Too Many Tomatoes

It’s August in Ohio. Actually I’ve not checked, but it’s probably August everywhere. However, August on the NorthCoast means tomatoes, too many tomatoes. Neighbors will actually sneak onto your porch at night and drop off bushels. Now some people start pulling out the pressure cookers and mason jars to start canning the absurd surplus. But some of us make pitchers of cocktails.

The Bloody Mary has its roots here in the Heartland. It is credited to Ferdinand ‘Pete’ Petiot from Canton, Ohio, a barman working in Paris at Harry’s Bar during Prohibition. With the shipping lanes safe following WWI and the US starting to export products world wide, a steady stream of canned tomato juice was becoming available in Europe year round. Pete, being a good Ohio boy, knew that tomato juice with a little bit of spice was a good eye opener, and if you added a bit of vodka (already gaining popularity on the continent since the turn of the century) you had a libation that tempered the pain of the previous evening’s imbibing. Pete eventually returned to New York in the 1936 where his Bloody Mary (renamed the Red Snapper as the management at the King Cole Bar thought Bloody Mary wasn’t an appropriate name)  was being made with gin. Lucky for him Heublein had just acquired a failing brand named Smirnoff and was introducing vodka to America. Pete’s original recipe was fairly simple compared to the meal in a glass we enjoy today and is as follows:

1½ ounces vodka

2 dashes Worcestershire sauce

4 dashes Tabasco sauce

Pinch of salt and pepper

¼ ounce fresh lemon juice

4 ounces tomato juice

Lightly pour all ingredients ice back and forth between two glasses to mix

Garnish with a lemon and lime wedge on the side

A fairly simple recipe, but lets get back to our bumper crop of tomatoes. We no longer have to settle for insipid hothouse tomatoes with the resurgence of backyard gardens and urban farms combined with interest in heirloom varietals. We now have at our disposal dozens of different tomatoes in all the colors of the rainbow with varied bright flavors. These are the ones I love to use in the Rosewood Snapper; their summer freshness combine with the aromatics of gin perfectly.

Wait, gin? Yes, gin, it’s the original flavored vodka. Remember gin is made with roots, herbs, and spices. What goes well with tomatoes? Roots, herbs, and spices. Now, the definition of gin is that juniper is the forefront flavor profile, however with the advent of New Western style gins we find the volume of juniper turned down and other flavorings elevated. I love London Dry gin, but for this drink, New World gins tend to be much more approachable for this reason. Look for local small distillers who tend to make New Western style gin or larger brands such as Right Gin (black pepper) or Hendricks (cucumber) who have profiles that work well with tomato.

Rosewood Snapper (by the pitcher)

Core, seed, and finely chop 3 lbs of heirloom tomatoes

Place 2/3rds of tomatoes into pitcher and muddle hard

Add 1 cup water and remaining tomatoes

Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Add juice of one lemon and one lime

Add 8 oz of New World style gin

Add 3/4 oz Chartreuse

Stir lightly

Add ice

Chartreuse? Yes. If you’ve never been exposed to it, ask your local barkeep. They will gush over this historied spirit explaining that it is made with over a hundred botanicals, explaining how complex its flavor profile is, and how only three people at any given time know its recipe. And they will talk some more about it, and then some more, and if you don’t shut them up they will probably start talking about Fernet Branca and before you know it it will be 2 AM. Anywho, a bit of Chartreuse, with its deep botanical extracts, adds a sophisticated edge to this fresh and lively libation.