Our German relatives came in droves every summer. They would stay three to six weeks at a stretch. What was not to like about a stay at the Kertschers’? Swimming, boating, fishing, waterskiing, sailing, running around in a bathing suit all day; there was something to do no matter what the weather. The setting on the lake, being close to New York City and Gertrude’s great cooking made our place the ideal vacation spot.
The summer menu at the lake wasn’t fancy. We usually grilled and made lots of salads. Introducing our Germans to corn on the cob was always lots of fun. They considered corn pig feed (Schweinefutter!) and couldn’t imagine humans eating it willingly. When the Silver Queen corn came in at Lindeken Farms, we would make a point of bringing home at least a dozen ears and serving it alongside the frikadellen, pork chops and bratwurst that we had grilled for dinner. They were reluctant, but being good guests, they would try it—just to be polite. It was great to watch their expressions change from trepidation to delight—suddenly what was once considered only fit for pigs was food of the gods.
“Silber kveeeen! Das schmeckt lecker!”
They were converted. Corn on the cob was a menu regular from then on, as long as the season lasted.
This recipe below features ingredients that showcase our Garden State’s wonderful produce: ripe, red Jersey tomatoes and that sweet, crisp corn that my relatives didn’t want to try, flecked with fresh herbs straight from the garden and cheese, all baked into a biscuit crust. How could that be bad?
I like using fresh ingredients and try to stay away from pre-packaged foods. I’ve always heard: Never eat anything that comes out of a box or made with ingredients you can’t pronounce.
Preparing good food and eating together have been a big part of my family’s culture. Despite soccer practice, ski racing and swim meets, my two kids have always helped me cook, and I made sure we sat down to dinner and ate together every night. Slicing and dicing, setting the table, remembering our manners, and helping to clean up after a meal have been the glue that holds us together. Having moved away from home recently, my daughter, Erika, was surprised by how much she misses our family dinners. She realizes now how she looked forward to the end of the day reconnecting with the people she cares about around the table.
It was five months ago when I was trying to come up with a name for my column, and I was remembering how my son, Francis, loved to cook and bake with me when he was little. He’d come down the stairs first thing in the morning and ask: “What can we make with scratch today, mommy?”
And there, I had it.
Prepare the pie crust
With scratch, for the motivated among you 2 cups flour
1 tablespoom baking powder
3/4 stick cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3/4 cup cold milk
Whisk together flour, baking powder and pinch of salt, cut in the butter ‘til it resembles coarse meal. Add in the milk a little at a time until the dough comes together. Gather the dough into a ball.
Without scratch, a.k.a. semi homemade
2 cups packaged biscuit mix
1/2 - 3/4 cup cold milk
Stir the milk into the biscuit mix a little at a time until the dough comes together. Gather the dough into a ball.
Prepare the filling
1 3/4 pounds beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes (about 2 big tomatoes)
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 cups cooked corn kernels (cut from 2 ears)
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons whole or chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons snipped chives
2 teaspoons melted butter for brushing the top crust before baking
Make the dough—whichever method. On a generously floured surface, divide the dough in half. Roll one half of the dough into a 12-inch circle about 1/4 inch thick, and place in a 9-inch pie plate. Set aside the other half of the dough.
Make the filling: Mix the corn kernels, cheese, mayonnaise, and lemon juice together in a bowl, set aside. Thickly slice the tomatoes and set aside. Spread half the filling into the dough-lined pie plate. Add half of the sliced tomatoes, seasoned with half of the basil, chives, salt and pepper. Spread on the rest of the filling and top with the remaining tomatoes, herbs, salt and pepper.
Roll out the other half of the dough. Place on top to seal the pie, crimping the edges. With a sharp knife cut some steam vents into the top crust.
Brush the crust with the melted butter. Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes on the bottom rack until crust is golden and filling is bubbling. Cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.