Autumn Fills the Air
Autumn brings a gold embrace that is currently starting to be on display in the Magic City. Have you driven through Oak Park? The flames of autumn are, without a doubt, my favorite time of the year. As the trees bring forth their ocher hues, bridesmaids of blazing orange, vivid red, tawny and sunshine yellow join the procession. This fall party puts a halt to summer’s hasty, madcap race in which we all get involved.
Reflections of autumn are often centered around and on the harvest – the bounty from which we been richly blessed. The toils of the soil – whether it be a garden plot or eight quarters of land – plow through our minds. Yes, the flax was good, the cucumbers were ever so green, the wheat crop produced high yields, and we must not forget the masses of Swiss chard – if this quantity glowed, it would have set fire to the night.
As another harvest season starts to fade into memory and the cucumber vines dry and curl, there is within my soul a yearning for more tomatoes. Our tomatoes have produced well this year, but not as plentiful as they were last year – when the vines were dripping with crimson jewels just waiting for a table or canning appearance.
What to do? Well, for starters I just happened to mention my craving for tomatoes to Sharon Reynolds at the opening concert of the Minot International Artists series. This is, you know, what all concertgoers visit about after they have raved about the fine performers on the stage of Ann Nicole Nelson Auditorium! The Stringfever performance featuring violins, viola, and cello was a crowd pleaser. We did wedge in tomato talk between “The Devil went down to Georgia” and “The Lark.”
Sharon exclaimed that their son, Layton Reynolds, and his extraordinaire gardening friend, Jypsy, had a generous tomato crop. In fact, as I came to learn, he had raised with much success a fine assortment of what the Italians had once called “golden apples.”
Within a day, Layton had brought, from the good soil of Douglas, flats of tomatoes to the home of his parents, Lee and Sharon. One phone call and we were on the way. Upon arriving at their home, there was a transfer of colors to warm our souls. The flats contained tomatoes at the pinnacle performance-pink, fiery-red plum, romas, and even some yellow pear varieties! Lydia latched on to a couple of red plum tomatoes and enjoyed their richness as we took the flats to our auto.
Layton certainly has the touch for growing tomatoes, and many other vegetables as well. He enjoys gardening, and we were most grateful that he shared his bounty. The ravishing jewels were placed on our kitchen counter, and we started with the division. Some were cast to canning, other rolled to the eating pile, while some very colorful beauties raised their hands to be placed in a creative tomato dish.
My tomato growing skills are not as astonishing as Layton’s, but from many harvests I have collected some worthwhile tomato hints.
To ripen: Put solid tomatoes together in a brown paper bag and leave for three to four days where it is dark, but not damp. The result is quicker ripening, but still solid tomatoes. Do not place green tomatoes in the hot sun, as this softens them.
Place a collection of tomatoes in an attractive bowl on your kitchen table or counter and enjoy their aroma. Try this: red-orange tomatoes in a bowl of complimentary blue color and you will have the start of a beautiful arrangement.
Enjoy sliced tomatoes slightly spread with honey with “more than a sprinkle” of freshly ground black pepper. Mmm, delicious!
To peel tomatoes easily, drop them into boiling water for just a minute or so, then into cold water. Using a sharp knife, remove the skins with ease.
Green tomatoes, sliced thick, seasoned and sauted, are wonderful with steak or chops-almost as refreshing as a walk in the woods.
Never under estimate the power that the combination of ripe and green tomatoes can bring to homemade relishes. If you really want to amaze your friends, rock them with a tomato marmalade or chutney. The smoldering sensation of these combinations has even spilled across Facebook!
When stewing tomatoes, add a slice of lemon. Remove it before serving and enjoy the citrus zing.
We did can some of the tomatoes, which will be wonderful for chili on a cold winter evening. Several were eaten, and the ones who raised their hands were used in the following recipe. If Lydia were to rank her top ten foods, I can assure you steak and tomatoes would be on the list.
The following recipe came from Jan’s late uncle, Elner Thompson. He had a passion for food, and from time to time would send us recipes he thought we might enjoy. This is one of them. If you love pot pie, you will appreciate this recipe which combines not only pie dough, but puff pastry as well.
Steak, Onion and Tomato Pies
1 1/2 pounds chuck roast
2 tablespoons oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 cup beef stock
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
Pie dough; homemade is best or two sheets purchased
1 to 2 tomatoes, sliced
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
Trim meat of excess fat and cut meat into inch cubes. Toss with flour in plastic bag, shake off excess. Heat oil in a heavy-bottom pan. Cook meat quickly in small batches over medium heat until well browned, drain on paper towels.
Add onion to pan, cook over medium heat until soft. Return meat to pan. Add stock and soy sauce. Bring to boil; reduce heat. Simmer covered for 1 hours, stirring from time to time making sure meat is tender. Blend cornstarch and water in a bowl until smooth; add to pan. Simmer and stir until thickened. Remove from heat, cool slightly.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut each pie crust sheet in half. Line four 5 inch individual pie plates with pie crust, trim the edges. Place an equal amount of filling in each pie shell. Top with tomato slices. Brush edges with a little beaten egg. Now for the grand performance, top with a circle of puff pastry, seal and trim edges.
You will want to be creative; thus impressing the guests gathered at the gingham tablecloth. Cut the remaining pastry into leaf shapes. Place these on the pies and brush the completed tops with egg.
Bake for 25 minutes or until pastry is golden. Remove the pies from the pie plates and place them on a baking sheet and bake for an additional 5 minutes. This will make sure the pastry base is cooked through.
Now cross your arms and smile-you have just served one fabulous meal!
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