Heirlooms & Tomato Pie


If you’ve gone to a farmers market in the last few years, you have probably come across heirloom tomatoes. They usually are the odd shaped ones in a variety of colors. And are often a tad more expensive than regular tomatoes.

Generally, a tomato is considered an heirloom tomato if the seed strain was developed through open pollination prior to 1940. If you save the seed from an heirloom, you can plant it next year and get something close to the original. If you want to keep the strain pure, you’ll have to keep the original plant away from other varieties.

Hybrids, on the other hand, are crossbred to produce a variety that has the characteristics of both parents. If you plant a seed from a hybrid tomato, you won’t get the same characteristics as the parent. To produce consistent hybrids, the original cross must be repeated each season.

Heirlooms are prized for their flavor. I’ve planted many varieties and always keep an eye out for ones I’ve never tried. Some of my favorites are Brandywine and Mr. Stripey.

Remember, if you plan to eat a tomato raw; don’t put it in the refrigerator. That kills the taste and texture. If you have a few that look like they are on their way out, go ahead and refrigerate them. Just plan to use them in a cooked dish.

My friend Hudson told me about an easy way to preserve the summer harvest. He freezes tomatoes whole. Just wash the tomatoes, core the top, place them in a freezer bag and freeze them. When you’re ready to use them, run them under warm water and the skins should come off easily. You won’t want to make a BLT out of these, but they’ll be perfect for sauce or soup.

Tomato Pie
tomato pieI first heard about tomato pie a couple years ago on NPR. A variation of this recipe was a winner of “How Low Can you Go.” The challenge was to come up with a recipe that cost less than $10 to feed a family of four. If you grow your own tomatoes, you can make this for under $10. If you are buying heirloom tomatoes, it might run a bit more.

I had to tweak this recipe quite a bit. My first attempt was rather a disaster. The tomatoes were way too watery so I ended up with tomato soup in a soggy crust. Yes, I did eat it anyway and it was tasty but not pretty!

Adapted from Gourmet magazine.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoons salt, plus more for the tomatoes
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
3/4 cup whole milk
1 cup mayonnaise or plain yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 pounds tomatoes, sliced
1 large sweet onions, sliced
2 tablespoons basil, chopped
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated

– Preheat oven to 400°F.
-Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add cold butter with your fingertips, a pastry blender or fork until it resembles coarse meal. Add milk, stirring until mixture just forms a dough ball.
– Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface and place into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim any overhang.
– Place either ceramic baking beads or another pie plate on top of the crust and bake for 10 minutes. Turn oven down to 350°F.
– Gently squeeze excess juice from the tomatoes. Place a layer of tomatoes in the piecrust, sprinkle with salt, pepper and basil. Add a layer of onions. Repeat layers until the pie is piled high.
– Mix two cups shredded cheddar and one cup mayonnaise or yogurt. Spread mixture over top of pie (I use my hands).
– Bake pie 45 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Cool on a rack. Serve warm.

Serves: 4 – 6