My father and grandfather had green thumbs when it came to growing vegetables; and tomatoes especially would be prolific in their gardens.
They both were able to develop a close relationship with the tomato it seemed; they would treat them like their babies. It started in mid to late May when they would prepare the soil in the huge garden. Dad would place his tomato plants several feet apart and would water them in the evenings (“most important to water after the sun goes down,” he would say). He would use metal cages that were a couple of generations old to support the weight of the branches as the tomato plants grew. I remember him saying that tomato plants needed lots of attention, and he would be out in the garden pruning and tying back branches, and yes, talking to his plants. My father always said that tomato plants are easily manipulated and will produce more with the attention you give them.
He would continue to water and fertilize until an abundance of green tomatoes were big and heavy on the vines. Then the begging for hot, sunny days would begin.
Every day began with the weather report and was discussed fully at the breakfast table. Somehow the sun always came and did its job, as big, bright red fruit would continue to ripen, and he always knew just when to pick them, saying that the best flavor was when tomatoes were in full color. I can attest to that statement as I would eat many a tomato that I had picked right off the vine and eat it while it was warm from the sun.
Somehow he had tomatoes growing right into autumn, and that is when my mother’s talents took over; canning and making tomato juice, amongst many other tomato recipes.
But that is another story for another day.
I found this recipe, the Winning Best Overall Pie at the Portland Pie-Off in Oregon, several years ago. I was intrigued by the recipe itself, using caramelized onions to accompany the fresh tomatoes and then topped with cheddar cheese; you can’t go wrong with this savory pie.
4 to 5 large tomatoes, peeled, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 10-inch pie crust
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
2 cups medium cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons butter
11/2 large sweet onions, sliced in 1/4-inch rings (Vidalia or Walla Walla sweets work best)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon spice mix (Italian herbs or other favorite seasoning)
1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper, separated
Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 350º degrees.
Melt butter in a sauté pan and add onions. Cook at medium-low for about 30 minutes until caramelized, stirring every few minutes to avoid burning.
Lightly salt tomatoes and drain in colander for 20 minutes.
Pre-bake pie shell for 10 minutes in 350-degree F. oven with pie weights to avoid bubbles.
Mix cheddar with mayonnaise and 1/4 teaspoon of the cracked pepper and set aside.
Add one layer of tomatoes to pie shell and cover with dash of salt, pepper, sugar and basil. Add the rest of the tomato slices and seasonings in layers.
Spread cheese mixture evenly on top of tomatoes.
Sprinkle spice mix on top of cheese.
Add caramelized onions to the top of the pie in an even layer.
Bake pie at 350-degrees for 30 minutes. Cover with foil if the crust begins to burn.
Good to hear from you
A few weeks ago I received this letter from Zena, a reader who lives in Lawrence.
Dear Patricia: I am looking for a recipe for “Red Kidney Bean Dip.” I first had it in the 1970s at a restaurant called Arthur’s Town House in Lawrence, off of Essex Street. If you can find it I would love to have that recipe.
P.S. I look forward to your article every Friday. Thank you,
Dear Zena, It appears that Arthur’s restaurant was replaced by the Townhouse Pub on Newbury Street which is very close to Essex and Jackson. The number listed is now out of service. I did locate two different recipes for red kidney bean dip and have mailed them to you. I hope one of them is close to what you remember.
A couple of days ago I received this e-mail regarding the above letter:
Patricia, My name is John Drivas, the son of Arthur Drivas who owned Arthur’s Town House. I saw the article of Zena asking for my dad’s bean dip recipe. My father would be happy to pass it on to her. He is not computer-savvy but you could reach him by telephone.
He was so excited to see someone still remembers his bean dip from 43 years ago.
Pat’s P.S. They have connected by phone. Such a nice ending for two people that have memories that are special to them.
Patricia Altomare invites feedback. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.