I am new to this whole Southern food culture, but holy… let me tell you! The South has some amazing food! I had some garden tomatoes left from my garden so I decided to take them and make a Southern Tomato Pie. Tomatoes, pie crust, and cheese… Yes please! Today, we hear from Katie of Teal Tractor about her love of growing vegetables and their CSA.
When did you start farming? What brought you into farming?
A city girl turned southerner best describes my way into the Bluegrass. I can tell you that I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I got here as fast as I could! My best friend introduced me to my now husband, who is a 6th generation farmer. His family has such a strong presence within the local community and agriculture is a big part of that. I’ve always worked hard and I wanted to put my hands to good use, so I started a CSA about 3 years ago. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a relationship between our farm and our customers. Rather than simply purchasing food, our customers become members of our CSA and share the season’s bounty for over 5 months!
What chores did you have growing up?
My chores mainly consisted of helping around the house but I would get the opportunity to help my parents and grandparents outside in the garden or flower beds – this is where I think my green thumb really started to develop.
Are there any differences between your farm now and when you were a kid?
I was a few generations removed from our family ties to farming up until a few years ago.
Who farms with you and what are their roles?
My father-in-law, brother-in-law, mother-in-law and husband all farm together. I’m just lucky to have joined the party! 🙂
What has been the hardest part of farming for you?
The unpredictable nature of farming has thrown me for a loop more than a few times – when the weather is variably different from last season, not enough rain or too much, or crop failures. You can really only plan for so much while expecting the worst.
What has been the most satisfying part of farming for you?
The most satisfying part of farming is two-fold for me. I would say that harvesting is really gratifying, seeing all of the hard work come to fruition and sharing it with our community. Secondly, spending time working with my husband makes it fun and more enjoyable together.
What crops (or animals) do you grow and why?
Our farm is very diverse. We have cattle and grow row crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat, rye, tobacco and hemp. I have been pioneering our vegetable production since starting a few years ago, although it is small right now it has made strides and it keeps getting better!
What do you think was the most useful advance in farming such as machinery, genetics, chemicals, etc.?
The previous generations of our family were innovators applying new and better farming practices on our farm. Their philosophy of conserving and improving the land continues to this day. Since the first no-till crop was planted in the mid 1960’s, all of our row crops have been transitioned to no-till. Today, there is no soil plowed on our farm – including tobacco, corn, soybeans, and even our vegetable production. Working with the University of Kentucky, Soil & Water Conservation District, and other organizations throughout the Bluegrass, my father-in-law has helped pioneer the soil health management system in Kentucky. This system combines no-till farming with intensive cover cropping to increase the productivity of the soil and improve water quality. These efforts embody being a steward of the land, as opposed to just being a landowner.
What is one thing you’d like to get across to the general public about what you do?
I think it’s very important for the public to know is how hard farmers work to grow and harvest their crops. We are stewards of the land and we don’t do things to negatively affect our crops outcome; corn, cattle, etc. – it’s our livelihood. All farming is good, whether it’s conventional, organic, there is no wrong way and I invite people to talk to a local farmer at a market and ask the hard questions. There’s a lot of negative and wrong information spread online so they might be surprised with their answers but farmers love what they do!
What advice would you give to anyone interested into getting into your field?
The advice I would give to someone interested in farming is to research, educate yourself and know there’s a lot of hard work ahead. I have met a lot of great friends that have taught me more than I could have read in a book – the experiences working with them is invaluable. Great things are not built in a day and it’s true with farming as well. Seasons will show you the good, bad and ugly but a positive attitude will show you that there’s always something to be grateful for.
What is your favorite thing to do with the food crop you grow?
I love eating vegetables fresh, especially tomatoes. Their texture, taste and flavor are so satisfying – especially knowing I’ve grown them makes them so much sweeter.
Any memories you want to share about this feature ingredient?
Yes! This love affair with tomatoes started in my grandparents garden when I was young. Getting the garden ready each year was one of my favorite events – freshly worked dirt and the beautiful young plants! It was always so exciting to watch them grow right up until the first tomatoes were ripe and it’s something I still get excited about to this day!
I PROMISE this recipe isn’t as crazy involved as it looks… My lesson learned from this experience, LABEL your doughs in your freezer and don’t be like me thinking your unlabeled kuchen dough is pie dough… Then it WILL make this recipe more complicated! I like to make my own pie dough, but you can use a store bought crust for this if you’d like! One thing I do recommend to spend the time doing is letting the tomatoes release their excess liquid. Nobody likes a mushy pie.
- One pie crust recipe of your choice (store bought works too)
- 3 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
- salt and sugar
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 2/3 cup assorted white cheese (I used Gruyere and Emmentaler)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- salt and pepper to taste
- If using a fresh pie crust, blind bake the crust for 20-30 minutes at 400 degrees or until edges are lightly golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.
- Lay paper towels on top of a large baking sheet and lay the sliced tomatoes over top of the paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and sugar and let sit for at least an hour. The tomatoes will release most of their excess liquid. You can also lay in a colander to let drain.
- While your crust is baking and your tomatoes are sitting, place a medium skillet over medium high heat and melt the butter. Add the onion and let cook 3-5 minutes or until softened. Reduce heat to medium low and cook until onions are caramelized, about 30-40 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
- In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, cheeses, egg, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well to combine.
- To assemble the pie, layer the tomato slices and caramelized onions in the blind baked pie crust. Reserve a few tomato slices for the top. Be sure to season each layer with dried basil, salt, and pepper. Spoon the topping and spread out over the top. Top with reserved tomato slices.
- Bake in the middle of your oven for 30 minutes or until slightly browned on top.
- Can be served warm or cooled. Enjoy!
This post is part of my Thirty Days of Food series where I am writing about food and farming for the entire month of November, to find out more about it all or how to follow along, visit my Thirty Days of Food page to find more great recipes with farmer features!