Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Stewed Tomatoes - Yankee Style vs. Tomatoes in the South

Serving tomatoes as a side dish has fallen strangely out of fashion. I don't know why. As a child, in the deep south, with country gardens producing incredible abundance, tomatoes were served at every meal. Plates of freshly sliced tomatoes were always on the breakfast and dinner tables and a tomato sandwich was standard fare at lunchtime throughout the growing season. I'm not talking a BLT, just two pieces of bread with mayonnaise and a thick slice of dripping tomato inside.

Through the fall and winter, with the gardens tilled and planted with winter crops of collards and turnips and the like, when the canning was finished for the season and the kitchen smelled of fresh baked bread, the flavor and acid punch of the tomato still made its way to the evening table. Canned, as they were in my childhood, with nothing added but water and salt, the tomatoes were emptied into serving bowls and eaten as they were, straight from the jar. The texture was different but the taste was that of the summer.

Canned tomatoes would be left to drain in a colander, chopped and added to salads or the jar of tomatoes, liquid and all, would be added to a pot roast for flavor and to tenderize the meat. Such were the tomatoes of my Alabama mother.

My Pennsylvania father, however, had quite a different view of the lowly fruit. He liked them mushed about and cooked to a frazzle. He thought sugar should be added to cut the acidity. But then, he thought sugar belonged cornbread as well. Either situation was enough to send Mother into a tizzy, ranting about her "Yankee" husband. Since she also referred to herself as a "war bride", I must have been 8 or 9 before I sorted out the chronology of WW II and the war between the states. In my childhood home, it seemed they were concurrent.

Be that as it may, my father liked Stewed Tomatoes. Mother considered them almost a sacrilege. Perhaps it is as a tribute to both of them that in early summer I look forward to my first dripping tomato sandwich and in the cold of winter, cook up a pot of Dad's...

serves 4 to 6
  • 1 qt. canned Tomatoes - chopped
  • 1 Tbsp Sugar (optional - I don't use it)
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • 2-3 cups bread cubes (white - even old buns will do)
Empty contents of quart jar of tomatoes into a DEEP saucepan. Bring to a boil. Stir in sugar. Add baking soda and be prepared for the tomatoes to erupt into a rising mass of foam. Stir. Remove from heat and stir in bread cubes. Allow to sit for a couple of minutes. Stir again before serving.
A good accompaniment to roasted meats: beef, pork, chicken.


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