her Great Aunt Delores. Aunt Delores was a great cook and I rarely passed on an opportunity to eat with her. Even if it meant driving one hour north just to eat, turn around and drive 6 hours south to my parent’s house.
Which is how, on a typically hot spring break afternoon in Georgia, we pulled up to Aunt Delores’ driveway in my little Toyota. Aunt Delores hated that car. She always made me park it “round back”. I guess so the neighbors wouldn’t think she knew any “people like us”. I could never figure out if it was the fact that my license plate identified us as “people” from Florida, or that we were the kind of “people” who would drive a foreign car. But the car always set Aunt Delores off on the wrong foot.
Fresh Tomato Pie
Despite the heat Aunt Delores started a lot of mornings with the oven cranked to high. On this particular day, I’m remembering she had a pie in the oven. It was a classic, Southern-Style Fresh Tomato Pie – loaded with mayo and flavored with the same crunchy seeds that always remind me of Bread and Butter Pickles.
Well, this recipe for a Southern-Style Fresh Tomato Tart takes that pie and (tries) to bring it up to date. I wonder what Aunt Delores would think.
Unrelated to this story, Pam and I broke up soon after we enjoyed this pie. It was never meant to be as I was beginning to discover. I dropped out of college and left Tallahassee. I moved to California just a few months later. I may have broken Pam’s heart just a little bit, but I needed to find my true self. I knew I could never do that under the watchful gaze and determined words of Aunt Delores.
I did hear through the grapevine that Aunt Delores was a bit furious about my leave-taking. Yet, I continued to get Christmas cards from her for many years to come. I heard she passed away in a nursing home well into her 90s.
Her pie and (now) this tart live on. GREG