"Cut from stem end of large ripe tomatoes a circular piece, remove the pulp and seeds, placing shell of tomato in a deep earthen pie plate. Take the seeds you have removed and thicken with bread crumbs, seasoned with butter, salt and pepper. Fill each shell with the dressing and bake slowly for three-quarters of an hour."—Mrs. Thorpe. Plymouth Union Cookbook, by The Ladies' Society of Plymouth Congregational Church. Los Angeles, California. Rostrum Publishing Co., 1894, p. 28.
This is a fairly typical Victorian recipe, in that it assumes the cook already has a really solid foundation and only wants a few suggestions instead of explicit instructions. Here are some details of how it should be prepared:
For every serving, allow:
1 large tomato or 2 medium-sized tomatoes.
1 thick slice of stale bread, chopped fine to make 2/3 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp butter
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp crushed black pepper
1 Tbs. fresh chives, chopped (optional)
A few sprigs of fresh thyme (optional)
Basil for garnish (optional)
Cut the tops off the tomatoes. Carefully cut out the stem stub of each one with a sharp knife and discard it, leaving the tops as O's. Use a teaspoon to remove the pulp and seeds from the tomatoes. If your tomatoes are a variety with fibrous veins in their cores then discard the cores. Save the seeds and juice. (The easiest way to separate the seeds and juice from the cores is simply to scoop them away with clean fingers.)
Put the butter in a heavy skillet with the bread crumbs and salt. If you are using chives and thyme add them to the bread crumbs at this time. (Don't add the pepper yet: frying breaks down the volatile oils that gives black pepper its flavor.) Cook over low heat 3-5 minutes, or until the bread crumbs absorb all the butter. Remove from heat. Now add the pepper and mix the seasoned bread crumbs with the tomato seeds and juice.
Stuff the tomato shells with the bread crumb mixture and replace the tomato tops. Set in a baking dish (the Plymouth... cookbook recommends an earthen pie plate but a cast iron skillet works just as well.) If you have more filling than will fit in the tomato shells, arrange the extra around the tomatoes in the baking dish.
Bake at 350 degrees 45 minutes. Serve hot, garnished with fresh basil if desired.
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