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Joni Woolf: Tomatoes — summer’s perfect offering

One of my fondest memories of childhood in rural Brooks County, Georgia, is when the summer harvest began, and my cousin Gloria and I would meet around a long, hand-hewn table behind the smoke house of another relative — a truck farmer. There he would spread out his ingathering of tomatoes, to wash and sort before taking to market in Valdosta — and we were there to help. In fact, we were there to eat to our heart’s delight. Gathering salt and pepper in a piece of waxed paper, we would stand before all those tomatoes, pick a choice one, bite into it, dip it in the salt and pepper and bite again, the juice running down our chins, un-wiped, un-noticed. It was a delicious pleasure and the memory of it returns every summer when I first visit the markets, looking for that perfect tomato.
Today I rode over to Montezuma to the opening of William Brown’s Farm Market, expecting to come home with enough tomatoes to have for lunch, supper, breakfast (great with bacon and eggs), and to make some tomato jelly. Alas, the cool spring weather had delayed the ripening, and though other vegetables were there, along with a great selection of peaches, there were no tomatoes. Two weeks, the lady said. But undaunted, I came home to study the recipe for that jelly, along with a couple of other easy and delicious tomato dishes, and share them with you, the readers, while we wait for the crop to mature. I have never made the tomato jelly, but my across-the-street neighbor in Macon shared it with me, along with her recipe, and it sounds so easy, I think we can’t go wrong. So let’s try it. I have had it on crackers, as an hors d’oeuvre, and on a hot buttered biscuit — both are fine eating.

TOMATO JELLY (from Mary Smith)
5 pounds ripe tomatoes
8 cups sugar
2 lemons, sliced thin, seeds removed
Scald tomatoes in water that has reached boiling. Drop in for one minute, remove, and the skin will slide off. After removing skin, place in large pot, add sugar and let stand overnight. The next day, drain juice, reserving tomatoes, and place juice in large pot. Boil juice 10 to 15 minutes. Add tomatoes that have been coarsely chopped, with the lemon slices. Cook until heavy red color, but still clear. This will take 3 to 5 minutes. Pack into hot, sterilized jars and seal, following standard canning procedure. One-fourth and one-half pint jars make nice gifts.

An easy, light luncheon or supper dish, the following pasta dish is simple to prepare and delightful to the palate.

PASTA WITH FRESH    TOMATOES AND BASIL
3 ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
8 ounces angel hair pasta, cooked
1/2 cup fresh, shredded Parmesan cheese
Saute first eight ingredients in hot oil in a large skillet over low heat, stirring constantly, 1 minute or until thoroughly heated. Spoon over hot cooked pasta; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

If you’re having a brunch, reception, tea, or cocktail party, there is no better hors d’oeuvre than the open-faced tomato sandwich. Wherever I have taken these (or served at home), there are never any left on the plate. They are simply delicious, and you’ll get lots more credit than you deserve.

PARTY TOMATO                   SANDWICHES
1 loaf white bread (the only time I recommend white bread)
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
Mayonnaise for mixing
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
7 or 8 medium-size tomatoes, thinly sliced
Fresh parsley or fresh basil
Mix cream cheese with enough mayonnaise for spreading consistency. Add salt, lemon juice and pecans. Cut bread into 2-inch rounds using a cookie cutter. Spread cream cheese mixture on bread slices; add a tomato slice. Sprinkle lightly with salt and top with piece of parsley or basil leaf. Make a lot. They go fast.

If you’re new to tomato cooking and serving, you might want to take note of a card I bought in Center Stage Market last week. It says, simply “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”
Watch the markets. The Georgia tomato will be here soon.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net