tomato pie

This is the last time I’m writing about tomatoes this year.
I’m serious. It’s snowing, and it’s time to move on–I get it.

This week I’m thinking about books.
Remember books?

I think in all this wild and crazy change, it’s good to remember books.
Sure, I’ve been plugging away at my own, and as I get deeper into the thick of it, I can’t help but imaging the physical feeling of what that book will entail. I like the feel of a book in my hands.

I had a dream last night. It was the first one I remembered in a while. It was a pregnancy dream, which I must admit I’ve had a few of since I started writing this baby, I mean book. It was my due date, and I looked at myself in the mirror and I thought, “well, I don’t really look pregnant! That just looks like I ate too much for dinner!” (And anyone who has been around me when I’m nine months pregnant knows that that there is no mistaking my pregnancies–I am a watermelon with legs) So I looked a little closer, and I lifted up my shirt, and at that moment, the light came into the room in a certain way that I could see through the skin of my belly, that I could see a clear and beautiful face of a baby right there. It was actually pretty awesome. And I felt calm, and I said to myself, “Okay, let’s do this then.”

This week I was fortunate enough to get to have my editor from Clarkson Potter in my very own kitchen. I hardly got to feed her at all because we were so busy taking pictures, but I snuck in a homemade graham cracker here and a little bowl of soup there, and she indulged my Jewish mother instincts by eating everything I put in front of her in between shots. There I am, in the kitchen with my editor and my photographer, and I cannot stop marveling at this team of people who are working on this book–I have no idea how I became so fortunate to be part of a team like this one. These two women who just love food and love books and do what they do so well… and there are more too–the people putting their love and work into this book just blow me away. I could just sit in a room with these fabulous people forever–just loving food and books. But of course, I need to sneak away and write the thing so that we’ve got something to work on.

I dropped my editor off at the train, and on the way home, driving through the changing-every-five-minute outrageous October weather, I wrote a love song in my head to the book itself–I mean every book that’s been bound and hangs out for someone to find it. I was thinking about older food books that are still around that I love, that I am so thankful to be able to hold in my hands. Julia Child and MFK Fisher and Calvin Trillin. Elizabeth David. My friend Andrew just insisted that I pick up Patience Gray, and I am so thankful. I love to think about the teams behind these books–editors and illustrators and testers and everyone who put their mark on those pages. All of these books have been handed to me at one point or another–usually stained, old paperback versions. I know we’ll all be on kindles and ipads someday, but I don’t know if I can live in a world without old beat-up books.

So I’m driving back from the train station, and it’s a funny drive that takes you through three states in 45 minutes–first New York, then Connecticut, then Massachusetts. And I’m driving through Salisbury, CT, and I pass by a little place I’ve never been called Chaiwalla. I have meant to go 100 times for many reasons, but of course the main reason is that Laurie Colwin writes about Chaiwalla in More Home Cooking, and of the famed tomato pie from that little tea shop. I am always hurrying here or there from the train, or I have stopped at the other lovely tea shop, and I still have not gone. As I came into Salisbury, and the wind was blowing and there was the slightest bit of hail I thought that this would be the day, I would taste the tomato pie, because of course it would be there and it would be wonderful. I don’t get so excited about celebrities, but I have a serious dorkiness about places where writers wrote or wrote about–I’ve been to Melville’s house and Edith Wharton’s house and many others where Joey and I were the youngest people on the tour by forty years.
Alas, I tore my eyes from the blustering leaf swept road, and a glance a the clock revealed that today wouldn’t be the day. There were children to gather from school, dance classes to make it to on time, and of course a list on from there. I drove on, and I think that really I was a little happy to still have it to look forward to, someday.

And of course when I got home, I had the book in my hands, and I could still have tomato pie.

This is the last of the tomatoes, really. I picked them a few weeks ago from the farm on the day that the frost was threatening to kill them all. I walked through the plants, looking for any fruit with a hint of red, and Elizabeth cheered me on. Take them! Fill buckets! We’re done!
It was a good tomato year.

And so these tomatoes have been ripening in the closet, and I nearly forgot about them. Laurie Colwin uses canned tomatoes for this recipe, and I nearly opened a can of my precious tomatoes before the thought of these red and lonely fruits in the closet struck me. Blanched to remove the skins, sliced thin…it was a good end to a good season.

How do I describe this pie? I ate two slices for lunch, and I’ll have more for dinner. The crust is like a biscuit, and so, slicing through a piece with your fork, a bite is really the best of bread and cheese and tomato–it is grilled cheese and tomato soup without all the extra dishes. It’s a keeper, and with canned tomatoes? All winter long, baby.

Bring it on, snow. I’ve got pie, and tea, and a stack of books to get me through.

Tomato Pie
adapted from Laurie Colwin, More Home Cooking

2 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 stick of butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
pinch of salt
3/4 cup buttermilk (milk will work too, if that’s all you’ve got)
2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes, drained, or 2 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes, blanched and dunked in ice water to remove skins
1/3 cup mayonnaise (homemade or storebought)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) grated cheddar cheese
fresh herbs, whatever is available, but chives, basil, and parsley are especially good here

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse a few more times. Add the buttermilk slowly, pulsing until the dough comes together. It will be fairly wet. This dough also comes together well by hand if you prefer. Rub a 9-inch pie dish with a bit of butter and sprinkle it with flour. Roll out half the dough on a floured surface, adding additional flour to prevent your rolling pin from sticking. Lay it into the prepared pan. Slice the tomatoes thinly and layer them in the crust. Scatter with chopped fresh herbs, then 1 cup of the cheese. Combine the mayonnaise with the lemon juice, and pour over the cheese. Top with the rest of the cheese, roll out the remaining crust, and lay over the cheese. Pinch shut and cut steam vents. Bake for 25 minutes, or until crust starts to brown. Let cool a bit before cutting, or, as Laurie Colwin recommends–cook in the morning, refrigerate, and then reheat for dinner.


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