Temperatures are beginning to soar, and tomato season is off to a great start. Tomatoes are one of summer’s most flavorful treats, especially when they are ripened on the vine.
One way to use surplus tomatoes is to make a tomato pie. Green tomatoes can be used to make a savory Fried Green Tomato Pie or a sweet Mock Apple Pie. Ripe tomatoes are a key ingredient in many pie recipes.
It is difficult to pinpoint the origin of tomato pie, but some accounts indicate Shakers may have developed recipes during the 19th century using ripe tomatoes, bacon and cream. Others seem to think tomato pie has Southern roots going back to the 1830s.
Tomato pie is an anticipated summer treat by Southerners, but it remains largely unfamiliar outside the South. Early versions contained meat like mutton or beef.
Southern tomato pie is considered a modern-classic after recipes appeared in 20th century magazines and cookbooks. Today, the iconic southern dish is topped with a tangy mayonnaise mixture, and only Duke’s mayonnaise will do. Any southerner will tell you; Duke’s is the best mayonnaise with its creamy, tangy, slightly sweet taste.
Modern tomato pies can be made with a conventional pie crust, puff pastry, phyllo or canned biscuits. They can be made with peak-of-the-season heirloom tomatoes, as well as Roma, beefsteak, cherry or any other type of tomato growing in the garden or found at the farmers market.
Tomatoes can be sliced in rounds or wedges. The addition of onions, basil, oregano, dill, cayenne pepper or a variety of cheeses will give a tomato pie a boost of flavor.
Literary food authors like Laurie Colwin, Ruth Reichl and Sadie Stein have written about tomato pie. Each featured a recipe by James Beard that had a biscuit crust. (Colwin wrote for Gourmet Magazine in the ’80s and ’90s. Reichl was the last editor-in-chief of the now shuttered Gourmet magazine. Stein writes for the Paris Review and New York Times.)
The recipe that Colwin offered may have been slightly altered from Beard’s original. It did not get great reviews and received suggestions that it needed tweaking. Reichl made Beard’s tomato pie when she was in her 20s. She liked the pie, perhaps for the memories it evoked. Stein, on the other hand, called it “one of the most disgusting things I have ever put in my mouth. It tastes ... strange. Sinister, even.”
To be honest, Beard’s recipe didn’t appeal to me as I searched for tomato pie recipes for this column. I wasn’t too sure of the southern version slathered with mayonnaise.
I chose an Heirloom Tomato Tart and Fried Green Tomato Pie to test. They both were a hit at our house. I hope they will be a hit at yours!