Painting by Murray Sease – www.shineonart.com
Summertime means ‘mater sammiches’! Everyone knows there is no comparison between a hybrid grocery store tomato and the joy of the juiciest deliciousness of a vine-ripened ‘mater’ aged in the warmth of the Carolina sun.
Perfection. Duke’s mayonnaise slathered on a couple of slices of soft white bread with a large garden tomato – now that’s summer in the South!
Be sure to avoid the temptation of placing them in the refrigerator, because that will change their pure, rich flavor.
Our farm vegetables have come to symbolize for me the essence of what it means to live in and love the Lowcountry. If you get off the interstate just about anywhere South of the Mason-Dixon line and follow the fence line out into the countryside, you’ll find a pick-up truck on a dirt road loaded with vegetables, which pretty much ensures their authenticity. Roadside stands with primitive handmade signs invite us to pull off the road and explore the rows of vegetables. Heirloom tomatoes like Cherokee or Brandywine are far too delicate to ship. You’ll need to find them on farms or roadside stands.
Tons of fertile soil turned, again and again, to face the torrid sun and time produce crops of the sweetest watermelons, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash you ever ate. Men in straw hats and bib overalls on John Deere tractors plant them each year with great faith and promise and harvest them with love and hope.
Plump red, yellow, and green heirloom tomatoes overwhelm us with their brilliant colors while baskets of field peas, crowders, and black-eyed peas, displayed on rickety old carts and wooden stands intoxicate us with their beauty.
Painting by Shannon Smith Hughes of Charleston. www.anglinsmithfineart.com
All these humble ingredients, prepared masterfully together in our home kitchens, Formica diners and barbecue huts produce the elixir that tastes and feels like home in the South.
colorful assorted heirlooms
There’s a tradition in the South – great flavors, soulful colors, and light so magical it stirs artists to greatness. Surely the cup of life overflows on our sun-splashed islands, beaches, and streets, sometimes desolate and pristine. Sandpipers, plovers, oystercatchers, ruddy turnstones, laughing gulls, and scores of feathered species live here.
But it’s our Southern food that takes center stage these days – why a country ham and the person who smoked it as revered as a Pat Conroy novel. We’re serious about our food wanting to know who made it and where it came from.
Painting by Shannon Smith Hughes – Vegetable stand
Celebrities are now writing cookbooks, politicians are bragging about their cooking skills, while young entrepreneurs are opening up grass-fed burger chains. Homemade sausage used to be the stuff eaten by peasants, now it’s the new luxury food.
The Bluffton Tomato Lady – by Murray Sease www.shineonart.com
Farmers’ markets have gone from being precious playgrounds for the elite to weekly fixtures in the town square. In fact, a farmers’ market in the South is a bona fide tourist destination and the number is growing by leaps and bounds, cropping up everywhere, including church parking lots.
Our barbecue is legendary and our peach pie, grits, fried green tomatoes, and buttermilk biscuits are more than just shared dishes, they are the things that bind us together.
For the love of Tomato Pie
Once summertime rolls around it’s time to make tomato pie. The secret to my success is sun-drenched farm fresh tomatoes, basil, and a dash of fearlessness. Here is the only tomato pie recipe you will ever need. I adapted it from my dear friend Susan Mason – the legendary caterer of Savannah. My version is very similar but I use a lot more basil and insist on Duke’s mayonnaise. People assume I grew up eating Dukes but I actually discovered it when I worked in Atlanta and ate lunch often in Mary Mac’s Tearoom. There was something different about their tomato pie and when I asked, they told me they used Dukes.
1 9- inch pie crust
3 medium tomatoes, peeled and sliced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 basil leaves, chopped (extra leaves for the top)
¼ cup chives, chopped
½ cup Dukes mayonnaise
2 cups extra sharp cheddar or any cheese you love
Optional – 4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled on top
Optional – 2 ounces green chilies, chopped
Sprinkle ½ teaspoon kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper onto the tomatoes. Toss gently and lay them on a clean dish towel for 30 minutes. Finally, pat them dry with another clean towel. This is the key to preventing unwanted water in your pie. Let them stand for 30 minutes and drain. Salting will draw out the juices and also concentrate the flavor.
Blind bake the pie crust for 5 minutes at 425 degrees. Remove and reduce heat to 400 degrees. Line sliced tomatoes in the crust in a double layer, Sprinkle tomatoes with a little more salt, pepper, and chives. Combine mayonnaise and cheese and spread mixture over the tomatoes all the way to the edges of the crust. Bake 35 minutes until nice and bubbly.
Cool on a wire rack and sprinkle with a few basil leaves for garnish.
Murray Sease – Fripp Lowden House, Bluffton, South Carolina