Soliloquy on the Bounty

July 29, 2016

Mullen-It-Over

It’s the time of year when I could become a vegetarian—well, perhaps a lacto-ovo pescatarian (a vegetarian who also eats, dairy, eggs, and fish). My fridge runneth over with freshness. If I threw open the door right now, you would behold a vision of summer bounty. (This is where I planned to insert a photo of all the fruits and vegetables stored inside, but then I imagined how you neat and tidy people would fuss about the mass confusion of profusion. So I put the kibosh on that idea.) I simply can’t spiff the fridge every day! I’m trying to run a blog here, people! I’m “Messy”, not “Martha”. I don’t have a staff. I do it all—the shopping, cooking, photography, research, and writing! (Whoa! I need to simmah down. Deep breaths. Deep breaths.) As my daughter Kelly used to say when she was little, and I would be ranting about something, “Mom, get back in yourself!”

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Messy cooks are not especially good multitaskers; we can either cook or clean, but not both at the same time.
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The doors shall remain closed to inquiring eyes. But, believe me, there’s some great produce inside there!

Okay. I’m back in myself! Now, where was I? Oh yes, I’m inside my overflowing refrigerator. This is what I see: yellow squash, zucchini squash, cucumbers, carrots, celery, cauliflower, peppers (both hot and bell—leftovers from the “pepper” blog), green onions, sweet corn, baby spinach leaves, romaine, shaved brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, Rainier cherries, blackberries, peaches, apples, limes, and lemons. On the counter are homegrown tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil (because these items should never be in the fridge). Under the counter are onions, garlic, red potatoes, baking potatoes, and a bag of  cute little white potatoes (likewise, none of these things should be refrigerated). Now, guess how many people live in this house? Just Bob and me. Ridiculous? FullSizeRender(54)Yes, but I think you all might identify with this summertime affliction. As I push the cart through the produce aisle of the grocery store, or wander through farmers’ markets, or stop at a roadside stand, I get carried away. I paw through all of this wholesomeness and dream of ways to turn it into something astonishing. I end up with a trunk-load of produce and a receipt as long as a party streamer. Then I’m so tired of lugging it all into the house and putting it away that I tell Bob we have to go out to eat!

This post is going to focus on two summer favorites—homegrown tomatoes and fresh peaches, because I love them both so much. Don’t we all? Homegrown tomatoes are just now rolling into the markets. I worried about finding them for my blog recipes because they were still rather elusive last week. Then, I walked into the grocery store last Friday to pick up a few things and, lo and behold, sitting there on the floor of the produce aisle was a small crate of homegrown tomatoes! We all instantly recognize those homegrown ones, don’t we? They frequently have some dark cracks radiating out from the stem and their skins are much thinner than those thick, anemic red things that are passed off as tomatoes during the rest of the year.

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So, I spied the tomatoes in the crate, and a let out a little squeak of shock and awe. I grabbed the nearest produce guy and demanded to know if they were for sale, because these was no sign on them and there really weren’t that many—maybe 30 or so. He said an organic farmer from Indianola had just dropped them off, so they hadn’t even priced them yet. I  yanked a couple of plastic bags off the roll and started loading them in, telling the guy over my shoulder, “I don’t care how much they are. This is an emergency. I need them pronto!” He stared at me, “A tomato emergency?” A few other people had gathered around. One woman said, “Are you planning to take them all?” A couple of other troublemakers chimed in, “We want some too.” Were these people just taunting me to see if I would start a tomato fight right there in the grocery store? I felt a whine rising up from my core, but I suppressed the urge to scream, “No fair! I was here first!” So, I “got back in myself” and calmly said, “If I could just have ten, then you guys can have the rest.” As they pondered my offer, I quickly threw the bags into the getaway cart and drove off to the checkout lane before they sent out the tomato-sniffing dogs.

Alfred HitchcockI am reminded of an “Only in Iowa” story that happened to me a few summers ago. I was driving in the western suburbs, along a major thoroughfare, when I noticed a tiny sign stuck in the median. “Tomatoes,” it said, with an arrow pointing south. I made a sharp right-hand turn, and I was suddenly driving on a gravel road. It was  as if I had just driven through a wormhole—from a bustling city to a quiet farmstead. There was another “Tomatoes” sign pointing down a lane. I followed it until I came to long white shed. I was wary as I parked the car and walked inside. I was thinking,”Isn’t this how Alfred Hitchcock movies begin?”

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There, before my eyes was a long table with an astonishing array of tomatoes of every variety and size, arranged on cardboard trays, with little hand-scribbled notes beside each tray, telling the tomato name and characteristics. A sign hanging from the table said, “Self-Serve.” Used plastic grocery bags were piled by an old produce scale, and another sign said, “$2 a pound. Put money in box.” I couldn’t resist lifting the lid to have a look. Wow! There was a small stack of $1s, $5s, $10s, and even a few $20s, and some change. What trusting souls! Obviously, I was not their only customer that day. (Perhaps Janet Leigh had stopped by, too.) I weighed my choices, literally and figuratively, placed my money in the box, and drove away with my windfall. I smiled as I eased back into the peripatetic flow of city life. Only in Iowa would you be driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic one moment, and the next, standing in a peaceful farm lane loading homegrown tomatoes into the trunk. And only in Iowa would you find such a charming manifestation of trust in one’s fellow man. What a place!

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Dad grew so many tomatoes, they filled the kitchen. My sister Kris followed in his footsteps.

My mom and dad were crazy for homegrown tomatoes—the acid-y, juicy kind. (And they still love them!) Every year Dad would raise as many as 24 plants in his garden, and when they started to produce, there would be tomatoes everywhere in our kitchen! We lived on bacon and tomato sandwiches, although I preferred mine to be deconstructed, eating each item separately. (Picky eaters don’t like tomato-sogged toast and bacon.) I was ahead of my time. Little did I know that deconstruction would become a food trend in the nineties and on up through today, thanks to the genius of Spanish chef Ferran Adrià. (Deconstruction is a gastronomic concept that creatively changes the form but not the basic nature of a dish. Each of the components is treated separately, changing presentation, textures and forms, and even temperatures.) I think I should be given some credit for this concept since I was pushing the  deconstruction idea at least 30 years before Ferran Adrià. Oh well, one must choose their battles. Where was I? Oh yes, my mom also created delicious pasta and tomato sauce meals, soups, and chili. And there was always a bowl of freshly peeled and sliced tomatoes at meal times. That was our salad. Mom and Dad also canned jars and jars of tomatoes (the only item they ever canned). Winter soups, sauces and chilis were heavenly with those canned tomatoes as the base ingredient. Mom is 100 percent Scandinavian and Dad’s ancestry is “British Isles”, so I am curious to know where this tomato obsession came from. My sister Kris also inherited the love of growing tomatoes. Me? I just eat them.

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I’m pretty sure I was the first to invent the deconstructed BLT sometime in the late 1950s to prevent the various ingredients from touching each other. To my dismay, a Spanish chef claimed to be the originator of the concept in the 1990s.

Foodiva

Tomatoes and peaches are my two most favorite summertime treats. (Rainier cherries rank right up there, too.) I am including two wonderful recipes using homegrown tomatoes and two equally wonderful recipes with fresh peaches.

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I was thrilled when Nancy Vernon shared her mother-in-law’s savory Tomato Pie recipe. Nancy is shown here in her lake home kitchen with grandchildren, Ryan and Riley Barry.

The first tomato recipe is called Tomato Pie, and I think the word “spectacular” is not too strong. My friend Nancy Vernon served this at a luncheon I attended a couple of years ago, and it was a huge hit. Everyone wanted the recipe. She explained that this was her mother-in-law’s recipe, but she would certainly share it with us. When I asked Nancy if I could include it in the blog, she agreed. So, here it is! It is a savory pie and is best when you have homegrown tomatoes. (By the way, when they’re not in season, one of the most flavorful close-to-homegrown-tasting tomatoes you can find are Campari brand. My sister discovered them at Costco, and they are certainly passable!)

Tomato Pie

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Tomato Pie

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

Of all the combinations and permutations of tomatoes, basil, and cheese I have enjoyed in my life, how is it that I had never eaten tomato pie until I had Nancy’s mother-in-law’s recipe? Wow! What a perfect dish to celebrate those tangy homegrown tomatoes!

  • 9-inch Pet Ritz pie crust (Nancy makes a “from scratch” crust; Tracy made her own crust, too—recipe below)
  • Thick-sliced, peeled, firm tomatoes (homegrown, if possible) (Tracy used about 2 1/4  cups of tomato slices, and removed most of the seeds)
  • Salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste (Tracy used about 1 teaspoon of kosher salt)
  • Dried basil (as much as you care for)
  • Swiss or Gruyère cheese (Tracy used Gruyère–about 3 ounces)
  • 4 ounces grated (or finely shredded) fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise (Tracy used Hellman’s)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (Tracy used a large clove)
  • 2 ounces grated (or finely shredded) Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 of a long sleeve of Ritz crackers, crushed (Tracy used 20 Ritz crackers)

Prick the pie crust. Bake at 400 degrees until it starts to brown. (Tracy didn’t prick the crust when she used her pie crust recipe. Tracy baked it about 12 minutes.) Place sliced tomatoes on paper towels to drain, and sprinkle them with the salt, pepper and dried basil. (Tracy let the seasoned tomatoes drain on the paper towels for at least an hour or two.) Grate the Gruyère or Swiss to cover the bottom of the crust. Layer the tomatoes on top of the cheese and cover with the four ounces of grated Parmesan. Sprinkle chopped fresh basil over all. For topping, mix together the mayonnaise, garlic, 2 ounces of grated (or finely shredded) Parmesan, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and crushed Ritz crackers. Crumble mixture over the top. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, or until bubbling. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting into servings.

I used a simple oil-based crust, which stands up well to the tomatoes, but your favorite crust should work well too.

Simple Oil Pie Crust

  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons milk

Mix all ingredients together well and press into a 9-inch pie pan. (Do not roll out.) It’s  important to try to make the crust the same thickness everywhere. Be sure that there is excess dough on the pie edge so you can flute it.

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(Tracy Mullen’s Messycookblog.com)

Gazpacho Shooters with Rustic Breadsticks are a refreshing and kicky appetizer for summer entertaining. Homegrown tomatoes are so great in this recipe. And, if you would rather serve it in bowls for a main course instead of in shooter glasses, you can simply double the recipe. I bought the little spoons—Sensations Mini Silverware—at the Hy-Vee grocery store. They are also available at Target.com. Mini forks and knives are also available. The shooter glasses were purchased at World Market.

Gazpacho Shooters with Rustic Breadsticks

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I have a set of Wüsthof knives. When they are freshly sharpened (which I need to do more often), I am amazed at how quickly the blade can wend its way through an onion … and on into my finger. Gazpacho involves a lot of chopping, but the best part is that it’s tomato-based, so you really don’t know where the soup ends and the blood begins. I like to call it “gazpacho to gush about”.

Gazpacho with Rustic Breadsticks

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Gazpacho Shooters with Rustic Breadsticks

  • Servings: 10
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

If you would rather serve this gazpacho as a soup course, remember to double this recipe.

  • 2 cups V-8 juice
  • 1/2 cup finely diced onion
  • 1/2 cup small-diced green or yellow bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup small-diced celery
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes (homegrown when possible)
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed or finely minced
  • 1/2 cup English cucumber (or seeded and peeled regular cucumber)
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 or 2 teaspoons Lawry’s seasoned salt (to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Peel, chop, dice, trim, slice, measure, dump, and stir well. Cover and chill for at least two hours. Serve slightly chilled in shooter glasses.

Rustic Breadsticks

I like to reduce the healthy benefits of gazpacho by serving buttery breadsticks with it!

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Buy a large unsliced loaf of Italian or French bread. (The one I bought was 20 ounces.) Use an electric knife (if you still have one sitting in your “Unused Kitchen Relics” drawer) to trim off all the crust. Then cut the remaining “naked” bread into rectangular-shaped IMG_1820“sticks”. Mine were probably 3/4-inch wide and deep by 3 1/2 or 4 inches long, but you can make them any size you prefer. My loaf made about 16 to 18 sticks. Don’t worry if they don’t look perfect; that’s why we call them “rustic”! I melted 1/4 cup butter in a shallow dish and stirred it together with 1/4 to 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil. Then I quickly dipped the top side and bottom side of each stick into the butter mixture (you might have to stir it once in awhile so it doesn’t separate) and placed all of them on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkled them with Lawry’s garlic salt, dried parsley and some freshly ground pepper. I baked them at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or until they turned a golden brown. (Watch them closely so they don’t burn.) They can be made a few days ahead of time, but they should cool for several hours before storing them. Don’t worry about all those cast-aside chunks of bread you didn’t use. Just cut them down to “crouton-size”, and then make them the way you made the breadsticks. They make a great snack, or you can use them on salads and soups.

(Tracy Mullen’s Messycookblog.com)

Peaches, just like tomatoes, reach their peak during midsummer. Sweet and juicy, they make pies, crisps, cobblers, and ice cream unforgettable.

This beautiful recipe for Fresh Peach Custard Pie is decadent. My friend, Connie Isaacson, has made it for years. When first she served it to our book club many years ago, I knew I had to have the recipe! Connie has a consulting business, a husband, and five married children who have thus far produced 16 children. And, as busy as she is, she still makes “from scratch” pie crust! What a woman!

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Connie Isaacson rolls out dough for Peach Custard Pie. She has a bird’s eye view from her condo, lovingly referred to as The Tree House. (Hey, Connie, I wear pearls when I make pie too!)

Fresh Peach Custard Pie

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Apologies to Connie. I left the pie in the oven a teensy bit too long. But it was still melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

 

Fresh Peach Custard Pie

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

I adore this pie! I have made it so many times that I think Connie should grant ownership of this recipe to me. However, neither one of us has time to go through a custody battle, so I will do the gracious thing and allow her to retain the rights to this masterpiece. I hope she’ll grant visitation privileges to me during peach season, though.

  • 2 cups sliced fresh peaches
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 to 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 2 teaspoons good vanilla
  • 1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust (Connie recommends using your favorite “from scratch” pie crust. You can use the same crust that I used in the Tomato Pie recipe, if you like.)

IMG_1780Arrange peaches on bottom of pie crust. Briefly whisk egg yolks in small bowl and then lightly whisk in cream. Add sugar, salt, flour, melted butter, and vanilla, and gently whisk again. Pour custard over peaches. Cover crust with foil or silicone ring. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake 30 minutes. (Note: the pie may not seem set in the center. It’s okay. It will set up after it has cooled and then been refrigerated for a few hours.)

 

(Tracy Mullen’s Messycookblog.com)

And finally, this must-have recipe has been in Bob’s family for years—Grandma Vogel’s Fruit Crisp. This dessert is perfection in its simplicity and goodness. Almost any fruit can be used, but our hands-down favorite is peach. (So we’ll call it Fresh Peach Crisp for this post.) So many of my friends have this recipe, and they all love it. (Be sure to try it in the fall with apples and cinnamon, and in the spring with rhubarb.)

Grandma Vogel’s Fresh Peach Crisp

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Grandma Vogel's Fresh Peach Crisp

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

This dessert disappears fast, so I almost always double the recipe. Serve it with a scoop of Häagen-Dazs Vanilla or Vanilla Bean ice cream. (Now don’t you dare use a cheap ice cream, or else I might have a meltdown, you hear?)

  • 3 cups fresh diced peaches
  • 1 cup sugar (or a little less if peaches are really sweet)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten

Stir together all of the ingredients and pour into an 8×8-inch baking dish. Top with crumb topping.

Crumb Topping

  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup hard butter (salted, not unsalted)

Stir together dry ingredients. Use a dough blender to cut butter into dry mixture. Blend until crumbly in texture. Sprinkle over top of peaches. Bake at 400 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes or until it is lightly browned and bubbling. Serve warm with ice cream. (Can bake ahead and heat individual servings in microwave.)

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I almost always double the Fresh Peach Crisp recipe.

(Tracy Mullen’s Messycookblog.com)

 

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Three Men and a Platter of Peaches—a riveting still life by The Messy Cook.

Last Bites

A Memory

Late-summer Iowa. Homegrown tomatoes, brilliant as geraniums, shine through the vines. Lazy days seem endless, but summers don’t hang around these parts for long. Like clockwork, there will come a morning when the breeze at my window is snappish and out-of-sorts. The rattling will jerk me awake and I will sense the weather warning: Killing frosts lurk nearby. Expect a silencing of the riotous reds … and meek colors too. Through the pane, I watch my dad hover over the plants encumbered by their progeny. Big Boys, Better Boys, Early Girls.His white T-shirt points out his location in the garden like a bright row marker. I wonder if he feels those unsettling breezes, too. Why can’t good things last forever?

Tomato photo

Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you will come back when the next post is published on August 12. The “dog days” are here. Find a shady spot and try not to bark too much.—Tracy

 

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18 thoughts on “Soliloquy on the Bounty

  1. Tracy, as usual, a delightful read!!! One of my favorites is peach crisp; now I have a new recipe to use. Thanks! I love your blog as it is not only informative with new things to try but so entertaining. I love your stories!!!!

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  2. Tracy – love your blogs! Wondering if your black olive salsa from the last blog should have tomatoes in it like your sister Kris’?

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    1. Oh Rodie, hi!!! Oh yes. It should. I did go back into the blog and corrected it a few days later, and I was so hoping that no one had tried to make it the wrong way. Yes, two 15-ounce cans of petite cut tomatoes, drained. I hope I didn’t cause you to ruin it! So sorry about that. (I was typing those recipes into the blog very late that night.) Not a good idea! Thank you for reading the blog!!

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      1. I added the tomatoes as I made it because I remembered (kinda) your sister’s recipe! Made it for my sister in law and brother in law who live in Maize, Kansas! We all loved it and they now have a copy of the recipe.

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  3. I’m sorry for taking up all of your Blog Comment space, but I HAD to say, Connie looks like June Cleaver in the kitchen. I wonder if she vacuums the house in her pearls (and high heels), like June! AND I love your Iowa story about the produce stand. That was great.

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  4. I dream of beautiful, delicious home grown tomatoes! I’m with Bev – I love the summer BLT’s, but I like mine constructed, but I agree, you have to eat fast, so the toast doesn’t get too juicy! That is the challenge. I love your still life of 3 men and their tomatoes, oops that was peaches, wasn’t it? I told you I dream of tomatoes! I always remember Dad working in the garden in the summer, hoeing those weeds, picking the tomatoes at just the right time. Mom and Dad would send me to neighbors or relatives to share the bounty. A tomato was never wasted. Those were the Good Old Days! Great blog. Fred wants a peach pie! Great pics!

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    1. Thanks for that great photo of your table filled with tomatoes! I couldn’t squeeze the others in, but you had some huge tomato plants!! Bob was glad I had to make the peach crisp and the pie! Good thing you have lots of peaches so you can make a fabulous pie for Fred! Thanks for the nice words! 🍅🤗🍑🍅🤗🍑🍅🤗🍑

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  5. EXCUSE ME! I WAS SO EXCITED OVER YOUR BLOG I FORGOT TO PROOFREAD. I MENT TO SAY SILVER TONGUED DEVIL. I GOT TONGUUED TIIED. YFBIL

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    1. LOL! Yes, Juan, you and Bob would both go for the peach pie first! But your wife does do amazing things with tomatoes, too! Thanks for reading the blog! Probably Kristina forces you to! 🤗🍑🍑🍑

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  6. How lucky to find those tomatoes. If I could get my hands on some fresh tomatoes I would try the tomato pie…sounds delicious. I might even make my own crust:) Kathy >

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  7. There is nothing better than August and eating BLT’s every day. Sorry, Tracy, I like mine constructed! Can’t wait to try the peach custard pie. Great blog once again!

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