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In my family, pecan pie was not really our thing. Dad made something called Chess Pie, and we fondly referred to it as “pecan pie without the pecans” — which we did not miss at all.

On a troll through Grammy’s marked-up cookbooks, though, I found a recipe for pecan pie that caught my eye. Why? No corn syrup. Most pecan pies are held together with a minor bucket-full of light corn syrup. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m a fan of having my sweetness taste like sugar.

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A few weeks ago The Washington Post ran their annual Top Tomato Recipe contest. The editors carefully cautioned contestants that there were plenty of good tomato soups and fresh pasta sauces in the world, so entries in those categories better be darn good.

I had no intention of jumping into a crowded category.

Tomato’s a fruit, right? And there are a bunch of other ripe fruits at this time of year, in fact, oodillions of ripe stone fruits and berries, right? So what about a dessert, with tomato balanced by other, sweeter fruit? I set to work.

I figured that Grammy, who always served sliced tomatoes sprinkled with both salt and sugar, would be behind me in this. There are no tomato desserts in her collection, but her tomato conserve loudly proclaims that tomatoes can shine as a sweet.

Tomatoes, peaches...what's missing?

Tomatoes, peaches...what's missing?

My first attempt was horrifying. Our friends Klaudia and Peter were generous. “Glmmph, interesting,” they mouthed through fiercely dry cornbready topping. I had dreamed that a cornmeal cobbler crust would be a nice touch. Not so: The heavy and dry topping completely overpowered the fruit. And I had only used peaches and tomatoes, a combination that tilted too much toward acid.

The next try was workable: Add in plums for uncomplicated sweetness and juice, and scale the topping back to a nutty crisp. A bit more tweaking and I was ready to send in the recipe — a mere 17 minutes to go before deadline.

Several weeks later, the call came: My recipe was selected from 158 entries as a finalist. I still smile to think of it. And I am proudly wearing my Top Tomato 2010 shirt for more baking.

Tomato-Peach-Plum Crisp from Baking Family

Tomato-Peach-Plum Crisp (aka Three-Fruit Crisp)

Serves 6

  • 1 pound tomatoes, washed, cored and sliced into thin wedges (about 3 cups)
  • 1-1/2 pounds mixed peaches and red plums*, washed, peaches peeled and both fruits thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 7 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 5 tablespoons salted butter, sliced into half-inch pieces and well-chilled

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large bowl, combine tomatoes and stone fruits. In a small bowl, mix granulated sugar with cornstarch; add into fruit mixture and mix well. Pour fruit mixture into a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan.

Put flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and pecans in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse the mixture three or four times, until the nuts are finely chopped. Add chilled butter, and pulse three or four times more, just until butter is chopped. (If you start to see clumps, stop. You’re headed for cookie dough.)

Spread topping evenly over fruit. Put pie plate on a cookie sheet wide enough to catch drips, and place the sheet in the preheated oven. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until topping is lightly browned and fruit is bubbly. Serve warm or room temperature.

*I use about 1 pound of peaches, ½ pound red plums.

Recipe and photographs copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

These used to arrive in the Christmas cookie tins, packed carefully with waxed paper and a slice of Pepperidge Farm bread to keep everything fresh. The batch I made last night tasted just like I remember.

It is a mystery as to why they are called Creoles — all the butter they use? the pecans? — but the butterscotch appellation comes from the happy melding of lots of brown sugar with lots of butter with lots of dates. According to my cousin Rebecca, the dates, cut into small bits, are not as cloying or imposing as whole dates may be. The nuts help add a no-nonsense note.

All of last night’s testers nodded sagely and took another . . . and another . . . and agreed that these were “deceptively light.” And then we went off a bit sideways and tasted the cookies with thin slices of Manchego cheese on top, thinking about how good dates and cheese can be together.

We’re looking for other opinions on that.

Butterscotch Creoles

Makes 8 to 9 dozen cookies

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups finely chopped dates (about 1 lb. of whole dates, before pitting)
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1-1/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs

In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Add dates to flour mixture, using forks to separate clumps of chopped date somewhat. Add nuts.

In another large bowl, cream butter until soft; gradually beat in brown sugar, then vanilla. Add one egg at a time. Stir in flour mixture; dough will be soft. Form dough into rolls about 2 inches in diameter, using waxed paper to help you shape the rolls. Wrap waxed paper around rolls and chill dough thoroughly in the refrigerator, for a few hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Cut chilled rolls crosswise into 1/8-inch thick slices; place slices on ungreased or parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake for 8 minutes, until lightly browned.

Recipe and photograph copyright 2009 Garside Group LLC

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