One of my favorite summer memories is of Granddad and I sitting on his back door stoop with a salt shaker and a basket full of big red tomatoes. We’d laugh about what we were getting ready to do, and then we’d open our mouths wide and take that big first juicy bite. I never escaped having seeds and juice running down my chin, but Gramps was an expert back porch tomato eater, so no mess on him. After that first bite it was a shake of salt, more bites, more salt. Not a snack to be eaten in proper company, nor even in the house, but this back stoop treat was the perfect way to savor summer.
Turns out I’m not the only one that sat in a special place on a hot summer day with her grandfather “eat’n like heath’ns”. As soon as I mentioned home grown tomatoes to an English friend she started in with the same story that I thought belonged to only my Granddad and me. Her memory was sitting in her grandfather’s greenhouse on an upturned plant pot, a tomato in one hand, salt shaker in the other, her Grandfather on his own upturned pot. She also gobbled up strawberries sitting in the middle of the strawberry patch, and the same with peas in the pod.
Now here in France I watch my neighbor’s grandchildren sitting on the patio with their grandparents, a basket full of colorful tomatoes on the table and a salt shaker in each child's hands, seeds on their cheeks and juice spots all over the table.
The French are crazy about this fruit that came over from the New World. We can find just about any variety that we used to have in our garden in Vermont. This spring I was able to find plants of 4th of July, Brandywine, and Cherokee Purple along with several varieties we had not tried before. They have thrived in the summer heat and continue to produce now at the end of September, something quite remarkable to a former Vermont Gardener.
In the late 1800’s the “phylloxera plague” (another introduction from the New World) wiped out 90% of the vineyards in France. Tomatoes rose in production as it was hoped that this would become the cash crop to replace the lost grapevines. Ketchup replacing wine?! The farmers hopes were raised with the arrival of the train system that could carry produce quickly from the Dordogne to the markets of Paris or London. But then came along Dutch tomatoes, ripened at all times of the year with natural gas. The French farmers were once again out of luck.
Nowadays in the Dordogne the king of tomatoes is tomate de Marmande. This variety is the work of hybridization done in various horticultural centers in the Dordogne between the two world wars. It won all sorts of agricultural fair prizes and has proven to be a consistent favorite ever since. It ripens early, is a beautiful lively red, has a true tomato smell and a slightly sugared taste. It’s a lot like a beefsteak tomato.
Here’s a delicious recipe that my neighbor shared with me the other day.
Tomatoes de Marmande Farcies
Stuffed Beefsteak Tomatoes
Select 4 large firm tomatoes
Cut the tops off making a hat.
Scoop out the largest seeds. Salt and pepper.
Place the tomatoes in a pyrex dish, lightly oiled
Heat oven to 350
In another pan sauté 1 diced onion and several diced garlic cloves to taste and ground beef or ground sausage cooked until brown
In a small mixing bowl beat 1 egg, add salt and pepper, a pinch of hot pepper, a small handful of parsley finely chopped and add to the meat mixture.
Stuff the tomatoes.
Cover with herbed bread crumbs.
add a cut of butter and a sprinkling of grated cheese of your liking.
Put the hats back on and bake for 30 - 40 minutes. Frequently baste the tomatoes with their pan juices.
Serve hot with a salad of roquette and walnut oil.
(Editor’s note: Our apologies to any heathens who might take offense.)