Hello, Summer

A Southern Tomato Gravy to Make All Summer

June 21, 2018

Summer starts on June 21st! In honor of all the BBQing, sprinkler-hopping, and ice cream truck-chasing to come, we give you Hello, Summer, a picnic basket full of easy-breezy recipes and tips to help you make the most of every minute this season.


Tomato gravy + buttermilk biscuit + fried egg = breakfast bliss. Photo by Rocky Luten

Southern Tomato Gravy is summertime comfort food, perfect for when there are ripe heirloom tomatoes to use up, and the willingness to heat the oven for a pan of homemade buttermilk biscuits. I did exactly that last night, after visiting a roadside vegetable stand looking for what’s fresh from the garden. I came home with a couple of pounds of yellow crookneck squash that I sautéed with Vidalia onion in butter, a couple of hard green tomatoes that will be fried later in the week, and a pound of juicy red tomatoes just right for tomato gravy served with biscuits and bacon.

This isn't the kind of "gravy" or "sauce" that you serve with pasta, just a creamy white sauce with chopped tomatoes, cooked up in a cast iron skillet and served over split buttermilk biscuits. It's the kind of comfort food that you put together in late summer, when the homegrown tomatoes on the kitchen windowsill are overripe and plentiful.


tomatoes are ripe for grilling, too

I first read about tomato gravy in The Gift of Southern Cooking: Recipes and Revelations by Two Great American Cooks, by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock. If ever a cookbook could be called a modern Southern cooking classic, this is the one. Chef Peacock cooked alongside his friend, the revered Chef Lewis, and the stories of their childhoods—his in rural Alabama, and hers in Virginia—come together in layers of recipes and stories. It’s one of those cookbooks that can be read like a novel, for what is said and unsaid.

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Their tomato gravy is made with country ham-flavored fat from fried chicken and is finished with a mix of cream and milk. Because my streamlined version doesn't start with a fried chicken, I use butter instead of drippings and I drop the cream. I also leave herbs out of my version (theirs includes dried thyme), though I sometimes shake a little Worcestershire sauce in. And I’ve been known to have a heavy hand with the pepper mill.

As you'd expect, tomato gravy is best in the summer, but it is possible to enjoy this dish year-round, and Peacock agrees with me: "I do think it is best made with fresh garden tomatoes, but I appreciate that it is divine in the dead of winter made with top-quality canned.”

Do you have a recipe that's been passed down in your family? Or one you want to make sure your future generations make? Let us know in the comments and it might be featured as one of our heirloom recipes!

2 Comments

Carla June 21, 2018
We had milkey gravy and we had tomato gravy..but never milk/cream in the tomato gravy. Bacon drippings, flour, tomatoes..peeled not seeded, salt and pepper..that’s it and served on a hot biscuits or corn pone..<br />And not bad on rice. Milkey gravy we served on chicken fried steak and biscuits. Then there is red eye gravy..good on grits..and biscuits or corn pone biscuits and corn pone go with everything in the South!!!... cold corn pone, crumbled in a class of ice cold sweet milk...delicious!
 
DrPRW June 22, 2018
I agree with Carla. I have never had tomato gravy with milk in it. That's another kind of gravy. Except, we eat ours on grits (or a biscuit and sometimes rice- even for breakfast if you're out of grits). But, thanks for the article. I have NEVER heard of anyone else mention tomato gravy. It's the first thing I ask my mom for whenever I am home.