Comfort Food

Comfort Food

Fried Red Tomatoes in Cream Sauce


I love tomatoes … all kinds.  I have family and friends who detest tomatoes ... all kinds!  So has been the reputation of the tomato forever!  When and how did the tomato ever find its way to the United States?  That too is a big ‘forever’ question!

It is believed that tomatoes were cultivated in South and Central America as early as 7000 BCE.  Mesoamericans can be attributed with the domestication of beans, squash, cocoa, chili peppers, avocados, corn, tomatoes and … turkeys!  The big question is how those foods traveled from Central America to many other places!    It is possible that the tomato’s trip was routed through the Caribbean Islands into what we now know as Florida and the Carolinas.  It is possible that the Spanish carried the tomatoes back to Spain … then on through Europe and Asia.  Some European pioneers to the Americas brought tomatoes with them.

Before that time, however, tomatoes were considered poison in Europe.  The first known written record of the tomato dates to 1554.  Italians were growing them and eating them.  A couple decades later, the English and Spanish grew them, but primarily for looks and not as a food.  Tomatoes were  thought to be poison, but we know now that it was the acid from the tomato interacting with a pewter plate that actually caused lead poisoning.  Poor folks who didn’t have pewter plates, could eat them!  The rich folks were the ones being poisoned!

By the mid-1700s, tomatoes were being grown and eaten in many European countries, but especially in Italy!   We know that Thomas Jefferson grew tomatoes in his Virginia gardens in 1781.  A French refugee from Santo Domingo introduced them to Philadelphia in 1789.    In 1802, an immigrant Italian painter introduced them to Salem, Massachusetts.   By the mid-1800s, tomatoes were commonly grown in the the northeastern part of the United States.

As I was searching for articles about tomatoes in pioneer times, I found an article written by Iva Dingwall.  Iva was born in 1877 on her grandparents’ farm in Minnesota, a place where she lived her whole life.  The stories she tells are about her Grandmother and how she prepared food during that later part of the 19th Century.   She mentions tomatoes many times.  She tells how much she and her siblings enjoyed eating them right out of the garden.  She tells  about her grandmother’s use of vinegar on fresh vegetables, including tomatoes.  She writes of tomato pies, both red and green.  Historic documents tell us that not all those German settlers in Minnesota appreciated tomatoes as much as their French and Italian counterparts in other parts of the country, but clearly this family did!

Tomatoes are among the first vegetables to have been canned commercially.  The American Civil War was a turning point for commercial canneries.  Both armies needed canned foods.  After the War, tomatoes were among the most commonly requested so from that point on, Americans began eating tomatoes … fresh and canned.

Tomato recipes fill the cookbooks of my favorite vintage period … the 1950s and 60s!  My memories of those times are of thick slices of tomatoes on a white platter with a green rim around it.  That platter graced our dinner table … which was our supper table … every evening.  I also remember Mother’s big kettles simmering away with stewed tomatoes that she canned.  If we were lucky all of the big jars sealed, otherwise we’d hear an explosion in the middle of the night!  We made lots of ‘Fire and Ice’ salad of tomatoes, onions and cucumbers in a vinaigrette.   What we never did, however, was fry a green or a red tomato!  Those delicious things were never on our menu.

Late one afternoon, I walked into my Aunt’s kitchen to help her fix  Her little tiny living room was filled with a couple card tables and chairs.  There was hardly room to move between the tables, but it was going to be my job to help serve food!
food for her card club that was coming for supper and games!

Sissy (my daddy’s little sister, so we called her Sissy) was making something she’d seen in a magazine and something that I had never seen.  She was hollowing out whole tomatoes and filling them with tuna salad!  That was … and still is … a pretty common thing, but certainly was not in my childhood home!  Tuna salad was meant to be eaten between two pieces of soft white bread!  I went home determined to make that for my Dad’s lunch.  Mother laughed at me, but Daddy ate it and bragged about it!   Daddy was a carpenter who came home for lunch, and he was treated on that day with ‘girl food’!!!!!  

In one of my vintage cookbooks, I found a recipe for something I’d never thought about doing.  I fixed it for my lunch the other day and it will now be a regular dish.  The recipe called for canned milk, and that is what I used!  I hope you’ll try this.




Breaded Tomatoes in Cream Sauce

Mix together ¾ cup corn meal with ¼ cup flour.  Add a generous dash of salt and pepper to the mixture.  Cut bright red tomatoes in ¾ inch slices and dip them in corn meal coating both sides well.  Gently fry the tomato slices in bacon grease until crispy brown on each side.

I actually fried some bacon in order to have it with this dish, but I also keep a jar of bacon grease in the fridge.  After all the tomato slices are fried and removed to a serving platter, make a cream sauce.   You need to have at least 2 Tablespoons of bacon grease in the skillet.  If you don’t, add a little butter or oil.  Blend in 2 Tablespoons of flour to make a roux, then gently pour in a 15 ounce can have evaporated milk.  Add lots of pepper to the sauce and pour it over the tomato slices.

This is delicious!

I'll be sharing this with a couple blog parties, so make sure you check my list on my sidebar.  This is a post that is part of my 2020 Vintage Vegetables project.  If you'd like to see similar posts, just click the menu button.



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