Carl White’s Life in the Carolinas

Carl White’s syndicated column features stories about his journey as a TV producer and host. Carl says “I am writing about the people I meet as I travel and the interesting places visited. They do not all end up on TV, but a lot do and everyone becomes a friends. It’s a wonderful journey”

Below you will find a sampling of Carl’s columns. To read them in a paper nearest you, please subscribe to:

Greenwood, SC: Index Journal
Cheraw, SC: The Link
Lenoir, NC: The News Topic
Wilkes County, NC: The Record
Alleghany, NC: Alleghany News
Spruce Pines, NC: Mitchell News

Tomato Pie Summer

It has been a good year for tomatoes in the Carolinas and I don’t need to ask if you like them, chances are you do. I remember growing up in the countryside. We always had a nice garden with all sorts of fresh things growing.

A good variety of tomatoes was commonplace.

I remember seeing my Dad in the garden. He would sprinkle a little salt on one of his prized tomatoes. It seemed like this act filled him with enough satisfaction that it justified all the hard work.

I don’t recall a single summer when tomatoes were not in abundance. It seemed like canning fresh tomatoes was something everyone did. Other vegetables received the same treatment, however the tomato seemed to be the most versatile.

Many foods enjoy the company of a tomato. Soups, stews, pastas, salads, meat, eggs, fish, sandwiches and yes, for some, southern gravy.

The celebrated tomato is held in high esteem and enjoyed in the Carolinas 365 days a year.

Most of our tomato celebrations are held in the warmer months. Just to mention a few: The Palmetto Tasty Tomato Festival is held in Columbia SC. Tomato Madness is held in Lexington NC and the Homegrown Tomato Festival in Charlotte.

We in the Carolinas rank nicely nationwide in tomato growth. We tend to keep ourselves in the Top 10 list for production. North Carolina produces approximately 87 million pounds annually and South Carolina comes in at 115.2 million pounds annually.

I am sure we also hold our own as it relates to consumption. “How many tomato’s can a tomato eater eat if…?” 

As it turns out, the United States average tomato-eater will enjoy around 20lbs of fresh tomatoes and just over 70lbs of processed tomatoes, such as tomato sauces and other canned tomato products.

I am well suited for the club of those who eat more than 20lbs of fresh tomatoes annually.

With the peculiar nature of 2020 I found myself exploring things that I normally would not have had time to discover. Due to a heavy broadcast production schedule, summertime is busy.

In the midst of working on stories about the founding of our nation and the bigger than life stories of people like Daniel Boone, I found myself with an abundance of tasty tomatoes. Among the mix were Cherokee Purple, German Johnson, Marglobe, Better Boys and Early Girls.

After enjoying fresh tomato salads of all sorts, tomato sandwiches with a little black pepper, sea salt and reduced calorie Dukes Mayonnaise on a variety of fresh breads, I remembered visiting a little hidden-away place in Maggie Valley, NC called Smoky Shadows Lodge.

My memoires took me back some years. The Lodge is the kind of place you visit when you are seeking a relaxing and noncommercial escape; A place where the worries of the day seem to effortlessly melt away.

It was dinner time and tomato pie was featured on the menu. Soon after being seated I witnessed the physical and auditable response of the people at a nearby table as the celebrated pie was served.

The dinners caught site of their server approaching with plates in hand and I could tell they were overcome with anticipation. It was a genuine moment when their dramatic smiles blended with deep inhalation of the simple yet fragment seasonal delight.

Obviously, I had to order it myself. How could I not?

This memory prompted me to call the lodge and when I did owner Ginger Shinn answered. I reintroduced introduced myself and to my delight Ginger immediately recalled my prior visit.

During polite conversation she affirmed that the popularity of the tomato pie remains high. “We are known for our healthy breakfast; however, dinner time is another story,” she said.  I ask if she would share the recipe. “It is on the website” she said. “It is simple, easy and has a lot of cheese.”  

After retrieving the Smoky Shadows Lodge tomato pie recipe, I soon found myself on a journey of discovering all things Tomato Pie. As it turns out the tomato pie has a wide and diverse fan base and history.

Some recipes are quite simple, and others feature a more layered flavor approach.

Fortified with an abundance of tomatoes, tomato pie recipes and a bit more time on hand then normal, I set out to establish a small group of tomato pie tasters.

In short order I identified five people who agreed to share candid feedback on pie samples that I would provide.

I followed the recipes as well as created a few myself.  Two of the carefully chosen tasters had never had tomato pie. This would be an all together new experience for them. 

As it turned out everyone enjoyed all the pies to some degree. The simple, less complex recipes with fresh rolled piecrust did in fact lead the thumbs up section, however not by much.

Some preferred pie warming in a hot oven while others were just as pleased with a minute in the microwave. I prefer a hot oven.

As for my personal pie tastings, the major challenge was to only have one piece of each recipe.

It really is hard to go wrong with great tomatoes, fresh herbs, good cheese, a mayo of your choice (low calorie Dukes was the primary choice I used) with a nice crust. Calories are not low, however if you are counting you can make smart choices to reduce the count.

My favorite part of the great tomato pie experiment was the sharing of memories. Naturally, we will be producing a segment for broadcast.

It’s not difficult to find a few people who like bread, tomatoes and cheese. It is, however, interesting to see what happens when taking time during the summer of 2020 to share good flavors and old memories.  

As it relates to Tomato Pie, I can verify that our summer was tasty, friendly, and filled with the hope that the harvest of 2021 will be even better.

Always remember, make enough to share.