Finally, my heirloom tomato crop is coming in, and Tappy’s Heritage has been the most reliable producer during this wet, tomato-unfriendly summer. I was picking only one at a time for the past month, and then this week they blushed and kept getting redder. I had an armful yesterday, which is all the sign I need that it’s time to make my mother’s Stuffed Tomatoes. It’s been two years since I made them because last summer’s precipitation rained on my tomato parade. I was lucky to get a BLT every now and then.
Upon closer inspection I can see this week’s harvest is ready for prime time. Some of the smooth skin is splitting from all the moisture so there’s no time to waste. I placed the uncut tomatoes in a pie plate to see if they all fit, and then I started cutting, scooping, mixing, and re-filling.
My mom’s recipe is vague. Actually, it’s downright unclear and is typical of Old Food Cooking recipe writing. The cook jots down just enough instruction for herself, and unless you’re there with her, questions loom as time passes. I stood by my mother plenty of times while she prepared this luscious side dish. Good thing I did. I know what to look for–especially the degree of ‘runniness’ that’s required for success–and it absolutely does not come across in her notes.
Mom worked as a nurse and her medical shorthand sneaks in from time to time, and I enjoy seeing the symbols in all her personal writings, including these recipes from her book. Truthfully, she would have been the first to admit she didn’t love cooking, although there were some things she nailed, like pie, these tomatoes, homemade applesauce, braised rump roast, and a mouthwatering angel food-cherry dessert that made my brother weak in the knees. Her recipe files reflect her nonchalance with the kitchen. Orange ice at the top of the page, stuffed tomatoes in the middle, followed by bar-b-que hamburger. Her objective was to record it, not get all obsessive and fussy and divide things in categories. Just wasn’t her thing, but this recipe was so simple and delicious we thought she was our own Julia Child for the evening meal. It was a burst of summer color on the table, and with corn on the cob alongside, a simple meal of grilled hot dogs and burgers turned into a feast. Mom’s Stuffed Tomatoes
After tomatoes are in baking dish, cut off the tops and scoop out the flesh. (Be prepared for a soupy mix here. No way to avoid it.) Dice bigger pieces of tomato flesh into very small pieces. Mix in one tablespoon of finely diced onion. Then add one tablespoon of melted butter and stir to combine.
Now, here’s the very tricky part. Add enough bread crumbs, as my Mom would say, “so it’s not too dry or not too runny.” Sprinkle in a little at a time. Depending upon the size and number of tomatoes, you might need a scant 1/4 cup of crumbs. I used Parmesan bread crumbs but any type will do. The mixture changes from bright to pale red after the crumbs are incorporated.
Stuff the tomato shells with the mixture and top with a sprinkling of crumbs and a little butter. Bake for one hour in a 350-degree oven. Let them sit a few minutes before transferring. And use your biggest serving spoon and fork to do the job. The potential for a mid-serve drop is huge, although I did have bragging rights at home for always getting the drippiest of tomatoes safely to home plate.