Something was not quite right.
There were yellow and green zucchinni squash at the farmers’ market that day. There were huge dusty bunches of basil, and rusty-hued bouquets of autumn flowers. Cabbages, check. Pears, apples, carrots, and late peaches, check, check, check.
But there was a missing colour. Red. Tomato red, to be exact.
What. Happened. I asked one of the people selling vegetables. He frowned. Blight. was all he said.
Since then I’ve been collecting tomatoes, as though they’re some sort of rare orchid. I’ve been paying exorbitant amounts, and then rushing home with my loot. I’m being extra charming to friends with tomato harvests not struck by blight. It’s September, the one time of year that tomatoes are actually edible and don’t come out of a can, and we’re looking down the barrel of a tomato shortage.
Since then I’ve heard more. Sosnicki Organic Farms, north of Toronto, who usually have the most exquisitely coloured and shaped tomatoes for sale, lost their entire tomato harvest to late blight. It’s a fungus exacerbated by cool wet conditions.
One farmer at the market said it usually occurs every twelve years or so. But it happened in 2000. It’s happening more often now, as global heating ( a more accurate term I think) creates unexpected climate change.
So, I’ve been buying organic hot house tomatoes at $3 (or more) a pound. At Trinity-Bellwoods Market, if you go early enough, that’s what you’ll find.
But I don’t care, because I’ve been craving tomato pie. It’s a dish that can only be made in September as it calls for fresh, juicy, flavourful tomatoes. A friend was coming for dinner. Academic articles, emails and course-planning were put aside as I spent an afternoon stewing and reducing those tomatoes until they had the deep, burnished taste I wanted.
We sat outside on my deck in the fading light of a September evening, eating up that pie. We talked for a while about the urge to have kids. She’s the queer mother of a teen. I have no kids.
Why. Did. You. Have. A. Kid. I’ve known her for decades. I’ve never asked her that before.
There’s. No. Single. Reason. she said. And the reasons always change. She went on to talk about how queers have a right to make that decision and a right to all of the rewards, pitfalls, mistakes and regrets that might come with it.
We had seconds of tomato pie, and the grilled beet salad I’d made to go with. The air became tinged with a slight and subtle autumn chill. We went inside, I turned on a lamp. I served up some freshly made peach-blackberry crumble still warm from the oven, savouring the umami tastes of fall.
I’m posting this recipe again, due to popular request.
Filling & Topping:
3 lbs. (approx. 6 cups) fresh tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tspn salt
1 onion, sliced
2 tbspn butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
a handful of fresh basil, chopped
same amount of parsley, chopped
12 black olives, pitted and sliced
1/2 lb mozzarella, sliced
3 tbspn olive oil
In a medium-sized pot, saute garlic in olive oil over medium heat. When softened, add tomatoes, salt, herbs, a grind or two of pepper. Simmer over low heat until thickened and reduced by half (about an hour, possibly more).
Meanwhile, thickly slice the onion, then saute in butter in a frying pan with 1/4 tspn salt
Once crust is made, sprinkle parmesan over bottom of pieshell. Add the sauteed onions. Cover with tomatoe sauce. Place sliced mozzarella on top and sprinkle with love slices.
Bake for about 35-40 minutes at 325 degrees, or until the filling seems more-or-less set (it will set further after you take it out of the oven). Let stand for at least twenty minutes before serving.
(You can make this while the sauce is simmering)
11/2 cups flour
1 tspn sugar
3/4 tspn salt
1/2 cup canola oil
3 tblspn cold milk
Mix dry ingredients directly into a 9-inch pie plate. Combine the oil and milk right in the measuring cup; beat until creamy with a fork. Pour over dries and mix lightly until just damp. Press into plate.