Monday, October 5, 2009

Savoring the harvest: Heirloom tomato tartlets

by June

Far be it from me to go on and on and on about tomatoes. (I know, I know: I seem obsessed. I tell my daughters that the secret to happiness is wanting what you have. So why don't I heed my own words?) Truly the lovely, juicy orbs have taken up far more space in the blog this year than they have in the garden or in the kitchen. But here's the thing: When we have them, we are happy, and we do our best to honor their presence.

Ruby Gold tomato tartlet

The very best way I've ever found to honor an heirloom tomato (other than sliced and sprinkled generously with huge snowflake crystals of sea salt) is the tomato tartlet.

I take puff pastry and defrost it just enough so that a knife deals with it easily. I cut it in squares or rounds or whatever shape works for the tomato at hand. Then I spread ricotta cheese on the pastry, tear a basil leaf or three over it (thyme is good too), dash on ground black pepper (even red pepper if our spirits are spicy). Then I add a slice of heirloom tomato and some shavings of Parmesan cheese (though not enough to hide the lovely color of the tomato itself). Then I tuck the edges up around the tomato and make it nice and cozy. Then I repeat so I have one for each person around my table.

Into the 425-degree Fahrenheit oven the tartlets go for about ten minutes -- or just until the pastry puffs and crisps to a golden crunchiness. When they come out, I give them another bit of torn basil and some flaky salt.

It creates quite the sensation when dinner begins with each of us sitting down to a tart as bright as a Gauguin painting.

Some of you live in places where heirloom tomatoes are still ripe (or on their way to ripening; hello, Australia!), and some of us live in places where we are already entering what gardener-extraordinaire Daphne calls the season of dreaming: You know how it goes. We sip hot tea and pore over blogs and catalogs to find all the varieties of heirlooms that we might want to grow when the growing is once again good.

When your time comes for dreaming, here are our entries into the parade of heirlooms you might consider. We've already reviewed Moskovich and Ruby Gold, and I just have to add here again that Ruby Gold fought off late blight better than any other variety; she produced. She is very dear to me.

And now the others...

Two different gardening friends insisted I grow Aunt Ruby's German Green tomatoes -- insisted to the point of sending me home with a plant each. Don't tell them, but I would have grown these just for the name. Who doesn't want an Aunt Ruby out in the garden with them? These 'maters are green (a little more yellowish green when they are ripe). Three-quarters of us loved the taste. It was leafy, almost as if you were eating salad greens and a tomato. (One-quarter of us thought it tasted like stinky feet. We are still trying to get her to tell us how she knows what stinky feet taste like.)

Aunt Ruby's German Green, whole and sliced

Abraham Lincoln is my favorite president, and I would have grown a tomato by his name even if it hadn't come recommended by Mildred Armstrong Kalish's grandfather. Have you read Little Heathens? Oh, my! I gave it to my father two Christmases ago with a note saying he would need to send it back to me after he finished reading it because I had dipped into it and couldn't stop but couldn't finish before it was time to wrap it for under the tree. When Grandpa Hickory returned it, he had annotated it with memories from his own childhood. (Did he really think I was going to return it with his hand-written treasures in the margins?)

Abraham Lincoln, in his glory

I don't even remember where on the Internet I tracked down the Abe Lincoln seeds. It was two winters ago, and hail destroyed my first crop last summer. Blight practically did in my second attempt. But I did get a few, enough to know I agree with the Mildred Armstrong Kalish's grandfather: A tomato that lives up to its name!

My great tomato love is Persimmon. The taste is mild and subtle yet deeply complex when conditions conspire for perfection. To me, it is the most beautiful tomato in the world. It should have been called Perfectly Ripe Cantaloupe; that's the most apt description of the color of its melting flesh. It is ethereal. I still cannot believe I can put a seed in a bit of soil and this comes of it. Persimmon is why I garden. I couldn't buy this tomato anywhere. And how could I live without it?

Persimmon, whole and sliced

So dream on these. And do guide me, please, to your favorite heirlooms. I am loyal, but I'm always looking for something that likes Maine weather as much as I do.


Daphne Gould said...

No. Go on about tomatoes. I always love hearing about them. Market Miracle did the best for me this year. Next year I want to try Moskvich and Cherokee Purple. The tomato tarts sounds delicious. I used to use my left over biscuits to eat tomatoes. I'd cover the biscuit with cheese, put on some basil then top it with tomato slices. I'd heat them in the oven. Yum. I think any combo of tomatoes, cheese and basil is always good.

The Cutting Edge of Ordinary said...

Like you, it wasn't a banner year for tomatoes this year, and I have a confession to make...I don't eat tomatoes!! GASP! I know, nice Sicilian girl like me and I don't eat them, just grow them. Everyone I grow them for loves me for it and I do make sauce with them, but I wish more than anything I loved them like you do.

If we were talking about onions......well now, the onion and I have a very close relationship.

A Friend Across the Miles said...

Oh thank you, thank you! My stomach thanks you too!

Unknown said...

June, you would LOVE the TomatoFest out here in Carmel! You'd go wild and your taste buds would love you for it! Perhaps someday...

I can't wait to try your tartlet recipe. Tomorrow night! I have just a few tomatoes left. It got so cold last night that even my frost blankets were not enough to save the rest on the vine. And there were so many, too! I was so sad this morning. I must remember your lesson on being content with what you have. Even my husband tried to console me by reminding me how many we DID have this year. It was a bumper crop!

tom tall clover farm said...

June, what a delicious lot of finely-tuned toms. I can't wait to try Mr Lincoln and Ruby Gold especially. Persimmon also made the list of toms to try for 2010, after reading your review and after enjoying one from my friend Beth's garden.
Thanks for the quick and easy and decidedly delicious recipe--it's whats for dinner for this Tom tonight.

Anonymous said...

June, I love the way you write about food. Your love and appreciation comes through! I have Little Heathens on my to-read list, but my goodness what a treasure you got back!!!!!

I think I would have had no choice but to keep it either.

Gorgeous, gorgeous tomatoes!

Ellie Mae's Cottage said...

I'm living vicariously through other folks tomato harvests since my own died from blight. Your's look great and the recipe I have to try. -Jackie

Queen B. said...


Country Girl said...

So jealous. I would have loved to had a tomato crop this year.(blight :() I have not grown many heirlooms and honestly I am horrible about keeping track of what is which...I know the type of vegetable just not always the name. That is something I am working on. Real important as I am hoping to learn more about seed saving. That recipe you posted in the beginning looks and sounds real good!

Wren said...

I am hanging on your every word. Tomatoes...sigh... glorious tomatoes.
Glorious tartlets!!

Going to have to add your recommendations to our planting list this year. Still smiling about the treasured notes from Grandpa Hickory. Love it..

The Cutting Edge of Ordinary said...

June! You won my giveaway!! Congrats lady! Please email me your address so I can ship your loot out!

Thanks for entering!

Tonya Gunn said...

What a wonderful post - I will be referring to yourpost this winter to make our wish list!
I can't wait to read more of your blog.

sarah in the woods said...

The one thing we don't have trouble growing is tomatoes. Next year, I plan to dive into the heirlooms. We had one this year, and the flavor was the best. The tartlet looks delicious.

Farmama said...

Mmmmmm! I have a half bushel of tomatoes on my counter that I am savoring! The very last fresh ones of the season! I love your tomato tartlet recipe!....thanks for sharing it..we're going to have to try that one! Thanks for the heirloom recommendations as well. My favorite heirloom (so far) is the cheroke purple. I so enjoy your sweet garden blog! Take care June,

Colleen - the AmAzINg Mrs. B said...

I love love love very favorite "sammich" is tomato, salt & pepper, a little may on soft white bread..killer good taste!

I've never use puff pastry much - always thought it was hard to work with..any hints? I do so love it!

sarah said...

o, yum! Thank you for sharing that recipe June. You make me want to really work on my tomatoes next year and make sure we get some good ones planted. I love tomatoes. We just had cream of tomatoe soup. I will send you the recipe, it is a good one!

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