The best thing about August is the Howard County Fair. It’s a tradition for for our family, and because we always seem to choose to go on the hottest day of summer, I have 10 years of memories of wondering around the livestock buildings and the 4H exhibits sweating through my tank top while the boys pester us to move on to the midway for the rides, carnival games, and junk food – elephant ears, cotton candy, and fried Oreos.
There’s something timeless about a county fair. The rides never seem to change – funny how technology hasn’t moved us past the Tilt-a-Whirl or the ferris wheel – and the people don’t change much either. I remember meeting Martin O’Malley – Maryland’s governor for eight years – when he was the still the mayor of Baltimore, out in front of the 4-H Farm and Garden building, shaking hands with passersby as part of his first campaign for governor. I can easily imagine politicians 60 years ago doing exactly the same thing – walking around glad-handing in a landscape of men of in fedoras and ladies in narrow, Jackie-O style shifts.
What I love most about the fair are the competitions, for the prettiest zucchini, the most even stitches, the fattest heifer, the most striking photograph. I can’t pretend to understand what the judges are looking for when they’re comparing one ear of corn to another one, but I love the spirit of the thing. I love the ribbons – “Best in Show” – and I love the thought of the child heading out the barn every day to feed the calf that will become a prizewinner.
The second best thing about August is fresh tomatoes, This weekend I found myself with more than 8 pounds of Romas and heirlooms – some from our garden and some from our CSA. Eight pounds of any of other vegetable would be enough to open a farm stand, but tomatoes cook down so easily that I knew they’d make a reasonable sized pot of tomato basil soup.
This recipe is labor intensive and takes about an hour and a half to make, but it’s worth the effort. The flavor is incredible – even more so because it relies completely on the flavor of fresh tomatoes and herbs rather than heavy cream or milk. To make this a vegan recipe, use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.
If you still can’t get enough of tomatoes, try making an Arctic Char BLT or this summery Cucumber and Tomato Salad with Mint. Pinch My Salt has collected 20 tomato recipes in her”Summer Fest” post, and Southern Living also has a list for tomato inspiration.
- 8 pounds fresh tomatoes (mix of fresh heirlooms, cherry, vine and plum tomatoes)
- 12 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 medium white onions, cut into eighths
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 12 cups vegetable or chicken stock
- ½ cup chopped fresh basil leaves (more for garnish)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
- Wash, core and cut the tomatoes into halves. Remove any seeds. When seeding the tomatoes, place the seeds and pulp into a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl in order to catch the juice. Press as much of the juice through as possible. Set the reserved liquid aside.
- Spread the tomatoes, onions, and garlic cloves onto two large cookie sheets. Drizzle with the half cup of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 25 minutes, until caramelized.
- Place the roasted tomatoes, garlic and onion into a large stock pot and add the reserved tomato juice and the stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until liquid has reduced by a third.
- Wash and dry basil leaves, if using, and add to the pot. Turn off the heat and allow the soup to cool. Transfer to a blender or use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth. Return to low heat and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.