During the holiday season, I’m always grateful to receive homemade gifts. The hot cocoa mix recipe listed below is a perfect family activity and makes a tasty gift for friends and neighbors. Of course, it’s also perfect for placing in your own cupboard and enjoying during Missoula’s winter!
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ cup powdered milk
½ tablespoon cornstarch
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Combine ¼ cup of the powdered milk with the cornstarch and cocoa powder in a small bowl. Pour into a pint jar or into two half pint jars. Pour sugar into the jar (or jars if making two). Combine the remaining ¼ cup of powdered milk and the cinnamon. Pour into the jar or jars. Add ½ cup of chocolate chips to the top of two jars or the entire cup if using one pint jar.
That’s all! This recipe doubles and triples very easily and is perfect for children to make as gifts.
To Serve: Pour contents of jar into a bowl and mix. When evenly blended, add back into jar. For a single serving, place 4 Tablespoons cocoa mix and 1 cup milk or water in a small pan. Stovetop: Heat milk and mix on medium until the chocolate chips melt, stirring occasionally. Whisk for 30 seconds or until smooth, pour into a cup and serve with whipped cream or marshmallows.
Mix and milk can be heated in a microwave. Place cup on a plate in case of the milk/water boils over. Heat for a minute and stir. Heat for another minute or two if needed, whisk and serve.
Eating freshly baked bread is one of life’s joys. When my daughters moved away, my recipe for Pumpkin Rolls was one of the few they requested from me. The recipe below makes delicious dinner rolls and is a great addition to your Thanksgiving table. It’s also a wonderful way to get non-squash/pumpkin lovers to eat the nutritious vegetable.
1 scant tablespoon yeast (or 1 package yeast)
1/4 cup warm water
2/3 cup milk (whole, 2%, skim, or soy)
1 cup cooked, mashed pumpkin or winter squash (If using a small commercial can of pumpkin, buy plain pumpkin not pumpkin pie filling. Use the entire can even though it’ll be a little more than a cup).
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter or margarine (butter tastes better!)
2 cups whole wheat flout
2-3 cups unbleached white flour
Oven temperature: 400 degrees
Makes 12 dinner rolls, 1 large loaf, or 2 small loaves
Mix yeast, warm water, and 1 tablespoon of the brown sugar in a large bowl. Set aside for 10-20 minutes so the yeast can “proof.” The yeast mixture will look like a foamy, tan mass when it’s ready.
While the yeast is “proofing,” place the milk and butter in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat until the butter has melted (or microwave). Once the butter has melted, cool slightly (you should be able to touch the milk and butter mixture with a finger and it should be warm, but not hot) and add to the yeast. Add the cooked pumpkin or squash, the brown sugar, and salt to the yeast and milk, then stir until blended.
Add the 2 cups whole wheat flour, and stir. The mixture should be getting thick. Now add the unbleached, white flour one cup at a time – the dough should get so thick you’ll eventually need to give up the spoon and will have to knead, by hand, the rest of the flour in. Depending on the flour, you might not use it all or you may need a few more tablespoons to get firm dough.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, adding additional flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands. As you knead, you’ll feel the dough taking on an “elastic” quality – this is the gluten strands developing. I like to knead yeast breads in the bowl I’ve mixed them in – it contains the flour mess and I don’t have to clean up the countertop or table afterwards.
Once kneaded, round the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl that is at least twice as big as the dough. Cover the bowl with a tea towel or plastic wrap and place in a warm place to rise. After an hour, punch the dough down, re-round into a ball, and let rise again for 40 minutes or so. Once it’s grown to about double in size again, push down, knead gently for a minute or so, and then set aside for five minutes so the dough can “rest.” Letting the dough rest allows the gluten to relax and makes shaping rolls or loaves easier.
At this stage, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Butter or oil your baking pans. I suggest a 9×11 cake pan for rolls, one large loaf pan, or two small loaf pans. This bread also makes a lovely, free-form round loaf that can be cooked on a cookie sheet.
The bread dough is now ready to shape into a dozen rolls, 1 large loaf, or 2 small loaves. After shaping the dough and placing it in a pan, cover and let rise 30 – 40 minutes. The shaped dough should be about doubled in size; if your kitchen is warm, it may rise faster than the 30 minutes. When finished rising, place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. You can check for “doneness” by tapping on the top of the bread – if it gives off a “hollow” sound, it’s ready.
Take the rolls or loaves out of the pans and cool on a rack; let them cool before cutting. It’s very tempting to eat the bread as soon as it comes out of the oven but, if the bread’s still hot, it won’t slice well.
Note: This recipe doubles or triples easily. Also, once baked, the rolls freeze well for later use.
This week we’re featuring special artwork from Northwest artist, Phoebe Wahl. Phoebe is an artist whose work focuses on themes of comfort, nostalgia and intimacy with nature and one another. She grew up unschooled in Washington state, and credits her ‘free range’ childhood in the Northwest for much of her inspiration and work ethics. Phoebe graduated from Rhode Island School of Design in 2013 with a BFA in Illustration, and currently lives in Bellingham, Washington. Her first children’s book Sonya’s Chickens (Tundra) was the recipient of the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award for New Illustrator, as well as a Kirkus star, and was listed by School Library Journal, Kirkus and HuffPost Books as being one of the Best Children’s Books of 2015. Phoebe is represented by Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary.
While sitting here in an effort to write our closing blog for the season, it is this quote that sticks:
“how lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard,”
…perfectly articulated by the original and ever so wise, Winnie the Pooh. We’ve now said goodbye to our shared gardens; they’ve been tended to, cared for, and put to sleep for the cold winter to come.
How lucky are we that we have something to miss and reminiscence through the snow. We say goodbye to our gardens, to these places that we tend, and to the neighbors we tend with, with the luxury in knowing that we will be seeing it all again come spring.
In the meantime, we hope you continue to enjoy your garden goods through the winter.
**So here is a winter recipe and a few last quotes to last you the winter through:
Half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination. ~Mrs. C.W. Earle, Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden, 1897
One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides. ~W.E. Johns, The Passing Show
To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. ~Audrey Hepburn
Community Gardens Minestrone Soup
Last week we celebrated the hard work and devotion that our volunteer garden Leadership Committees put forth with a dinner party. Here is a recipe from the event: Community Gardens Minestrone Soup to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
This is a go-to for me; it doesn’t take long, and usually doesn’t require a trip to the grocery store. You can be creative with what ingredients you have on hand.
Veggies – This is more of a “kitchen sink” soup, so use what you like or what you got! I’ve found that anything from Brussels sprouts to kale to spinach to beets to peppers all tastes good and blends well. If you are worried about cooking times check out the Kitchn’s guide to making soup with almost any vegetable.
That said, pretty mandatory veggies for base –
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
Three cups diced tomatoes, canned or fresh (no need to de-seed fresh tomatoes)
2 large carrots, chopped
2 large or 3 medium potatoes, chopped
2-3 cans of beans, whichever you’d prefer (I generally use black, great northern, or whatever is in my pantry)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 32 oz. container of vegetable broth + water to dilute
1 – 3 tablespoons of vinegar – I prefer red wine vinegar, but rice vinegar works well too
A splash of red cooking wine
I spice to taste; start with a dash or two, add more as you go
A hint of cayenne
FRESH curly parsley – a large handful, chopped. You can be generous with this; I usually use the entirety of one produce bunch.
1 bag of whichever noodle you like, I usually use macaroni, shell, or whatever is in my pantry so long as its bite-size, i.e., not spaghetti, angel hair, etc. Gluten free are fine too.
Cook pasta in separate pot. Once pasta is cooked, drain and run under cold water until it is no longer steaming and set aside.
On medium-high heat sauté onions in olive oil until slightly tender in large stockpot. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute or until fragrant. Once sautéed, add carrots, potatoes and any other starchy or hardy veggie that needs time to cook. Once all veggies are tender, turn heat to medium and add tomatoes and beans and stir. Add all dried spices plus salt and pepper and bring mixture to a soft boil while stirring. Add liquid broth ingredients on medium heat; bring mixture to a soft boil once again. This is your time to add spices and liquids to your taste. If it’s bland, add a pinch of salt, more herbs you desire, and a teaspoon or two of vinegar and wine. If it’s too salty or strong, dilute with a cup of water. Repeat this process as necessary. *The beauty of this soup is that it is very forgiving. Once you’ve seasoned to taste, bring soup to a low simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in pasta and parsley five minutes before serving.
A dollop of plain yogurt with a hint of fresh parsley sprinkled on top
This week The Real Dirt is featuring a guest blog from Patrick, Community Gardens Operations Coordinator. Patrick grew up in Wisconsin, and from day one wanted to be outside whenever possible. While earning his degree from the University of Montana, Patrick enrolled in the PEAS Farm class, and couldn’t give it up – staying for two semesters and a summer session. Through the PEAS Farm and his Environmental Studies Program classes, he’s decided he wants to keep working on local food efforts now that he has earned his degree. When he’s not digging in the dirt, he is hiking, biking or fishing with his dog, Lola.
Fall can mean a sudden change of pace for those of us who spend time working in the dirt. Our lives as well as those in our gardens undergo some major changes as we transition from the warmth of summer into Missoula’s cool and dark winter. For many of us, this is a bittersweet time. We will miss our time in the garden, fresh picked meals, and chatting with fellow gardeners. But winter also offers a chance to reflect on the past season, plan for the next, and hunker down with a warm winter dish.
An oddball in our fall routine of closing our gardens down, putting our storage foods up, and settling into a new schedule is garlic. This time of year, when all of our crops are reaching the end of their lives, or have already passed, another round of garlic is getting ready to grow. We plant our garlic in the fall to overwinter so that it can begin to grow as soon as weather permits in the following spring. Garlic can also be planted in the early spring as soon as the ground is workable. However, bulb production seems to be greater when fall planted. Also, fall planting is simply a much welcomed change of pace from our usual fall routines.
When planting garlic we do not plant seeds, we plant individual cloves. The first step then is to harvest and cure your previous garlic crop. Read Emy’s blog post about harvesting and curing for more details.
Since we produce our next garlic crop asexually through cloning, we want to make sure to choose the right cloves to plant for next year. We want to choose cloves that exhibit traits that we like, and would like to continue to see in our crop. So we don’t plant small cloves or cloves from heads that have rotten, because we don’t want small or rotting heads next season. After the garlic has been cured, choose the cream of the crop; good looking cloves with desirable traits.
If you did not grow garlic this year, don’t worry! Simply use garlic that you normally buy from the farmers market or grocery store. (It is best to save cloves from a local garlic source, as you can be sure that they will grow well in Missoula!)
Once you have your chosen cloves, keep them in a dark, dry space until late fall. I normally plant garlic in late October when the weather is getting cold yet the ground is still workable. Garlic can be planted pretty close together; I usually plant cloves about 5-6 inches apart. Make sure that the cloves are planted root end down, and cover with soil.
Your next round of garlic is now underway for next season! Cover your garlic beds with a significant amount of straw. The straw will help keep weeds down and also balance out temperature fluxes in the soil surface.
Next spring when things start to warm up, start pulling back/removing a portion of the mulch. Leave some mulch in place as weed suppression (garlic has a small leaf area and is a poor competitor against weeds), but do be aware as too much mulch can cause rotting at the base.
This week, our Orchard Gardens Farm apprentice, Nicolas Matallana (or Nico for short), has recorded a bit about his experience this summer. We are grateful to the Missoula Federal Credit Union for funding his position, enabling him to learn about farming and nonprofit operations. It also helps us grow Orchard Gardens as place where those of any income can eat fresh—whether that means bringing a prescription, a few bags to fill, or a few seeds and a caring hand. Nico originally came to Missoula to explore the mountains and learn about the ecology while pursuing a degree in Ecological Restoration, but little did he know that local food would strike his passion. Nico has been gardening and volunteering on farms since his first semester in Missoula.
I’m going to tell you about a youngster that I got to know this summer. He lived in the Homeword housing complex, next to the Orchard Gardens Community Farm. Let’s call him Carrot.
As a five year old, he was too old for the resident play structure, but still too young for Kindergarten, so he would spend his days looking for something, anything, to let him let out his creative energy. From the field, I would often see him speed by on his bike, yelling unintelligibly, as he lapped and lapped the housing complex. It reminded me of the endless summer days of my childhood, biking or skateboarding back and forth on the curb, trying to spend an unlimited amount of energy.
He wasn’t usually allowed to come into the farm, so he would often swoop on us while we hauled our harvest across the parking lot to the barn.
“What are you doing?”
“We’re getting ready for the CSA.” One of us would respond.
“Because we have to get these vegetables ready” One of us would say patiently
And so on, he would hang around and ask questions and linger and pick up things he shouldn’t and we’d sometimes have to kick him out. But he would always be back, laughing and goofing off the next day.
My co-worker, Michelle, was the true wizard at keeping him busy. She’d see him coming towards us and immediately find something to entertain and occupy him.
“Do you want some kale?” She’d ask.
“How about some cucumber?”
And off he’d go munching on his cucumber to chase around the other neighborhood kids. He ate most things that came out of the field, which impressed me for his age – I certainly didn’t eat so many vegetables when I was that young. When good things were being offered, like apricots or cherries, the entire neighborhood kiddo-herd would come, flocking around us impatiently.
“What do you say first?” Michelle would remind them all.
The chorus would respond, “PLEASE!”
We knew this was a special place for Carrot. While the other kids came and went, Carrot came by consistently. When Dave was out running errands, he would ask where he was every couple minutes. If we were busy in the field, he would always ask us when CSA was, which he knew was when he could get our attention. At first, entertaining him felt like another job, but over the summer I grew to appreciate his persistence.
I wish I had grown up with a farm next door, with a Dave and Michelle to put a cucumber in my hand when I needed something to do. My neighborhood friends and I would get so bored that we would eventually end up in trouble, and over the years it just got worse. Carrot sometimes got in trouble, but handing him a vegetable would usually do the trick.
Next year he will be in Kindergarten. I’m sure he’ll come around every summer, looking for a snack or a human to talk with. And it will be the farm employees, the vegetables, and the community gardeners that will welcome him. I’m glad the farm can keep him out of trouble. Maybe he’ll even be a farm apprentice one day.
One of the joys of fall cooking is the abundance of apples. Local apples abound in Missoula for the next month or two: Macintosh, Transparents, Ruby Reds, Sweet Sixteens, Pink Ladys, and Honey Crisp to name a few. Apples, of course, are well suited for sauce, cider, and pie. One of my favorite apple dishes is the tart recipe below. Simple and tasty, the tart makes a wonderful finish to any autumn dinner or the perfect breakfast treat.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Ingredients for crust:
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons flour
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup butter
1 egg, beaten
Ingredients for apple filling:
2 lbs (4-5 larges) apples – any variety will do and a mix of varieties works well
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons sugar
½ cup raisins, dried cherries, or dried cranberries
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 tablespoons butter, chilled and diced
Mix the flour, salt, and sugar in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter. Once the flour and butter resembles fine crumbs, add the beaten egg. Mix only until the dough begins to stick together. If the dough is too dry, add drops of water until it holds together. Place in a sheet of wax paper, press together lightly, and chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Once the dough has chilled, remove from the wax paper and use your hands to press into a 9-inch tart or pie pan.
While the tart crust dough is chilling, make the apple filling. Quarter and core the apples. You may leave the peel on the apples. Coarsely grate the apples then mix with the cinnamon, sugar, and dried fruit.
Place in the tart shell and smooth out.
Spoon the corn syrup over the filling, and then dot the filling with the diced butter.
Bake for 35 – 40 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes and eat warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Serves 6 – 8.
Don’t forget! The annual Garden City Harvest Fire Sale is quickly approaching – next Wednesday and Thursday, 10/19 & 10/20, from 2:00 to 6:30 PM, at the River Road Farm (1657 River Rd). What is the Fire Sale you ask? Sounds spicy… It’s your chance to stock up on storage quantities of cured onions, squash, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, and much more. It’s set up market style, so you can select your favorite summer tastes to last you the winter through. With pretty amazing prices, I might add.
Which brings us to another point: storing said veggies. As post-modern neo-pioneers, most of us in the community garden world don’t have the nostalgic root cellar to store our goods. Well worry not, one can wax poetic for winter veggie storage in a multitude, and quite innovative, of ways. Apartment and alley-house dwellers, this is your time to shine; let the creativity commence like it once did in the time pre-shipping containers and electric air-conditioning.
Things to consider –
Curing – Most storage crops need to be cured to enhance their storage potential. “During the curing process, potatoes and sweet potatoes heal over small wounds to the skin, garlic and onions form a dry seal over the openings at their necks, and dry beans and grain corn let go of excess moisture that could otherwise cause them to rot.”  Harvesting, curing and storage requirements vary with each crop. Luckily, if you’re buying your veduras de fuego, ie, Fire Sale veggies, then the crops have already been cured and are ready for storage.
First thing’s first – you need a cool (but not freezing) location for storing your bounty over the winter. This has to do with slowing the release rate of xylene gases which accelerates ripening and thus, spoiling; 34F and 50F (1 to 10C) is best.
Ventilation – Although you’re purposely slowing the release rate of xylene gases, your veggies will naturally still emit them. Keep your goods in a ventilated area to allow wafting of the gases – somewhere with natural openings and airflow. Closets which are regularly opened and mudrooms are good examples.
Humidity – Another thing to consider when choosing a place to store your winter goods is relative humidity. “Providing moisture lets crisp root vegetables sense they are still in the ground. Some staple storage crops, such as garlic, onions and shallots, need dry conditions to support prolonged dormancy…” so be aware as to which vegetables you are grouping together and where you’re putting them. Barbara Pleasant’s article (below) has a thorough chart on which veggies need what for optimum storage.
Lastly, be creative (like this trash can root cellar idea)! Don’t think that because you live in a small space, don’t have a garage, basement, or extra freezer, you can’t store fruits and vegetables through the winter. Read garden writer Barbara Pleasant’s article (with such lovely illustrations) for brilliant vegetable storage ideas.
 Pleasant, Barbara. “Food Storage: 20 Crops That Keep and How to Store Them.” Mother Earth News. Last modified September 2012. Accessed October 10, 2016. http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/garden-planning/food-storage-zm0z12aszcom.
 Bourque, Danny. “Root Cellars and Me (Tips for Cold Storage).” Simple Bites. Last modified October 12, 2012. Accessed October 10, 2016. http://www.simplebites.net/root-cellars-and-me-tips-for-cold-storage/.
This week Kaya Juda Nelson writes about her work as an apprentice at Garden City Harvest’s Youth Farm, run in partnership with Youth Homes. After spending her freshman year at Boston University, a semester of her sophomore year in South America, and a semester of her senior year campaigning with a climate action organization in Denver, Kaya graduated from the University of Montana with high honors in Environmental Studies and a minor in Climate Change Studies. For the past year and a half, Kaya has also been part of a bluegrass band, Local Yokel, in which she plays the fiddle, banjo, writes, and sings. Here’s Kaya:
We choose to farm because it connects us with our environment and offers a relationship to the cycles of the seasons. Farming feels great as we work our bodies and work the earth under the sun, in the rain, feeling the wind against our faces. But even more than the connection to place and weather, this season working at the Youth Farm has affirmed my favorite relationship brought about by farming: the relationship with food.
After a morning of weeding and thinning the carrots or harvesting salad mix (a sometimes tedious and time-consuming task), a trio of young adults from various Missoula youth homes and an adult staff member (often myself) break to make the lunch for our 10-20 person crew.
We learn how to properly cook rice and lentils, what you can do with the abundance of radishes, how delicious raw kohlrabi can be, and the fact that cucumbers should never, ever, ever, under any circumstance be cooked. The first days we cook lunch I hear:
“I hate veggies”
“there’s no meat?!?”
“are we seriously eating this for lunch?”
By the end of the first meal, we have converted most of the youth into veggie lovers. I remember getting excited about having agency in the food I ate when I was in high school. Now, watching that agency develop in these adolescent faces as we make lunches each day, I relive it myself. Carrots and onions are chopped with confidence and chard is discovered to shrink when you cook it and sometimes the stir fries are too salty and sometimes the beets are horribly crunchy but the food education is palpable.
As you all may have read in Genevieve’s post, Zayne, one of our youth employees tells the story of discovering kale at a mobile market stand while living at the Council Groves apartments. He proudly declares himself as the kale kid, and always asks for an extra bunch to take back to the Tom Roy youth home where he lives, located adjacent to the farm. When his mother or grandmother is in town for a visit, he begs to take them a bouquet of the hearty leafy green. I see part of this as a simple fact that kale is delicious and has become nutritionally notorious both in the local and the mainstream food world, but you can also see Zayne’s pride in his cultivation of his favorite crop and his desire to share a tangible fruit of his labor.
The CSA is the other venue in which the Youth Farm employees have a chance to shine and pass along their thoughts and opinions on produce to the roughly 60 CSA members that come to collect their share each week. For a few weeks in late June, we offered pigweed in our CSA share. Yes, this is a weed that we harvest for our customers. We constantly battle pigweed as it grows rampant through the farm. When we learned from a visting Greek that it is delicious cooked in olive oil and lemon, we made lemons out of lemonade and added it to our CSA offerings.
As Zayne greeted the CSA customers that week with a giant box of pigweed, he spun the story of the Greek farmer into a personal tale of meeting this man and together sharing the delights of pigweed. This pitch was mostly fabricated, but Zayne encouraged our CSA customers to try this leafy weed with an unappetizing name in such a spirited and hilarious way, it didn’t matter whether it was factual. It was about a connection with this crop and with the CSA members.
We work with groups of young adults that have come from wide-ranging and diverse backgrounds, but who are all living in the Missoula Youth Homes. These teenagers are navigating the difficulties of adolescence, while living in homes that are not their own, and while I wish I could say that the farm provides a fairy tale solution, but I can’t. But when the rusty steel triangle that serves as a lunch bell is rung and the giant cast-iron pan of bok-choy is brought to the table, it is evident that change and connection are happening in ways I’m not always aware of, and the effort, joy, and learning put into the meals we share out here in the sun and rain and wind provides a sense of ownership and accomplishment for the employees of the Youth Farm.
Zayne and the Greek Farmer’s Pigweed
1/2 lb fresh pigweed
Juice of one lemon
2 T olive oil salt to taste
Heat olive oil in a pan and add pigweed (whole, not chopped). Add lemon juice and stir until all the pigweed is covered with oil and lemon juice. Cover the pigweed until it has wilted slightly, then uncover and cook off any liquid that has accumulated. Add salt to taste. Enjoy!
Clare Vergobbi is one of our apprentices this season, working at River Road Neighborhood Farm for the summer. She is an essential part of what we do there, each day, and in turn, we are teaching her many skills for her future. Simultaneously, she is studying at the University of Montana. Thanks to Missoula Federal Credit Union for making two of our apprenticeships possible. Here’s Clare on tomato pie:
There’s nothing quite like hand feeding a chicken, pulling up a handful of carrots you seeded, weeded, and hand-watered for two months, or watching the sun set over mountains while the farm is full of families picking up their vegetables for the week.
These are the simple lessons good soil, clean water, hard work, and fresh food can teach. I’ve spent the last two summers as an apprentice at River Road Neighborhood Farm, one of Garden City Harvest’s four farms, where I’ve been learning by doing. River Road grows food for over 80 households who are members of the farm, and helps stock the kitchen at the Poverello with food each week of the season.
That brings me to tomato season. At long last, it arrived—albeit about a month later than usual and much lighter than the motherlode that blessed gardens and farms around Missoula last year.
That brings me to tomato season. At long last, it’s here—albeit a month later than usual and much lighter than the motherlode that blessed gardens and farms around Missoula last year. I spent most of the winter and spring eating the tomato soup, sauce, salsa, and frozen fruits I preserved last fall, and most of the summer waiting for tomatoes to come back into season. Desperate for tomatoes, I started making a list of everything I wanted to make out of them this year at the first hint of red on the vines at the beginning of August.
I work as an apprentice at River Road Neighborhood Farm. Working alongside Greg Price and
Unfortunately, it’s hard to outsmart the whims of nature and August and September have been colder and rainier than anyone would have liked—less than ideal weather for tomatoes. Harvests of tomatoes, peppers, and other hot weather crops have been exercises in frustration at River Road for the past few months. However, harvests are finally topping out above 100 pounds and I have faith that we’ll all end up with enough tomatoes to have more than enough for preservation. The fleeting inconsistencies of this season reminded me that the best tomatoes are those enjoyed fresh off the vine, standing in the field with juice running down my fingers or starring as a primary flavor in a light dish.
One of the dishes on my tomato wish list this year is tomato pie, a recipe I came across in a few southern cooking websites last winter. The version I made was also heavily inspired by an onion pie that my lovely coworker Samantha brought to work one day. Tomato pie is an amazing way to showcase the deep flavors and beautiful colors of heirloom tomatoes—my favorites for this dish were Cherokee Purples and Golden Kings, but any large heirloom would be a good choice. I opted for a slightly healthier version (minus the sour cream and mayonnaise) than the original recipes I came across; a combination of the onion pie recipe and a fantastic recipe for heirloom tomato pie I found on Dig This Chick, a local Missoula blog.
With a sunny week ahead of us, there’s still a chance to take advantage of the fresh tomatoes ripening in your gardens and on our farms. Grab a bunch of romas for your soups and sauces and a few lumpy, beautiful heirlooms for this pie.
Heirloom Tomato Pie
1 cup breadcrumbs
3-4 sliced heirloom tomatoes
4 cups shredded cheese—I liked parmesan, white cheddar, and gouda
1 cup milk or plain yogurt
1 small onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves of garlic, diced or sliced
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 tablespoon chopped chives
¼ cup diced fresh basil (or 1 tablespoon dried basil)
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
For the crust, take a cup or so of breadcrumbs and mix with 3 tablespoons of melted butter, then press mixture firmly around the pie pan.
Caramelize onions and garlic.
Mix milk/yogurt, egg, cheese, garlic, onions, and herbs. Pour mixture into pie crust. Layer tomato slices to fill up remainder of pie pan, sprinkling with salt and pepper to taste as you go.
Bake for about an hour, or until the cheesy stuff is nice and bubbly and the tomatoes are juicy and squishy, but not dehydrated or burned.
When it comes out of the oven, it will still be pretty watery. Let it sit for an hour at room temperature so it can set up, but it’ll probably taste just as good if you can’t wait that long.
Throw some extra fresh basil on top before eating to make it extra tasty.
Enjoy the remainder of glorious tomato season. Who knows? If the frost holds off maybe we’ll have a fire sale after all.