The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Tomato Pie?

October 1st, 2019 by Ed Bruske

I’ve stood at the kitchen counter with a salt cellar trying to eat all the gorgeous tomatoes coming out of our garden. It’s a losing battle. Thankfully, someone invented tomato pie.

Because it’s slathered in mayonnaise, I’m guessing this dish is Southern. All I know is, it uses a lot of tomatoes so bring it on! Just layer tomato slices in a pie shell, spread a mayo and cheese mixture all over and bake in the oven. Well, maybe not quite so easily as that.

After making three of these pies, we’ve concluded: 1) drying the tomato slices a good long while before putting them in the pie is essential; 2) more mayo and cheese is better than less; 3) baking longer at a lower temperature cooks the tomatoes just enough without burning the crust; 4) I prefer fresh thyme to basil to season my tomato pie; and 5) there must be bacon.

A day ahead, gather 2 pounds of your best tomatoes. Cut out the stems, remove the bottoms, then cut the tomatoes into thick slices. To remove excess moisture–so your pie doesn’t turn into a soggy mess–season both sides of the tomato slices with kosher salt and drain, either by spreading them on paper towels or on pie racks set inside a sheet pan. Start this in the afternoon and set the tomatoes aside. Before you go to bed, flip the tomatoes (put down fresh paper towels if using) and allow to continue draining overnight. You will be amazed how much liquid they produce.

For your pie shell, you can certainly buy one pre-baked at the grocery but homemade is better. If you choose the latter, start this also the day ahead. You will need:

A 9-inch glass or ceramic pie plate

Pie weights

Aluminum foil

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon sugar

3 Tablespoons chilled lard or vegetable shortening

4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted butter

4-5 Tablespoons ice water

In a food processor, process flour, salt and sugar until combined. Add lard (or vegetable shortening) and process until the mixture looks like coarse sand. Cut butter into 1/4-inch pieces and scatter over the mix. Process until mix looks like pale yellow crumbs.

Empty the mix into a medium bowl and drizzle in 4 Tablespoons ice water, spreading it around as much as possible. With a spatula, fold the mix and press down until it just holds together, adding more ice water if necessary. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and flatten it into a 4-inch disc. Wrap the dough and place in the refrigerator overnight.

Next day, heat your oven to 375 degrees.

Unwrap your dough, place on a floured work surface and roll to a fairly thin, 12-inch round, large enough to overlap the edges of your pie plate by about an inch. If you’ve never done this before, you might want to watch a tutorial on Youtube because after you’ve rolled it out you will need to wrap the dough around your rolling pin and transfer it into your pie plate. When it’s centered, you can press the dough snug inside the plate, roll up the outer edge of the dough onto the rim of the plate and make a decorative fluting.

Refrigerate the dough-lined pie plate 1 hour, then place in the freezer 30 minutes. Remove from the freezer and lightly press a 12-inch piece of aluminum foil inside the pie dough and fill to a depth of about 1 inch with pie weights, either the ceramic or metal marbles made specifically for this purpose or dried beans.

Bake pie shell in the oven on a lower-middle rack for 25-30 minutes, or until the dough looks dry and is still light in color. Carefully remove the foil and weights, then continue baking another 5 or 6 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned. Remove from oven and allow to thoroughly cool.

When you are ready to fill your pie, you will need:

5 ounces bacon (5 or 6 slices) cooked and cut into bite-size pieces

Butter crackers such as Ritz, about 1/2 sleeve, crushed

Drained tomato slices

2 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (or substitute a small fistful chopped basil)

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Fresh tomato slices for garnish

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

Mix mayo, yogurt (or sour cream) and cheese in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Dust bottom of pie crust with cracker crumbs to absorb excess moisture. Cover with a layer of previously drained tomatoes. Sprinkle tomatoes with 1/3 of the bacon and 1/3 of the thyme leaves, then cover with 1/3 of the mayo mix, spreading evenly with a small spatula. Repeat with 2 more layers of tomatoes, bacon, thyme and mayo. Finish pie by dusting the top with remaining cracker  crumbs and garnishing with fresh tomato slices.

Place the pie on a sheet pan and bake at least 1 hour and up to 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 140-150 degrees as measured by an instant-read thermometer and the crust is golden brown.

Serve warm with a glass of your favorite white wine.




The Brief but Spectacular Life of Emily the Cow

December 16th, 2018 by Ed Bruske

The day before Thanksgiving the animals went out to graze but Emily, our Jersey cow, was nowhere to be seen among them. I found her lying on her side in the mud in front of the shelter in the main paddock. The vet who arrived a couple of hours later declared Emily hypothermic. With record cold temperatures bearing down, we dragged her behind the tractor into the shelter, covered her with hay and blankets, and began a three-week process of trying to nurse her back to health.

Alas, it was not to be. Emily never regained her appetite and was never upright again. Turns out, she had nursed her calves over the summer literally to the point of exhaustion. With bitter cold again approaching, yesterday we decided she had suffered enough. The local cow disposal unit carried her away.

Emily was a yearling when I bought her from a local dairy. She was in a head restraint with other young heifers inside a barn and had never been outdoors. We loaded her into the back of the pickup and set her loose to graze 12 acres of pasture. Over the ensuing five years, she gave us three calves and lots of milk that we turned into butter and cheese. She had one fetus die, and was always pretty small and skinny even for a Jersey. Yet Emily was tough and resilient even through record snow and cold spells.

Apparently what killed her was trying to nurse two calves simultaneously. One was a year old when the second was born. The older steer continued to nurse until we butchered him in October. I thought that offering Emily fresh pasture, sun and water, would be enough–nature would take care of the rest. But according to the vet, modern cows just aren’t designed to operate that way. They need supplemental feed. I felt really dumb. A bucket of grain each day would have been all Emil needed to survive two calves in fine fettle.

Bill Elsworth, the elderly farmer who sells us our non-GMO feed, was consoling. “It wasn’t dumb, Ed,” he said with his best bedside manner. “It was just inexperience.”

Of course we feel terrible that Emily had to suffer the consequences of our naiveté. We will sorely miss her. But the last calf was a female, a cross with a Red Angus bull. We named her Daisy. She is in line to become our next breeder cow. And what a great mom she is replacing.