About this time last year, I visited North Carolina for the first time. I didn’t go to the coast where I’ve heard things are touristy and trinkety. I went to the mountains, where people are just simple and scrappy.
During my visit with friends, I attended a mountain wedding, rode tubes down the river, and spent some lazy afternoons in the hammock in the back yard. We also visited the Canton Mountain ‘Mater Fest.
The day was filled with pop-up rain showers, sultry and steamy. We almost didn’t go. But, with a break in the sky just after noon, we loaded up the cars and drove the 45 minutes through the mountains.
The ‘Mater Fest had all of the normal street fair fare — overpriced games and rides, booths stuffed with homemade crafts and chotchke’s from China, a blue grass band playing on the makeshift stage, and a whole line of trailers and tents selling food. There was pizza, ice cream, gyros, and lemon shake ups — just like any ole fair.
But then I saw the namesake Mater Fest food for sale in the Lions Club tent (or maybe it was the Kiwanis): ‘Mater Pie. Once I had a bite, I had a whole new sense of what the Mater Fest was all about. The pie was made with the ripest tomatoes possible — the seconds or overstocks of all the mountain tomato farms that dotted the area. The pie was also uniquely southern, a flaky pie crust loaded with lots of cheese and mayonnaise. And yet the fresh basil provided a sense of urbanity: city folk visited this little mountain town, and the pie was there to prove it.
I loved the Mater Pie because it was from somewhere, and that became more and more obvious with every bite.
Later that afternoon I was visiting with my Aunt Lucy who lives in the area, and she graciously offered me the recipe. I’ve made it half a dozen times in the year since, including Wednesday night for dinner at Ann’s house. I’ve made it just like the recipe says most of the time, though I substitute whatever cheese I happen to have and usually make a fresh pie crust instead of frozen.
Wednesday evening, however, I changed out the traditional pie crust for a cornbread one, and I think I like it even better (or at least as much). It changes the Mater pie though, makes it a little more Indiana than North Carolina, but it’s still from somewhere.
Tomato (‘Mater) Pie
from Canton (NC) Mountain ‘Mater Fest and from Charity’s Indiana kitchen
1 frozen pie crust
2 small onions, sliced (I use larger onions and diced)
2 large tomatoes, ripe (I use as much tomato as I need to fill the pie pan almost full; I also peeled and diced mine-the recipe doesn’t specify exactly how to chop it)
2 tbsp basil (after my mom used 2 tbsp of dried basil, we determined this amount must surely reference fresh. If you want to used dried, go with 1 1/2 tsp)
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded monterey jack cheese (I actually have been using 2 cups of raw milk cheddar lately instead of two different types of cheese)
3/4 cup mayonnaise
Bake pie crust as directed. Saute onions and tomatoes and drain on paper towel (I just lift them out of the pain with a slotted spoon). Put layer of tomatoes and onions in crust, sprinkle some of the basil over them. Then another layer of tomatoes and onions, then another layer of basil until you reach the top of the crust. Mix well mayonnaise and cheese and rest of basil and spread on top. Bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes. (I end up letting it stand for a few minutes out of the oven before serving so that it holds together better when you cut it.)
If you would rather try the cornbread crust, here’s a recipe from cooks.com that I modified. Follow this recipe, including baking it, and then add the tomatoes, etc. as above.
Cornmeal Pie Crust
(the instructions for this recipe were a little sketchy, so I had to use my imagination)
1/2 c cornmeal
1/2 c flour
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter
1/2 c milk
1 tbsp parsley (I omitted this)
Combine all dry ingredients using a pastry blender cutting in the butter until coarse crumbs. In another bowl, mix milk, parsley and egg beating with a whisk. Add wet mixture to dry ingredients stir until moist. (That’s it; that was all of the instructions. So, since the mixture was too wet to roll, I patted this into the pie pan and cooked it for about 10 minutes in a 425 degree oven. The crust slid down the sides of the pan and kind of puffed up in the bottom, but it still worked just fine.)