Monday, August 15, 2011

The Frozen Tomato

A few years ago, I read a book by Julia Reed titled Queen of the Turtle Derby. Reed, who is from Greenville, MS, writes essays about the people and places where she grew up, and includes recipes for the foods that are as much a part of Southern culture as eccentric relatives.

One particular story included a recipe from the Belle Meade Country Club in Nashville, TN, where Reed spent summers visiting her grandparents. She recalled it fondly and I was fascinated by both the name and description -- Frozen Tomato.  Of course, freezing tomatoes is not a mainstream method of preserving or serving whole tomatoes, so I was more than curious. Reed describes the dish as a sort of tomato ice cream made with tomato juice. After freezing, it is scooped onto lettuce leaves and served as a salad. Hmmmm? Tomato ice cream?

As I scanned down the list of ingredients in the recipe, I could see that ice cream might describe the texture and serving temperature, but I had never had ice cream made with tomato juice, onions, Worcestershire sauce or Tabasco! Still I was determined to try it someday.

Well, that day finally came a couple of weeks ago. My copy of Reed's book has long since been passed on to someone I thought might enjoy a lighthearted look at Southern culture and recipes, so I located the recipe by googling Reed and frozen tomato. There it was, the same story and recipe from the book was also in a New York Times food essay that must have been the place it first  appeared. Great! I gathered the ingredients, mixed them faithfully following the recipe, poured the mixture into a oblong baking dish and placed it in the freezer. That night, I scooped bright red balls of Frozen Tomato, looking very much like ice cream, onto iceberg lettuce leaves and served it as the salad with dinner.

Well ... as MFH and I scraped our spoons across the top of the rosy ball and took a taste, I could tell instantly he didn't like it. My first taste surprised me. The texture was definitely icy and creamy. The flavor, however, was overwhelmingly Worcestershire sauce and underwhelmingly tomato. Not what I expected at all.

My instinct was to write off the whole frozen tomato idea as a bust. I was disappointed to have looked forward to trying something that promised to be so interesting, but instead reminded me of a desperation batch of tomato daiquiris that signaled the end of all available fruit -- and also the end of a very long night of frozen drinking.

So, once again, I turned to googling Frozen Tomato. I learned long ago that popular recipes are traded in families, church circles, women's clubs and bridge luncheons like hot stocks. If one person has a great recipe, others will not rest until they get it for themselves. Secret family recipes are guarded at all costs, but most others are shared freely, at least until they settle inside the pages of the encyclopedic Southern Living Annual Recipes for all to see. The first edition of SLAR was published in 1979, and has been collected every year since then by savvy cooks above and below the Mason-Dixon Line.  Yes, I do have the complete set!

I was shocked to find only one listing for Frozen Tomato in the Southern Living Index, and it was not at all like the Belle Meade recipe in Reed's book. My next stop was a listing for Frozen Tomato Salad from that used canned tomatoes instead of juice, and left out the Worcestershire Sauce entirely. Hmmm. No, not canned tomatoes. The only other reliable source I found was from Retro Food Blog by Tarrant Figlio, a fellow BlogHer blogger, who writes about the recipes many of us remember from the 1950s and 60s.

Tarrant's recipe looks like it might be more what I expected -- tomato juice, cream cheese and mayo for creaminess, pineapple for sweetness and onion for an added savory layer of flavor. No Worcestershire sauce though!  Maybe I could dial back the Worcestershire sauce and think along the lines of a Bloody Mary Salad. Something to think about, if the Frozen Tomato fails to live up to the hype the second time around.

I've included all three interpretations of the recipe here because I have not made the second or third ones yet, but I do plan to try Tarrant's version soon. Perhaps it would be nice served on a bed of shredded lettuce, with some sliced avocado along side. Cold, creamy, sweet and savory frozen tomato. I think I'd like that.

I do know the book is a great Reed, so even if you don't think the Frozen Tomato is for you, I'm pretty sure you'd still enjoy the book -- and maybe some of Reed's other recipes collected from some fine Southern cooks Reed has known herself.

(Adapted from the Belle Meade Country Club)
3 cups tomato juice
3 cups Hellmann's mayonnaise, plus more for garnishing 
1 small onion, finely chopped 
3/4 cup crushed pineapple 
1/4 cup cream cheese 
1/4 cup cottage cheese 
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 
2 drops Tabasco, or more to taste 
Salt and white pepper to taste 
Red food coloring, if desired 
Boston or bibb lettuce leaves

Combine 2 cups of the tomato juice, 1 cup of the mayonnaise, the onion, pineapple, cream cheese, cottage cheese, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco in a blender. Blend until smooth and pour into a bowl. Combine the remaining tomato juice and mayonnaise in the blender and blend until smooth. Add enough food coloring so that it is the color of a very ripe tomato -- otherwise, it will be pale pink. Add it to the mixture in the bowl and whisk until combined. Season with salt and pepper and more Tabasco if needed. Pour into a 2-inch-deep baking dish (use a sieve if you want a smoother texture) and freeze. Arrange lettuce on 10 salad plates and place 1 or 2 scoops of frozen tomato on top. Add a dollop of mayonnaise if desired.

*Originally published in the New York Times, FOOD; Member of the Club, April 6, 2003, by Julia Reed
*Also appears in Queen of the Turtle Derby and Other Southern Phenomena, Random House, 2004, by Julia Reed 

1 (16 oz.) can tomatoes
1 (8 oz.) crushed pineapple
1/2 sm. grated onion
Pinch of sugar
1 (3 oz.) cream cheese
1 c. mayonnaise
Salt & Tabasco to taste

Put in blender until well mixed. Pour into ice trays and pans and freeze. Slice to serve. 

(From Retro Food Blog by Tarrant Figlio)
1 qt. tomato juice
1 pt. crushed pineapple, well drained
1 c. Philadelphia cream cheese
1 pint mayonnaise
2 grated onions

Several vigorous shakes of Tabasco, salt, pepper, to taste. Mix thoroughly and freeze. Serve with mayonnaise lightly flavored with curry powder.
From Mrs. R. E. King

Monday, August 8, 2011

More Pinterest Favorites for Summer Fun

I haven't completely forgotten about you, or food or recipes, but one of my goals for the summer is establishing a functional and user-friendly index for Cora Cooks. It is a little more time-consuming than I thought it would be, but I know we'll all love it when it's finished. I'm keeping my nose to the grindstone. 

Here's a little something to keep you occupied with some great ideas for food and other magical ways to have a happy summer.

The response to last week's post with ideas I found on Pinterest was excellent, so here we go with round two.

Once August rolls around, we begin to realize the days are already getting shorter and it won't be long until school starts again.  I know I begin to think about squeezing every last drop of fun from those last few days.

With that in mind, this week I found lots of clever crafts, cool ideas and easy-living tips on Pinterest to make the most of your summer days. Time-saving ways to make everyday free and easy -- for you, your kid(s), your neighbor kids, your grandkids or your guests.

No one will be bored, everyone will be hydrated and happy, and you might even be able to squeeze in some quiet time of your own to read a steamy summer novel or take a nap.

Nothing says summer like a good book and a nap!

Sometimes a day at the beach is ... well ... not so much! Tons of paraphernalia to carry to and from, gritty sand in food, drinks and swimsuits, sunburn, tired cranky kids and that long drive home. This little bit of a backyard beach is the answer to your prayers! What a cute idea from the blog Better Together written by three very talented sisters. A day at the beach that ends with smiles all around.

Yes, it's a beach ball -- and more!  Very realistic and so much fun for a party. Beth from Hungry Happenings created this delicious beach ball fruit pizza with a sugar cookie crust, spread with lemon cheesecake filling and covered with beautiful, bright and refreshing fruit. Just perfect for summer dessert. Smile and say fruity cookie cheeeeeese-cake!
Here is another idea for those cupcake liners we stored in the big glass jars last week. Martha Stewart Living had this on the website last summer and Annie at Marry You Me featured it as cocktail caps on her wedding blog from England. Perfect for cocktails, lemonade and canned drinks too! No more bees or bugs in drinks! Smile now if you've ever swallowed a bug!
Laura at Come Together Kids shared a time-saving idea to keep them blowing bubbles all day long - this plastic drink dispenser will refill lots and lots of little bottles. And she has a bonus for you too -- recipes for making large, inexpensive batches of bubbles at home. Moms must love Pinterest for all the terrific ideas from the cleverest mommy bloggers! Bubbles make everyone smile!
Kids get bored ... and whine ... and complain ... and want to be entertained. Somewhat Simple has the solution! The I'm Bored Jar is filled with strips of paper printed with things to do. But here's the fun for mom ... it might say "bake cookies with Mom" or it might say "dust the living room." A sure cure for boredom either way! See mom smile!

Oh, no! More cupcake liners! I can't believe 1) I've never thought of this simple solution myself and 2) I haven't got that big canister full of cupcake liners yet! Real Simple included this idea in an article full of simple summer ideas to repurpose items you already have around the house. This one alone will save me hours of time with the my own laundry. Now I'm smiling!
And last, but not least, something for quiet time from Tatertots and Jello. As a kid, I would have loved this. As a mom, my kid loved his. As a teacher, I know how much kids love to hole up in tiny spaces on the floor and read. Whether it's out in the yard or in a bedroom or playroom, this is the perfect space to encourage some quiet summer reading time. Is that mom smiling again?