Tomato Pie

When does a vintage recipe require revision, or reimagination, and when is it perfect as is? This is the question I asked myself as I unpacked the pie my mother-in-law made on Sunday. We had spent a gorgeous afternoon up the coast in Rockland, strolling down Main Street, popping into shops and galleries, and having a fine, fried seafood lunch at a sidewalk cafe, and were piling a sleeping babe into the car, when she handed us a foil wrapped pie, with instructions to bake until very brown and bubbling. I was skeptical. A tomato pie with mayonnaise and cheese? It sounded at best old-fashioned, and at worst…inedible. She’s a very good cook, and I trust her taste, but I still had my reservations. When I learned the recipe came direct from the RSVP cookbook, it all became suddenly clear.

“RSVP: An Invitation From The Junior League of Portland, Maine” was first published in 1982, and its recipes reflect that particular spirit of an age that rises above and disregards the actual year it was compiled. It’s an instruction manual for elegant ladies putting on luncheons for one another, complete with menu plans and accompanying cocktails. There are various and sundry dated, but perhaps delicious ideas here. “The Mustard Ring,” for example, which falls under the salad heading, contains dry mustard, as well as gelatin, turmeric, and whipping cream. This is garnished with greens and served with fresh fruit, or coleslaw.

If I were to update and amend the recipe, I might recommend seeding or squeezing some of the liquid from the tomatoes. But we did not. We followed the instructions as typed by Mary Louise Meyer Dyer (Mrs. Ralph). I wonder if Ralph himself ever enjoyed the pie on a hot summer Saturday, or if his Mrs. only made it for company, say, when the girls came over to play cards and drink a perspiring pitcher of daiquiris. I might consider using a different cheese, like gruyere, or adding a couple of strips of bacon. And while the notion of hot mayonnaise is still very upsetting, I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. The pie is a bit unkempt at its molten core, and I would advise allowing it to cool for a bit before serving. Do what you will, but I say make it just like this, according to the lightly toasted ladies of the Portland Junior League. Without further ado:

Tomato Pie
Reprinted from “RSVP, An Invitation to Maine Cooking, by The Junior League of Portland, Maine


For the crust:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/8 cup shredded Cheddar cheese or 1/8 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • 1/2 to to 1 1/2 tablespoons cold water

For the filling:

  • 4 to 5 ripe tomatoes
  • salt, pepper, basil and chives, to taste
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese


For the crust:

Sift flour, salt and sugar together. Stir in cheese. With a pastry blender work in butter. Add lemon juice and gradually blend in the water until the mixture holds together thwn you gather it into a ball. Roll it out and place in a 9-inch pie plate.

For the filling:

Peel and slice tomatoes. Place them on pie crust, sprinkling the herbs on top of each layer. Combine cheese and mayonnaise and spread on top of the tomatoes. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 35-45 minutes.

NB: It is more than acceptable to use a premade pie crust.


Jillian Bedell

Jillian Bedell is a writer and mother living in a farmhouse in Cushing, Maine. She is very good at talking about herself in the third person. She is co-author of Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road.


    1. We’ve had a copy of this book in our house since around 1984. It’s the food I grew up eating, and still some of the food I like best. Chicken Dijon? Grandmother Muskie’s Polish Meatloaf? Sign me up!

  1. Wow, this is incredibly simple, and I bet it is delicious. I’m going to remove some of the seeds/juice as I just keep picturing the mayo and tomato juices separating in some weird way, although your photo looks like that wasn’t a problem. My brown thumb finally managed to grow a bit of fresh basil, so it’s going in!

  2. I squeeze the juice out, and seeds, as much as I can…otherwise, you end up with tomato pie soup…but it’s SO GOOD! Glad you enjoyed it; standby for the next treat from that wonderful Junior League…

    1. I think I might try slicing the tomatoes, and weighing the slices down between two sheet pans for half an hour or so, the way you do with eggplant. I’d like to see a little more of the liquid come out of the tomatoes, as it *is* a little soupy. But crazy delicious.

      Our first thought was that we wanted to add ricotta or even feta into the mix…but I think this recipe is about perfect, as-is.

  3. My mother-in-law (from ME) gave me this cookbook in the mid-80’s for a birthday gift, and along with Marjorie Standish’s books, it is one that I go to again and again. I’ve made this pie and it’s beyond yummy. I’ve never deviated from the original except to use dried basil once in the winter when I was snowbound and couldn’t get out to go to the market for fresh. It’s a real ‘back in the day’ kind of recipe.

  4. I have made a version very similar to this for years! Here are a few of my hints:
    Always use full-on mayonnaise, if you use low fat or other versions it ends up too runny.
    Allow your tomatoes to drain for 20-30 min. prior to layering & it will be firmer.
    My recipe calls for choppd green onions as well lemon pepper, my mother adds bacon to hers!
    I use Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts – only. The cheaper store brands do not pre-bake as well as Pillsbury’s do – they shrink in the pan. I have used frozen crusts but prefer the refrigerated better.
    Definitely let sit 5-10 min prior to cutting and it serves up better.

  5. I have made this pie and we loved it. My changes were: I added 1/2 # cooked bacon in the layers and after slicing the tomatoes and removing the seeds, I dried the slices off with paper towel until most of the moisture was removed.

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