The best smell in the world is a tomato plant after a rainstorm. One of those south Louisiana frog-stranglers that makes you think the end is nigh, but quickly scoots out of the way for a breeze and lingering evening sun.
Tomato plants, I think, then come into their own, with sun-warmed fruit and a tempting, peppery sort of smell that only comes around in high summertime and seems most potent after being stirred up by the rain.
It’s no wonder, then, that I choose to pick my garden in the late evening, usually with supper simmering on the stove.
Ainsley helps, mainly with the cherry tomatoes, more of which end up in her mouth than in the bowl. That’s OK. You only get to do this one (long) season a year. I’ve previously mentioned my family’s reluctance to accept a dinner salad, but I figured there’s got to be another recipe out there that perfectly captures that peppery tomato essence.
Tarts looked like a good candidate, and they’re a trendy thing right now, but none of them looked substantial enough for my husband to accept them on the supper table.
Enter tomato pie.
Not the northern tomato pie, which is similar to a pizza. Southern tomato pie. With cheese and mayo. Yes, that one.
Just like there’s no good way to hurry a tomato plant into bearing perfectly sweet fruit, there’s no good way to rush this pie. For it not to end up a soupy mess, the tomatoes must be sort of, well, dry. And you’re right if that seems a little contrary. But it can be done.
I also peel the tomatoes, because peeled tomatoes are a little easier to eat. Those skins are thin but tough when heat’s applied.
To peel, cut an X into the bottom of a tomato, then dunk it in boiling water for a minute. Remove to an ice-water bath, and the skin will start to pull back. Help it along with your fingers.
The next step is to seed them. I cut off the tops and, using my fingers, push the seeds and liquid out.
Next, I lay the tomatoes out on a cooking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Let them sit for 10 to 20 minutes, then blot with paper towels until they start to dry out. You’re looking for a transition from juicy to merely damp. Now they’re ready for chopping, and, ultimately, pie.
Beth Colvin is The Advocate’s assistant Food editor. She can be reached at bcolvin@the advocate.com.