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

1 comment:

Scott at Real Epicurean said...

I had a tomato sorbet once which was delicious.