Beth Kirby of Local Milk carries her Southern heritage -- and the ingredients, dishes, and recipes that come with it -- with her wherever she goes. Every other Monday, that place is here.
Today: Tomatoes and peaches are all you need to feel like it's really summer.
Summer confounds me. Most people get down in the winter because that’s a fairly sensible thing to do. But not me. Summer always brings with it a little bit of disappointment, mostly in myself. Each year I have, without fail, such ambitious plans and unrealistic expectations for these long, warm days and all the fresh produce they bring. I imagine idyllic afternoons of diligent preserving so that come stark winter I’ll have a neat pantry lined with jars of berries and tomatoes to tide me over. I dream of a lush garden though I struggle to keep the most tenacious of plants alive.
I dream of countless trips to mountain swimming holes, picnics, and a dizzying array of ice cream flavors. I imagine that I’ll grill out with friends every weekend and sit on the front porch late into the evening, the windows flung open and the record player spinning my favorite old-time Appalachian ballads. But the truth is it’s nearly 100°, I’m busy, my friends are busy, deadlines are stalking me like alley cats, and there are palmetto bugs on the porch anyhow. Which is a really nice way of saying flying cockroaches.
But then it happens: tomatoes and peaches, the king and queen of summer. Their blushes and reds, dimples and fuzz, and all of that dribbling juice make me forget that high-waisted bikini lying neatly folded and unworn in the dresser drawer. Their sweet-tart flesh soothes that nagging feeling that I’m failing at summer because I haven’t pickled a darn thing yet.
Tomatoes and peaches are all I need to feel like I’m having a proper summer, and I’m a glutton for them as long as they’re around. I put them in salads, cobblers, pies, and in this, my most cherished of all the soups I make: the “hot and cold” Tomato Peach Soup. It’s got heat from cayenne (a generous amount if you’re me, though feel free to be more conservative) and mellowness from a bit of cream. I personally think there’s something fascinating about the heat of spice in a creamy, cold soup. It almost tricks you, and it’s actually the perfect way to cool off. I don’t know the science of it, but I’ve always heard spice is a thing to eat when it’s hot. So spice plus the cooling of a chilled creamy soup? By my calculations, it's the ultimate summer food.
This is an exceptionally bright and simple soup, at once creamy, tangy, savory, and every so slightly sweet. It hinges upon the ripest, freshest tomatoes and peaches you can get your hands on. This is a soup that can only happen in a certain place, at a certain time. It is culinary presence, being here when it is now. It’s meditative like that. And it will bring you right into the moment on those days when you’re so tethered to the computer you don’t even have a chance to lament the heat. It brings summer inside, sans palmetto bugs and possible heat stroke, and this time of year I make it every week after going to the farmer’s market and store it in the fridge so it’s ready for me whenever I want it. And as soon as I take my first spoonful, I am there, in perfect summer.
Chilled Tomato Peach Soup
1 clove garlic, roughly minced
3/4 cups shallot (about 1 medium), roughly chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds ripe heirloom tomatoes, quartered
1 pound ripe peaches, quartered
1 bunch fresh thyme, tied with kitchen twine
1 to 2 teaspoon kosher salt, to taste
2/3 cups heavy cream
4 teaspoons sugar, or to taste
1 to 2 pinches cayenne pepper
Photos by Beth Kirby