It is that time in summer when the basil starts taking over my yard and local tomatoes are finally ripe, red and misshapen and so juicy that after I cut into one I need to wipe down the counter. In other words, it’s the perfect confluence of ingredients for tomato pie. And not just any tomato pie, but Laurie Colwin’s tomato pie, a feast of tomatoes and cheese and basil baked into a double-biscuit crust.
So begins Ann Hood’s essay on tomato pie, collected in her Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love, and Food as well as Best Food Writing 2014. This is a remarkable essay—I often use it in classes on food writing—because it accomplishes so much, a whole life, in 2,500 words: her entire family, growing up in summertime Rhode Island, her job waitressing during college, her becoming a flight attendant, how she became a writer, the death of her brother, the death of her father, an ode to the writer Laurie Colwin, the death of an aunt from a wisdom tooth extraction, her three children, one of whom died young, and, obviously, how to make Colwin’s tomato pie.
Of course, the essay is not about tomato pie, rather it’s about loss—lost family, lost time—and reconciling this loss, through this gift of a summer pie, with the fact that we can and do go on.
I am smiling now, at Colwin, wherever she is, at all the people and all the things I lost, because in this moment I feel that maybe we never really lose the things we love. Maybe they are still, somehow, close.
As was her recipe for tomato pie, torn from the pages of Gourmet, lost years earlier amongst frequent moves, but returned to her via the internet. Following her epiphany in the essay, Ann goes on to make a tomato pie, one to relish as tomato juice runs down the chin, one to compare with pies of 10, 20, 30 years ago. And to appreciate how food keeps us connected to our many selves, to our many loves, and to our increasing losses. (I’ve republished the essay on the Tomato Pie post on my site, below the recipe.)
Last Wednesday evening, in a rented house on the Westport River, it was tomato pie time for Ann. But it was different in two ways. She had a house filled with 10 people, so she decided to make five pies (because they are delicious for days, hot or cold), more pies than she’d ever made.
Also she was teaching me, her husband, how she makes tomato pie, itself remarkable in that she typically asks me, with her expression alone, to leave the kitchen because she is cooking and will not be judged. I felt myself lucky that she needed the extra hands for five pies and dinner in an hour and a half, because this recipe is a reminder how simple the best recipes are, how amazing tomatoes and mayo are together, how easy a simple crust of butter and flour and milk. Ann doesn’t even roll the dough out, just smushed into the bottom of the pie pan and smushed and spread it over the top.
The dough, per pie:
2 cups flour mixed with 4 teaspoons baking powder
1 stick butter (cut or pinched into the flour till it’s in small chunks)
milk to bring it altogether (about 3/4 cup give or take)
And the filling is simply sliced tomatoes (2 pounds or so), 1/3rd cup of mayo mixed with an ounce of lemon juice, sprinkled with 1-1/2 cups of grated cheddar. (Ann throws some chopped basil in the tomatoes, or the pie can be garnished with it.) Top with remaining dough, bake at 400˚F. (Printable recipe on my site, link above.)
Tomato pie and a robust salad for a fabulous summertime meal.
Other favorite summer tomato dishes…
Gnarly looking tomatoes, sliced thick, salted, and served with 2 to 6 ears of boiled corn. Just that. It makes a perfect breakfast or vegetarian lunch. Enjoy the way the corn butter mingles with the tomato juices; note how the acidity of the tomatoes is the perfect balance for the sweetness of the corn. I may have to make this soon. Today in fact.
Thick slices of tomato on toast greedily slathered in mayo.
What we’ve been drinking…
This most excellent porter, above, for one. Mayflower Porter. All the more delicious on a summer afternoon in a frosty mug from Dingle Crystal.
It’s gin and tonic season, so we’ve been enjoying those, with the excellent Fever Tree tonic. Make sure everything is very cold before pouring!
We arrived in Westport, MA, with an uncommon amount of rum left over from last summer, so on the day we decided to bring dinner to the beach, I decided to make Mai Tais, from last year’s post. My choice of curaçao for a Mai Tai is Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao. To my surprise though, when Ann returned home from shopping at Lee’s, she handed me a bottle of blue Curaçao. It was what she’d been given.
Blue curaçao is regular curaçao, an orange-flavored liqueur, with blue food coloring. I thought I’d give it a whirl and mixed a batch of what became a sea-green Mai Tai, and quite excellent on a sunny evening on the beach with snacks and bocce. And so we decided to make it for the Friday Cocktail Hour on Instagram Live.
1 ounce each: light rum, aged rum, dark rum, lime juice.
1/2 ounce orgeat, simple syrup, and blue curaçao.
Garnish with lime wedge and mint, if it’s handy.
Combine, mix in a glass with ice, serve on the rocks with lime and mint.
What we’ve been watching…
By far the best thing we’ve watched recently is It’s a Sin, on HBO Max, about a group of young adults in London in the 1980s as AIDS ravages their ranks. Olly Alexander and Lydia West are superb in the main roles, in a uniformly excellent cast and production. And what a switch for Keely Hawes, in another masterful portrayal of a mother, so different from the mother she was in The Durrell's of Corfu, another must watch, IMO.
Ann has been subsisting on many season’s of Unforgotten, featuring the stellar Nicola Walker. Writes Ann:
I devoured the surprise fourth season of Unforgotton with one of my favorites, Nicola Walker (from Last Tango in Halifax). Sobbed through final episode.
We lasted through two episodes of The White Lotus, but we found both the characters and their concerns repellant. Happy not to be watching this one anymore.
What we’ve been reading…
I have been delighting in Gerry Durrell’s memoir of his family’s years in Greece, which the above show was based on with a title indicative of the humor and wit present throughout the book, My Family and Other Animals. (Thank you, Elizabeth Irvine!)
And from Ann:
Links we’re liking…
David Sedaris has a new essay on family in The New Yorker.
I don’t think I can bear watching people who don’t know how to cook, cook on television, but I’ll read the reviews such as this one from Grub Street. Do you really want to take lessons from Paris Hilton? The latest evolution in food television.
I can’t wait to eat at Dame, when we’re back in NYC. Chef Ed Symanski appears to have perfected fish and chips.
And Sylvia Plath’s rolling pin and typed recipe cards sold for $27,500. Well, as Pablo (who earlier in the week broke our citrus juicer) direly noted, “She did know her way around the oven.” (via GastroObscura)
And while we’re on the subject, I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch Roadrunner, the Morgan Neville documentary on Anthony Bourdain, but this is an excellent appraisal of the film.
… this HILARIOUS clip of Sir Ian McKellen teaching Ricky Gervais the finer points of acting, from Gervais’s show Extra. Brilliant.
See you in a couple of weeks!