Loudoun County resident Michelle Foster sent this story along with the recipe: "In 1966, my husband was an underage freshman at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, staying on track with his (then) mind-numbing major in accounting. If he changed to French, he would be swooped up immediately by the draft; the draft board was on the lookout for prevaricators and delayers seeking to postpone the draft's mighty maw by changing fields and thus moving back the goal posts of graduation.
"He frequented a local pub and thought about debits and credits perhaps less than [about] Vietnam and Uncle Sam. It's a stretch to say the pub was famous for its red beer, a local specialty, but it turned a blind eye to draft-age boys who found it an excellent way to both start an evening and recover from the one before. It's equally likely that the beer they used was rotgut and the tomato juice tinned, but it was damned tasty at the time.
"John did go to Vietnam, where his French and Vietnamese language skills earned him a top security clearance. And he's now a CPA, go figure. But this is (in much finer form) a lovely drink on a summer afternoon."
- 1 pound heirloom or other ripe garden tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
- Hot pepper sauce or green jalapeno sauce (optional)
- 48 ounces chilled pilsner beer of choice
- Lime wedges, for garnish
Boil water in a pot large enough to hold the tomatoes over high heat.
Use a sharp knife to score an "X" on the bottoms of the tomatoes. Carefully add them to the water and let sit for 15 to 25 seconds for ripe tomatoes or a bit longer for less-ripe ones. Use a slotted spoon or Chinese skimmer to transfer to a plate or work surface; when cool enough to handle, peel off and discard the tomato skins. Cut the tomatoes into quarters.
Place a strainer over a medium bowl; scoop out the tomato seeds and soft flesh, letting it fall into the strainer; press with a spatula or wooden spoon so that the tomato juices run into the bowl.
There should be a good amount of firm tomato flesh left; transfer to a blender along with the strained juices and process until no chunks remain. Add the lemon juice, the salt and hot pepper sauce (if using) to taste; blend just to combine. The yield should be about 8 ounces.
Transfer to an airtight container; refrigerate long enough so that the juice is the same temperature as the beer it will be poured into.
Divide the juice equally among 4 pilsner glasses (2 ounces per glass). Pour in the beer.
Garnish with the lime wedges; serve immediately.
From Top Tomato finalist Michelle Foster and John Davenport of Paeonian Springs.
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
E-mail questions to the Food Section at email@example.com.