The Gift of Pie and Other False Economies

Jackie Gordon Singing Chef - The Gift of Pie and Other False Economies

Write on the blackboard 1,000 times: Food Gifts Do No Save You Money. Drill it into your head and give up this crazy notion. Labor + ingredients + packaging + delivery all come with a dollar value.

Don’t get me wrong, I love giving food gifts, but I never pretend that it’s less expensive than buying a gift. I just give them freely because that how I roll.

Ahhh, memories… the year my mom decided to sponsor a Save-the-Children child and not buy Christmas gifts for anyone, except her kids. Rather than give them a handwritten note with the simple explanation that their gift went to feeding a starving child, she decided it would be nice it give them something homemade as well. Think of the money we’d save!

We made gifts. We made pumpkin bread baked in coffee cans, rugelach, almond crescents, brownies and sugar cookies galore. For some reason, she decided that she would make her famous Cheese, Onion, and Tomato Pies based on Anna Thomas’s recipe in The Vegetarian Epicure (Random House) as well. I can still picture her crazed eyes as she stabbed pounds and pounds of onions and grated “all that goddamned cheese”, by hand. This was in the pre-food processor days. (Do you remember where you were when you got your first food processor?)

We worked hard for the baked gifts. We had to shop and cook and store and wrap and deliver them, It took FOREVA!

Making gifts is a TON of work all by itself, but the shopping and the cooking and the wrapping and the delivering of the gifts all had to happen on top of the Christmas planning and the tree-trimming and the dinner cooking and more baking, as well as the decorating of the house and the buying gifts she still had to buy for us and we for her and each other and the wrapping, the wrapping, the wrapping!!! I remember making a pact with her never to do this again and we never did. Eventually, we got super-wise and stopped giving Christmas gifts at all. So sensible.

We will always feed people and her pies made people very happy.

Why, yes, if you look closely you’ll notice it’s store-bought crust for two reasons. One, that’s part of the tradition drawn from her single mom with three kids and a full-time job; and, two, she never lets me make her crusts. The sensible method is to make at least four of these pies when you do, so relax and buy the pie crusts.

Eat one pie straight away and keep the rest in your freezer because they freeze beautifully. Then forget about them until you remember, perhaps when you’re having company over. Then defrost and rewarm it and serve it as part of the gift of having people over for dinner. Everybody wins.

Last year, my mom made a bunch of Cheese, Onion, and Tomato Pies. She originally made them for Pie Party Potluck LIVE! 2014 because Jarlsberg cheese was the sponsor. We had a couple on the menu for Thanksgiving 2014. They used to be a staple on our turkey day menu. The guests who have been coming for years were happy to see them back on the buffet.

My advice to you is: don’t bake this pie as a gift; give a copy of The Vegetarian Epicure (Random House) from whence the recipe comes as a gift, perhaps with a pound of cheese to put in it. Or just print my recipe which is my mom’s take on the original and wrap it around a hunk of cheese. But, for Thanksgiving or bunch or dinner or to keep up your sleeve in the freezer, make this pie!

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Cheese Onion & Tomato Pie

Mains, Sides, Vegetarian & Vegan, Breakfast & Brunch, Parties & Potlucks
This is my mom’s Cheese, Onion & Tomato Pie based on the Savory Cheese and Onion Pie in “The Vegetarian Epicure” by Anna Thomas published in 1972. All my life, we’ve called it Cheese, Onion & Tomato Pie, but after I reached out to Anna Thomas and asked permission to publish this recipe, I looked it up and see that she has another recipe called Cheese & Tomato Pie in her book, The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two. This is not that recipe although that one looks good too. My mom uses a frozen 9” pie crust for the pie, but the original recipe calls for a 10” shortcrust pastry. My mom adds Parmesan cheese to the recipe as well.
Cheese Onion & Tomato Pie


  • 3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 10 ounces cheese: half Gruyere and half Swiss, grated and combined
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 large ripe, firm tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream


  1. Defrost the pie crust or use a homemade crust.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 °.
  3. Press the Parmesan cheese into the crust.
  4. Grate all the cheese and toss with the flour.
  5. Melt butter in a large skillet and sauté the onions, very gently in the butter until they begin to turn golden, about a half hour. Spread about 1/3 of the Gruyere-Swiss cheese over the bottom of a pie dish. Then spread the onions over it.
  6. In the butter that is left in the pan, heat the tomato slices with the chopped basil for a minute or two. Arrange the tomato slices over the onions, then cover them with the remaining cheese.
  7. Beat the eggs with the cream. Add salt and pepper and pour over the cheese.
  8. Bake for 35 - 40 minutes
Total time:
Yield: 6 servings


We usually serve this as a side dish for Thanksgiving so we serve smaller portions. The original recipe says it’s six servings.