Tomato growing in the south can be a tricky task for gardeners, but we get it done. Several varieties of hybrid and heirloom tomatoes manage to thrive in our heat and humidity, and we certainly make the most of every crop.
Whether you’ve got a basket of “mountain supremes” or an apron full of beefy “brandywines,” our southern cooks will know exactly what to do with them. I’ve never had much of a green thumb, so I go to the farmer’s market for my tomatoes. If you’ve never spent the day at a southern farmer’s market buying fried peach pies, beer-boiled peanuts, and just about everything under the sun except what you came for, then you need to make it your next culinary adventure.
We prepare tomatoes in a variety of ways down south— all of them delicious. And when a tomato has not been included with the main components of the meal, you’re likely to find one sliced up on a plate with some white onion somewhere on the table. It’s almost summertime, which means we’ll be seeing a lot of tomatoes done one of these three ways.
The Tomato Sandwich
Nothing beats a tomato sandwich in the southern heat. You can’t serve a PBJ when its 90 degrees outside—no amount of iced tea could wash it down. We eat sliced tomatoes with crisp lettuce on two pieces of plain white bread slathered with mayo.
Now, the variations on this classic sandwich are infinite. The most popular addition is bacon, but in the dead heat of summer, I think cucumber slices are preferable. Regardless of the temp, the bread needs to be toasted. While we have nothing but love for a soft slice of white bread, it pairs poorly with a juicy tomato slice.
Fried Green Tomatoes
A young woman once asked me for green tomato seeds—she was from Colorado, bless her heart. Before our tomatoes ripen on the vine, we like to pluck’em green and fry’em up for all sorts of wonderful dishes. (Now, having said all that, there is an uncommon variety that does grow green and stay green, but these tomatoes are soupy on the inside and explode like firecrackers in a pan of hot oil—use an unripe red tomato.) From classic appetizers to sandwich stuffing, and everything in between, we love to eat fried green tomatoes in the south.
Firm, unripe green tomatoes should be sliced about a quarter-inch thick. Then it’s time to triple dip!
Each tomato slice should be dipped in flour, dredged in egg, then coated with cornmeal. The salt and peppering is up to the cook. I like mine heavily seasoned, opting for coarse sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Don’t be afraid to add a little heat, fried green tomatoes pair exceptionally well with spicy flavors. For parties, I like to dust my flour and cornmeal with cayenne pepper and serve with a buttermilk dressing. Yes, I am wildly popular during football season.
Southern Tomato Pie
Tomato pie is one of those southern dishes that pops up any time of year, but in my family, we reserve it for more festive occasions. It serves beautifully, making it a wonderful option for parties, house warmings, or football Sunday. The secret to a delicious tomato pie is to use whatever is seasonal for accent.
The best tomato pies are made with a homemade crust rolled out on the kitchen counter. Sliced summer-ripe tomatoes, green onion, and fresh basil, all seasoned with salt and pepper, fills the pie. A mix of your favorite cheeses with mayonnaise makes up the top layer. I like equal parts mozzarella and cheddar stirred up with some spicy mayonnaise (mayo is life).
These refreshing savory summer pies are easily made all year-long and lend themselves to fun variations like a pizza or lasagna inspired pie for those colder months. The only rules are to build your pie around the tomato and don’t burn the crust—oh, and always serve on pretty pie plate.
Tomatoes in the south are a serious matter. It takes a lot of work for us to grow them, so we take great pride in how we prepare them for our families and guests. We like them on sandwiches, battered and fried, or baked in a pie. In the summer, you’ll find plenty of roadside stands selling baskets of fresh picked tomatoes, and almost every meal we serve will come with a side plate of fresh sliced ‘maters. It’s growing season already, so wish us luck on another bountiful summer harvest of big, beautiful, heirloom and hybrid delights.