All hail the simple but perfect homegrown tomato! THIS is the reason I have a garden. Yes, I love the peas.… Actually very little compares to a bowl of sugar snap peas freshly picked from the vine.

However lovely the peas are, though, the satisfaction a Maine gardener experiences from the triumph of a rainbow assortment of heirloom tomatoes is unrivaled. At least at my house. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here.

Because our Maine growing season is so short and because it’s not all that warm here, even during the best of summers (a fact I’m thankful for most days), growing tomatoes requires strategy.

It might be that you allow a worn, black tire or two or six to make their way into your garden to warm up the soil. Any number of such tomato-season extenders and tricks exist, including, even, resorting to a greenhouse.

But whatever method they use, successful tomato growers take extra care to ensure that when summer ends, they have colorful tomatoes from their vines, not bunches of green globes that get hit by a frost before maturing.

These recipes are an homage to the humble tomato – or perhaps the regal tomato, which humbles the Maine gardener.

Garlic and Tomato Shrimp With Watercress and Spinach Over Cheddar Grits

If it’s not tomato season, I use home-canned tomatoes here. If you don’t can yourself, buy the best ones you can find, such as San Marzano. Make the grits first, as the shrimp mixture comes together very quickly.

Serves 4 to 6

Cheddar Grits

51/3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

Pinch or 2 of kosher salt

1 cup old-fashioned (not quick-cooking) grits

1/4 teaspoon Tabasco or other hot sauce

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

In a medium saucepan, bring the broth and salt to a boil. Slowly whisk in the grits, whisking constantly. Add the Tabasco and butter. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally until thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the cheddar and set aside, covered, until ready to serve.


2 large tomatoes

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

11/2 tablespoons minced garlic (about 2 medium cloves)

1 pound raw 40/50 shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 cups spinach leaves

1 bunch watercress, ends removed and cut into 2-inch lengths

11/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Several grinds fresh black pepper

Bring a small pot of water to a boil and dunk the tomatoes in 1 at a time for about 30 seconds. Remove and, when they are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin (it will come right off) and core. Slice each tomato into 8 wedges and set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the garlic.

Sauté for about 30 seconds, then add the tomatoes to the skillet and heat. Add the shrimp and cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until the edges are still gray, but most of the shrimp has just barely turned pink.

Remove from heat and stir in the spinach, watercress, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Serve immediately over grits.

Annie Mahle is the chef aboard the Maine windjammer, Schooner J. & E. Riggin. She can be reached at:

[email protected]