I’ve told you all a few times over the years I have been writing this column about the vegetable gardening adventures my family had when I was growing up. Though we children knew a garden meant hard work, we didn’t realize how blessed we were to have fresh vegetables to enjoy during the summer and early fall; and we froze and canned vegetables to last a good many months into the winter. As we grew older and ate more factory-processed vegetables, the difference in taste became very clear.

Among my vivid recollections are the efforts my Granddaddy Jay and my dad put into growing prize-winning tomatoes. Year after year, they selected the variety they would plant – mostly "Big Boys." Then they would water them, nurture them, stake them and guarded them from being snacked on by garden pests. Producing big, fat, juicy, flavorful tomatoes was something they took pride in.

Well, those memories came flooding back this past week when one of my kind friends brought me a bag of fresh, beautiful tomatoes. She explained to me that I would have to set them out to ripen. I followed her instructions and watched hungrily over the course of several days as they ripened. Oh, what a delicious treat! I made a few old-fashioned tomato sandwiches with the biggest, juiciest tomatoes. I smeared thin layers of "lite" mayonnaise on two slices of bread, put a layer of tomato slices and sprinkled the tomatoes with salt and black pepper. I also made a big pot of stewed tomatoes. On a whim, I varied my recipe (see the new recipe below) somewhat and the results were quite delicious.

I’m sure many of you have the same fond memories of window sills lined with ripening tomatoes or of walking out to your gardens just before noon to harvest tomatoes to make sandwiches for lunch and again in the afternoon so you could slice up a few for supper or "stew" some to put on top of rice or grits. As the old saying goes, "It doesn’t get any better than that!"

Truly tasty tomato pie

10-inch pie shell, partially baked

4 large eggs, beaten

1-1/2 cup Half & Half

3 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

2 cups grated mild Cheddar cheese

2 large ripe tomatoes, cut into small chunks

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Beat the eggs and Half & Half well. Beat in the flour, paprika, Cayenne pepper, salt and mustard. Stir in the cheese. Stir in the tomato chunks. Pour this mixture into the lightly baked pie shell. Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes or just until the center of the pie is set. This recipe makes eight slices.

Slowly simmered stewed tomatoes

6 or 8 small to medium ripe tomatoes, peeled

1/4 cup yellow onion, chopped (optional)

2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons sugar

Dash of pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

In a large saucepan, combine tomatoes, chopped onion, salt, sugar, pepper and olive oil. Bring to a boil and let boil about five minutes. Reduce to simmer and stir in bread crumbs. Simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot on top of rice or grits.

Contact writer at: tgmhatchell@yahoo.com.

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