My mother is a Southern woman. She moved with my Dad to the Northeast, but has always remained a Southern woman. It has been my experience that people in the South know how to cook. And eat. She comes from a long line of good cooks. She grew up with her mother trading recipes with her friends and relatives, always trying to outdo one another. It occasionally got so competitive that they would leave an ingredient out, or alter the measurements in a small way so that the resulting recipe was never quite as good as the original. They were women who wore house dresses and aprons, who got dressed up, hats and gloves, matching bags and shoes, to go to town in the afternoon. Elizabeth, Inez, Snooks, Dorothy and Avanelle, women who took pride in and were known by their sour cream pound cake, fried chicken, or particularly light biscuits. They cooked with the seasons, from the gardens, according to the weather. They were locavores before there was term for it. They passed their expertise to their daughters, who taught their daughters, and so on, and so on, and now I’m telling you about a favorite. A simple dish, perfect for the hot sultry days of August, when the produce is rolling in from the gardens but it’s just too hot to cook.
My mother has no fear. She peels her tomatoes. Have you ever tried to peel a tomato with a paring knife? Not so easy. I take the “not brave way” and dunk mine in boiling water for 30 seconds, slip the skin off and pat them dry. She just peels and slices. This recipe is so simple it’s almost embarrassing to put it here. It’s one of those that changes and melds with a little time in the fridge. The tomatoes give a little juice, the vinegar softens and mellows the onions, the touch of salt brightens and the oil melds it all together into a lovely, slurpy, dunk your bread in the juice dish. So much more than just tomatoes and onions. We eat it with crusty bread, hot sweet corn on the cob, dripping butter teasing the edges of the tomatoes, and most likely a drip or two from a grilled burger with toasted buns. A summer evening’s perfect meal.
A pot full of Jersey sweet corn
Betty’s Tomato and Onions
2 large garden tomatoes
1 medium red onion
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon of sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Peel and slice the tomatoes and the onion, put in a bowl, add the remaining ingredients and mix well but gently. Try not to break the tomatoes up. Chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours, longer is better. Check seasoning before serving, you might want to add a bit more salt for your taste.
This is good the next day, but for me it starts losing its magic after that. I highly doubt that you’ll get to test that opinion, it goes pretty quickly.
My mom taught me to cook. She taught me to love it, she taught me there is nothing better than family and friends gathered around a table, eating good food, telling stories, laughing, and enjoying each other. She’s still teaching me. I have friends for dinner as often as I can, it puts my mind at rest for a bit, it makes my heart happy, and I think that we all feel loved and cherished for exactly who we are that night. Thanks, Mom.