It had rained earlier in the morning, a downpour at 4 tapering off to a drizzle at 8. By noon the mist had evaporated but the skies were still overcast, the air heavy with moisture. A different kind of 78 degrees than the previous day’s. The kind that makes glasses of cold drinks bead with sweat and skin feel uncomfortably tacky. Sometimes I don’t understand rain, how it can either erase humidity or compound it. The inconsistency doesn’t follow.
But then, I have never claimed to be a meteorologist.
The uncertain weather (would it rain again? might the sun shine?) hadn’t affected the day’s business at Cider Hill Farm. People flowed in and out of the store in the main barn, mothers and children with berry cartons set out for the u-pick fields. Making my way under the greenhouse, I joined the CSA pick-up line and waited my turn. Although the CSA program is fledgling, the Cooks’ years of experience with running a successful business shows. Staff worked at filling crates with produce and stacking these, half shares to one side and full shares to the other, behind the sign in desk. Karen Cook and several helpers expedited the bins to customers and the line moved swiftly.
Efficient, indeed, but not impersonal. Ahead of me, the little girl there to pick up the week’s vegetables with her mother caught Karen’s attention with a big hello. Karen’s pretty face lit up at the greeting. She picked up the young girl, tucked her squarely on one hip, and they stood together chatting happily, for a brief time aware only of each other.
The air outside is heavy today, too, as turbulent storms approach. Even the inside of my little home can’t escape the closeness and humidity. The sensible course of action would be a cold supper: sliced tomatoes sprinkled with some French feta, a bowl of raw snacking peas, the “everything salad” bowl. A little of this, a little of that from my CSA shares, with ease and economy of movement providing the meal’s cohesive theme. All of these things would be good.
But the heaviness in the air reminds me of our midwestern summers. Of storm clouds building across flat central Illinois, skies turning the color of spinach, thunder rumbling on approach, the tornado sirens warning that all this weather may gather up into something unstoppable.
And I have this heartland recipe kicking around my files since those Midwestern days. It has traveled with me for about 18 years, unmade, untested, a “maybe someday” recipe.
Today, I think, is that day. The hot and stormy weather is evocative and I have four fresh tomatoes from the farm.
Adapted from Cooking from Quilt Country by Marcia Adams
Roundabout 1990, I was hooked on Marcia Adam’s public television cooking show, Amish Cooking from Quilt Country. During the half-hour segment, Adams cooked using Indiana Amish recipes, talked a little about the Amish way of life, and then, at the very end of the show, donned a pair of curator’s gloves and displayed an authentic Amish quilt on loan from a museum or private collection, noting both the patterns and hand-stitching. Cooking, culture, and quilts – it was a charming show, and one that probably would not get made today.
I copied down her recipe for tomato fritters because they looked so delicious. Because I am making them out of my CSA share from Cider Hill, I had to make a few changes from the original, substituting 4 fresh tomatoes for (1) 28-ounce can of tomatoes and a full bunch of the farm’s scallions (when chopped, about a cup) in place of a tablespoon of minced onion.
- 1 cup flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. sugar
- ¾ tsp. salt
- 4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 1 bunch of scallions, chopped
- 1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
- 2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
- ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 egg, beaten
- canola or vegetable oil for frying
Submerge the tomatoes in a pot of boiling water for about 30-60 seconds. The skins will begin to split and the tomatoes will be easy to peel. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and allow tomatoes to cool until they are easy to handle. Peel and chop, placing the chopped tomatoes back in the colander to drain. Set aside.
Chop scallions and herbs and set aside.
Combine the first four dry ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
Put vegetable oil in the bottom of a large and deep heavy skillet set over medium-high heat. While oil is heating, begin to assemble the fritter batter.
Place the drained tomatoes along with the scallions, herbs and Worcestershire sauce in a large mixing bowl. Toss with the dry ingredients. Add in the beaten egg and fold everything together with a rubber scraper just until the egg and flour have been incorporated. Batter will be wet.
Working quickly, drop tablespoons of the batter into the hot oil and fry until golden brown and cooked through, a few minutes on each side. Make no more than 5 or 6 at a time to keep the temperature of the oil from fluctuating wildly.
Drain fritters on a cookie sheet lined paper towel or brown paper. Keep warm in a low oven until all the batches of fritters are done, then serve.
Delicious with a green salad. And the following pea (and lettuce) soup. Because man cannot live by fritters alone…
Throwing some lettuce into the soup along with the peas is a nifty little trick when life or the CSA only gives you a pound of peas (which is roughly a cup shelled) but a lot of romaine…or butter lettuce or leaf lettuce. The soup still tastes sweet like peas but the lettuce adds a very fresh, clean flavor. The resulting soup is a little more complex than straightforward pea.
I garnished with a dollop of sour cream and some snipped chives from the pot on the deck. But think about frizzling up a few more of the shallots you chopped for the soup itself. And a homemade crouton would be nice too.
- 2 shallots, chopped
- 1 Tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
- ½ of a large head of lettuce (I used a ruffly green leaf lettuce but anything green would be good, including a good bunch of either spinach or arugula), cored if necessary and chopped
- 1 cup fresh peas
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- salt and pepper to taste
Heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan. Saute the chopped shallots until soft but not browned. Add the chopped lettuce, stir and let cook down until wilted, about 2-3 minutes.
Add the peas, stock, salt, and pepper and bring to a simmer. Let the soup simmer for about ten minutes. Either puree right in the pot with a stick blender or in a countertop blender or food processor, in batches.
Serve warm with the garnish of your choice.
©2010 Jane Ward