She wore a brown apron with yellow rickrack over a flowered summer house dress- ready to go to work Labor Day weekend- canning tomatoes, putting up colorful soup mix and I don’t know what all. What I do recall is being given the job of sitting in a chair by a small table where the canning jars were cooling- we’d tightened the lids, my job was to sit and listen to the jars until the telltale ping of the lids signaled the canning was successful, the lids had sealed! There were just a few duds that had to go back into the canner for another round. About half of the work had been done ahead of the actual tomato canning….Several bushels of Chandler Mountain Tomatoes had been bought at the Farmer’s Market, skinned outside the night before- the portable television had been dragged outside trailing a 100 foot extension cord and set up under the Mimosa Tree. Someone always took the job of hitting the Mimosa with a broom to quiet down the katydids so we could watch Huntley Brinkley, I Love Lucy and the Ed Sullivan shows, especially on nights it was too hot to sit inside. I have to note that ‘It’s too hot’ was a frequent refrain in those days before central air conditioning basically ruined most of the natural social life of neighborhoods. Everywhere, in summertime- these things were conversation starters…
- ‘It’s too hot to cook’
- ‘It’s too hot to think!’
- ‘It’s so hot, I couldn’t drag myself to the mailbox until after sundown.’
- ‘Don’t be ripping and running- it’s too hot.’
- ‘Stop dawdling, it’s too hot.’
- And my personal favorite, heard from sleeping porches screened or open- an assortment of castoff half beds lined up with a hodge podge of threadbare sheets and pillowcases…always moans and murmurs of ‘I can’t sleep! It’s too hot!’
Anyway, the humidity and heat is still suffocating and it’s almost too hot to cook when summertime sizzles in August on into early September… Still. Let us have an unexpected thunderstorm when the clouds have hung thick for days – our hearts will turn to our beloved homegrown tomatoes and a bowl of soup. Yes, even when it’s burning hot, we can’t resist eating a bowl of soup made from the tag ends of the garden’s gifts with saltine crackers, soft bread or even a pone of cornbread. I know I do. A bowl of garden fresh soup is especially good on a rainy day! Here’s how I make my favorite tomato soup with a summertime twist!
Camellia’s Summer Tomato Soup
- You will need 8- 10 medium summer tomatoes- please use the freshest possible! Core and quarter tomatoes for the soup. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, fry 3-4 slices of Bacon in the bottom of a large deep pot – remove bacon and drain. Reserve drippings in the pot.
- Slice one sweet yellow onion. Saute on medium high heat in reserved bacon drippings until opaque-
- Add 1 Tablespoon of chopped garlic being careful not to scorch.
- Add quartered tomatoes to the onions and garlic.
- Season the tomatoes, onions, garlic with 1 Tablespoon of dried Basil, 1 teaspoon of crushed Red Pepper Flakes and Salt and fresh Cracked Pepper to taste.
- Add 1 3/4 cup of chicken broth (homemade if possible, if not use the best broth you can find)
- Bring broth and tomatoes to a good simmer.
- Add a glug of white wine (a Tablespoon or two) and the same amount of Half and Half to enrich the soup. (Tip- if you don’t have any half and half- a good substitute and one I use to enrich and thicken some sauces and even salad dressings! Add 2-3 Tablespoons of that ‘powdered’ Parmesan Cheese- in fact, this is about the only reason to ever buy it!)
- Heat Summer Tomato Soup on medium low heat to a gentle bubble covered for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. *If you don’t like the tomato skins, feel free to remove them! The heat causes the skins to slip right off!
- *I like the soup to be on the rustic side but I have been known to take a potato masher and sort of half heartedly smash the tomatoes- I also have put this soup through a strainer for a more elegant presentation- but this step isn’t necessary.
- Ladle soup into generous soup bowls. Crumble Bacon on top of the soup.
- Makes 3 generous servings. Feel free to double the recipe! Serve with oyster crackers, saltine crackers or even garlic bread sticks!
Of course the soup is good on it’s own, but it’s the Toppings that make the soup really special! Here are my favorites- Of course Bacon, Bacon, Bacon! But a good Diced Ham is also good. I shred some Mozzarella, Sharp Cheddar cheese, Parmesan, Asiago, Fontina or Swiss- even a mix of your favorite cheeses is wonderful, topped with a sprinkle of extra red pepper flakes! And finally, this topper completely makes it a Summer Tomato Soup- finely sliced Cucumbers and Sweet Onions (do this on the slicer side of a box grater) put in a container and gently douse with wine vinegar- toss to coat, then chill.
This cucumber mixture is also good on a mixed green salad as well, so make lots! For Summer Tomato Soup, the chilled cucumbers cool the soup down and just make it taste… well, summery! Southerners do eat warm soups, gumbos, low country boils and seafood stews in summer – the theory is: Warm up your insides and you’ll feel cooler on the outside! Summer Tomato Soup isn’t a heavy soup, it’s a light and quick meal when it’s just too hot to cook! Now, I have to tell you, Summer Tomato Soup is great all year round- I’ve made it by substituting two 14.5 oz. cans of tomatoes and upped the seasonings a bit- I do change up the toppings, always using the bacon and cheese- maybe adding a dollop of sour cream and chopped green onions; almost always if I’m making it any other time of year…it must have cornbread! Now, I don’t have a flowered house dress or a brown apron with yellow rickrack like our sweet neighbor and- I tend to rely on the freezer to put up tomatoes. I certainly have never become expert at home canning, but oh! Those summer childhood memories, I’ll always have those! Hurry before the fresh summer tomatoes are gone! Make a pot of Summer Tomato Soup…and remember what I’ve told you before…‘The closer you live to a Tomato Vine, the better your life will be!’
Love y’all, Camellia
*photographs are obviously mine.