Ask a dozen people about tomato pie, and you could very well get a dozen different answers.
And those answers can range from Robbin King, who said, “Tomato pie is one of life’s greatest gifts” to Dottie Jackson, who said, “What is Tomato Pie? I’m intrigued.” Bear in mind that King and Jackson live in the same town, no more than a few miles apart, so tomato pie is not the cultural juggernaut that cobbler or barbeque is.
It doesn’t help that there are two very different kinds of tomato pie.
Barbara Elmore, who has lived in Surry County for a good many years but is originally from Massachusetts, explained the difference. “Growing up in Massachusetts, a tomato pie was a pizza.”
Indeed it is. A tomato pie is a pizza that has tomato sauce, but no cheese. If the food experts at eater.com are to be believed, this sort of tomato pie originated in Sicily where tomatoes and olives are more plentiful than dairy. It also included onions and anchovies which were dispensed with when tomato pie made its way across the Atlantic.
The other type of tomato pie, the kind that turns up more often in these parts, is called Southern Tomato Pie outside the South, but in these parts, is called simply Tomato Pie. Like its Italian counterpart, it also makes use of a plentiful ingredient, fresh garden tomatoes in the summer.
It’s an actual pie with a bottom crust baked in a pie pan, primarily in the summer when fresh tomatoes are plentiful. There may or may not be onions and/or herbs. There is a topping, which is usually a mixture of cheese and mayonnaise. Cheddar is most common, but there are sometimes variations.
Elmore said that her friend, Omegia Seaford, made one of these a few weeks ago, and it was a great one. Seaford uses a recipe from Vivian Howard which is unique in that some of the tomatoes are roasted before going in the pie, and some go into it raw. Elmore said there’s also a place in Elkin that sells whole tomato pies to order. She did not say where that place was.
As far as celebrity chef’s and tomato pie, Sally Smith said Paula Dean’s recipe is her go-to. “It’s really good,” she said.
The recipe floating around the internet for Edisto Tomato Pie is recommended by both Billie Jester and Linda Maxey.
“I love tomato pie. It’s so delicious,” said Jester.
Maxey said she was told Duke’s mayonnaise was the key to success with the recipe. The Edisto recipe also comes with menu suggestions. The recipe says it is wonderful served with shrimp and grits, butter beans and everlasting slaw. No hint is given as to what exactly makes slaw everlasting.
Judy Deck of Jonesville said her friend Linda Chambers “makes the very best tomato pie in the world.”
“I have a food trailer called The Munchie Wagon that I make it for and sell at the Dixie Classic Fair,” said Chambers, who added that her recipe has an Italian twist. Indeed, in addition to Italian herbs, it includes spinach, which is unusual.
”Originally the recipe was without spicy pimento cheese, but I adapted it and spread it on the bottom crust. It gave it a bit of extra flavor and creaminess. It’s a favorite with friends and family.”
Sue Johnson of Mount Airy crowd-sourced for a recipe, asking for a tried and true recipe that works and was delicious. Her friend Barbara Rumley McGatlin came through with a recipe that is on the menu of her family’s restaurant in Duck, North Carolina.
“The tomatoes were real juicy even though I did salt and drain,” said Johnson, “and I used my dehydrated onions knowing I’d get a lot of juice, but the crust no longer had any crisp. I’ve got to work on that. But the taste: ah, that taste.”
Unlike a lot of Southern specialties, tomato pies are not always easy to find, even in the South. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have a friend who makes them and has a tendency to share. Maybe you know a restaurant that serves them. Not all of them do. Maybe you’re going to the Dixie Classic Fair. But until then, maybe you’ll have to make your own.
Following are a number of tomato pie recipes, all similar but all a bit different. Pick your favorite, or mix and match your favorite parts, if you dare.
Johnson went on a search for a tomato pie recipe in early August and acquired this one from Barbara Rumley McGatlin who got the recipe from friends who have it on the menu of their restaurant in Duck, NC. She made a few changes, including adding thyme to the mix of herbs and pressing fresh herbs into the crust.
9” pie shell, baked
4-6 large tomatoes, thick sliced
4-5 green onions
salt and pepper
fresh basil, chives and thyme, divided
1 cup grated sharp cheese
1 cup mayo
Press chopped fresh herbs into the pie dough before baking. Bake and cool. Fill cooled pie shell with alternating layers of the tomato and onions sprinkled with salt, pepper, basil, chives and thyme. Combine mayo and cheese — spread over the tomatoes. Bake at 350°F. for 30 to 40 minutes but check after 30. Serves 4 to 6.
Glenda Chambers — The Munchie Wagon
Chambers has adapted the recipe and now spreads a layer of spicy pimiento cheese on the crust, before adding the tomato filling.
9” deep dish pie shell
Cook 7-8 minutes in 350°F. oven.
3 cups fresh or canned tomatoes, diced
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. dried chopped garlic
1 pkg. frozen spinach (no sauce added)
Thaw, drain and thoroughly squeeze moisture out on paper towels
Pour all of this into pie shell.
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup mayonnaise
Combine and spread over top of tomato mixture.
Cook for an hour at 350°F. Be sure to put pan under dish to catch moisture. This will probably run over.
Edisto Tomato Pie
Billie Jester and Linda Maxey
1 (9-inch) deep-dish pie shell, preheated at 375°F. for 10 minutes
5 large tomatoes, peeled and thickly sliced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 tsp. dried basil
garlic powder to taste
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 -1/4 cups grated cheddar cheese
Layer tomatoes in pie shell, sprinkling each layer with salt, pepper, basil and garlic powder which have been combined. Combine mayonnaise and cheese; spread over tomatoes. Bake at 350°F. for 35 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Yield: 6 to 8 servings. Optional: May add one large onion, chopped, and top with herb dressing mix.
Dollyhigh acquired this recipe from her friend Kate who is from upper New York State. “She made this for me and it was really good,” said Dollyhigh.
CRUST: 1 1/4 Cup Flour,
2 teaspoons baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 Cup soft shortening I used butter
1/2 Cup sour cream. add as listed, mix til crumbly, press into 9” greased pie tin. On top of crust add sliced tomatoes, I use Roma tomatoes, minced sweet onions,(1/4 cup) cooked crumbled bacon
TOP: Mix: 1 cup mayo and 1 cup shredded cheese ( I use cheddar) spread on top tomatoes, (sometimes I use a little more mayo) Bake 375 30 -35 minutes ( or until golden brown)
Omegia Seaford (by way of Vivian Howard)
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ tsp. granulated sugar
6 tbsp. cold butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 tbsp. ice-cold water
½ tsp. vinegar
Filling and topping:
1 tbsp. butter
1 large yellow onion, halved and cut into julienne with the grain
2 tsp. salt, divided
3 ½ pounds tomatoes, cut into ½-inch dice, divided
1 tsp. granulated sugar, divided
1 tsp. picked thyme
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
10 turns of the pepper mill or ½ tsp. black pepper
⅓ cup picked basil leaves
½ cup mayonnaise
⅓ cup grated Fontina
⅓ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Make the crust: Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium for a few seconds. Then begin adding the butter one cube at a time. Continue until the flour is speckled and crumbly. With the mixer still running, add the water and vinegar until just combined. Do not overmix. Lay roughly a 10×10-inch square of plastic wrap on the counter in front of you and turn the dough out onto it. Wrap the dough tightly in the plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator overnight.
Bring the crust to room temperature. Dust your counter and rolling pin lightly with flour and roll the crust slightly larger than your pie pan. Lay the crust in the pan and press gently into its edges. Cut off the edges that hang over and discard. Freeze the crust in the pie pan for at least 15 minutes or until you’re ready to blind-bake. Preheat oven to 400°F. Lay foil or parchment paper on top of the crust and weigh that down with dried beans or rice. Blind-bake for 30 minutes.
Make the filling and topping: Preheat your oven to 375°F. In a medium saute pan or skillet, melt the butter and add the onions and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook the onions over medium-low heat till they are deeply caramelized. This will take about 40 minutes. If your onions get away from you and burn a little, add ¼ cup of water to the pan, scrape up the overbrowned bits, and keep going, In the end, you’ll have a scant ⅓ cup caramelized onions. Toss half the tomatoes with ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon sugar. Set them over a colander and let them drain while you get everything else ready, at least 30 minutes. Toss the remaining tomatoes with ½ teaspoon salt, the thyme, and the olive oil. Spread them out in a single layer on a sheet tray with as much room separating the individual pieces as possible. Slide the tray onto the middle rack of your oven and roast for 20 to 30 minutes. You’re looking for the tomatoes to dry out and brown slightly.
Once all the individual components are done, stir together the onions, the fresh tomatoes, the roasted tomatoes, the remaining salt and sugar, black pepper and basil. In a separate, smaller bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, Fontina, and Parm. Spoon the filling into your blind-baked crust and crown it with mayo-and-cheese topping. Bake in the middle rack of your oven for 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Just above room temp is possibly best, if you can wait.
Makes a 10-inch pie.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.