Leave it to the French to make the object of my affection sound so much more romantic than its American name. Pommes d’ Amour. Love Apple. So, you say tomāto; I’ll say love apple. Let’s call the whole thing fruit, and make it into a cobbler.
As an exceptional food writer friend recently asked after some Southern travels, “What is this tomato pie thing? Everywhere I went there were tomato pies on the menu.” I don’t recall my answer, but I wish it had been something wise and eloquent like: “What took us so long to gussy up a tomato sandwich?” What could be more delicious? More satisfying? Easier?
I first had tomato pie many years ago at the Stono Market on Johns Island, South Carolina. It was memorable. I couldn’t wait to make it at home and did so many times. Once challenged to prepare the same for over 60 people attending a friends’ going away party, I considered an even easier method for feeding the fruits of my labor to the masses: A deep dish cobbler. Or, in this case, four large cobblers. No slicing the tomatoes, no slicing the pies – just buttery crust, chunks of ripe, red fruit, mayo, onion and cheese, served in heaping spoonfuls.
My soul desired the first ripe fruit. Micah: 7:1
Despite the U.S. government’s 1893 decision to classify tomatoes as vegetables, I firmly consider them divine fruit. That is, unless they have been ripened with ethylene gas, in which case they are forbidden fruit, or at best, out of season vegetables.
The most divine of the American tomato comes from Johns Island, South Carolina, just outside Charleston. This may not be an objective opinion but it will remain so until someone gives me a better basket full. Perhaps it’s the uniquely acidic soil, or the oyster shells (which provide calcium), the scorching heat, talent, pride and love; or all of the above that render these succulent and strong gastronomic gems.
Admittedly, I was a bit late for the “first” ripe fruit since I did not get my Johns Island bounty until Father’s Day. Regardless, the June and July harvests are the best of the island crop. I was heady with anticipation, having boycotted all others so far this season. I was saving myself for the marriage of (in order) a white bread, Duke’s Mayonnaise, Johns Island tomato – sprinkled with fresh pepper – sandwich, soon to be followed by cobbler prepared for a gathering of Southern food disciples.
Tomato Cobbler recipes are numerous on the Internet but most include ingredients that interfere with the pure palate pleasing flavor of the fruit. I’ll skip the ground beef, the brown sugar, and heaven forbid, the cinnamon. I have found two savory cobbler recipes that I plan to try next, one of which comes from the New York Times’ Mark Bittman, and calls for cornmeal in the crust. I like the sound of that. The other recipe, calls for a variety of red and yellow cherry tomatoes and Gruyère cheese. It looks lovely, but who would expect less from a Martha Stewart recipe? After all, at least typically, pretty is as pretty tastes, unless you’re referring to tomatoes, in which case, sometimes the rule is: the uglier, the better.
Note: I did not create this recipe, derived from tomato pie. I simply turned the same into a cobbler, but here’s a very important hint: Unlike most fruit cobblers, the tomato cobbler is vastly better served at room temperature, so cook it enoug h in advance to allow it to come up to room temp before serving. Hot tomato cobbler will be too liquid.
3 single-pie pastry crusts*
10-12 large, ripe, peeled, tomatoes, cored and cut into chunks about the size of large cherry tomato (If you really love those whom you serve, you will peel the tomatoes)
3 medium-size sweet onions, thinly sliced (I use Vidalia)
¾ to one cup of Mayonnaise (I use Duke’s, but some prefer Hellman’s for this dish)
12 slices sharp, Cheddar cheese
¾ cup of grated, sharp Cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Follow pastry instructions for rolling out. Reserve a little less than half of the pastry dough for the top. Line the bottom and sides of a 13” x 9” pan or oven-ready casserole dish with the pastry. Arrange half the tomato chunks (you can crush with your clean hands), to cover the crust. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper. Top the tomatoes with a layer of the sliced onions, followed by a generous layer of mayonnaise. Layer with the sliced cheese and repeat the layering of tomato, pepper, onion, and mayonnaise, topping this time with the grated cheese. Make a lattice with the remaining pastry dough to top the cobbler. Bake for approximately 45 minutes or until crust is a golden color and tomato juices are bubbling up through the lattice. Remove from the oven and allow cobbler to come to room temperature before serving – with love.
*Use your favorite pastry crust recipe (or, if you must, a refrigerated – but not frozen – pie crust). Either way, you will need enough for 3 single-crust pies.