We’re deep into the fabled Dog Days of Summer. Nature almost mysteriously slows things down, allowing fruits and vegetable to ripen before the harvest and autumn’s glory. Tomatoes taste best now. I have a bowl in the kitchen loaded with wonderful Cherokee Purple’s from Grainger, Tennessee. The distinguished North Carolina journalist Lynn Brandon has roots in Andy Griffith’s hometown of Mt. Airy and is a very gifted storyteller who knows Southern food much like Andy. You’ll enjoy her passionate praise for tomatoes and the secret of how to make a perfect tomato sandwich.
The Sandwich of Summer
By Lynne Brandon
Nostalgia on a plate for some is a grilled cheese sandwich or the perennial favorite, the PBJ that hearkens back to childhood. But only one sandwich is truly associated with summer – the tomato sandwich. It does what no other sandwich does – it rules with its culinary minimalism — basically – two ingredients, tomatoes and bread.
Any way you slice it, nothing says summer like tomatoes. The mercury is high, days are long, school is out and the promise of summer stretches before us. Simplicity rules our days with foods that are fast, simple and easy. Sandwiches are summertime staples – easy to put together and throw in the cooler on the way to the beach, the park or backyard picnic.
Deliberation is important when picking out the right tomato – after all it is the main ingredient. Tomatoes come in all shapes, sizes and hues. Purple Cherokee are considered ugly and malformed by tomato snobs but the heirloom species has a distinct taste that makes it a favorite (also a good choice for Caprese salad). Better Boys, Beefsteak, German Johnson and other varieties with firm textures work well – another determining factor is having a slice that amply covers the bread.
The popular food is shrouded in a bit of mystery. Is it a vegetable or a fruit? – Scientifically speaking, a tomato is a fruit but most people consider it a vegetable. I am in that camp. Pick out a ripe variety of your choice.
Then there is the question of mayo for the sandwich. Duke’s mayonnaise or Hellmann’s? In my book this is not up for discussion. It is Duke’s all the way. The mayo first appeared in 1917 when Eugenia Duke put the spread on sandwiches during war time. The healthy mayo is the only major mayonnaise on the market without sugar added.
To peel the tomato or not. I say no despite the famed Dr. Gundry who suggests peeling – but that is for folks with autoimmune deficiencies which luckily does not apply to me.
Should the bread be white or whole wheat? The answer is white and Merita is a good choice. This is not the sandwich for whole grain bread unless you want to go highbrow.
To toast or not? Do not ruin the moment by toasting bread. That is for a more sophisticated sandwich, not the original tomato sandwich. And, do not ever refrigerate a tomato. Cold ruins the taste. If anyone reveals they have refrigerated a tomato I would question their moral compass.
If you want a “high falutin” tomato sandwich try experimenting with fresh basil, onion slices, cucumbers, or other such add-ons. Then and only then, can a grain bread be considered. Or, try the other tried-and-true tomato sandwich vehicle – the BLT (bacon, lettuce, tomato).
On a trip to the Triad Farmers Market, I encountered Bridget Thrower of Whitaker Farms in Climax, one of the farms that sells produce at the market. Their tomatoes are unique in that they are tested by NCSU and pollinated by bees. She knew instinctively what I was thinking about when I was eyeing the towering mound of tomatoes. Tomato sandwiches are on everyone/s mind when shopping for the perfect ripe tomato,” said Thrower.
Call me a simpleton, but it doesn’t get any better than this unpretentious, yet delicious sandwich that is also low calorie. And, in the summer most people are active so forget for once about worrying about carbs. With the tomato sandwich you can savor summer at its best.
The Summer Tomato Sandwich
Two slices of white bread – Merita or Wonder Bread
2-4 home or farm grown ripe tomato slices of your favorite variety
Salt and pepper to taste
Slap that baby together and let the good times roll. Stand up over the sink preferably so the juice that runs down your elbows has a good landing place.
Smoked Mullet Dip
A Florida original. I first tasted it as a child during a deep-sea fishing weekend with my father in the Panhandle village of Carabelle. This is my remembrance of recipes from Dean Fowler at Steinhatchee Landing and the Lovel family who owned Spring Creek Restaurant in Crawfordville, Florida.
1 pound smoked mullet
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 c. sour cream
1/4 c. green onions, finely chopped
1/4 c. mayonnaise
1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp lemon juice – more if needed
pinch of paprika
freshly ground black pepper
Remove any bones and skin from the smoked fish, then flake the fish with a fork.
In a food processor, combine cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, paprika and black pepper. Pulse until the mixture is creamy. Add more lemon juice or sour cream to taste. Place the mixture in a bowl and fold in the mullet and the green onions. Refrigerate for several hours before serving.
Like all Southerners family time around the table is sacred time and, always a good time. Eating well is held in high regard and recipes reflect love and sometimes old fashioned “elbow grease. Here are some of Lynn Brandon’s family favorites enjoyed over the years.
Devilish Eggs: Simple but Delicious
6 Boiled eggs, cooled
Half eggs and put yolks in separate bowl
Duke’s Mayonnaise (not Hellmann’s)
Mash yolks with salt (to taste) and several tablespoons of Duke’s mayonnaise to desired consistency. Add finely diced sweet pickles if desired or leave plain. Add egg mixture back into egg halves and serve in a deviled egg dish. There are never any left-over. People often ask for the recipe and I laughingly say it is a secret. I credit the taste to the mayo – Duke’s is the South choice, created in Greenville, South Carolina. It might be number 3 in the nation but it is number one in the South!
Green with Envy Salad (a/k/a Watergate Salad)
This is a favorite that always shows up at family gatherings. It also found its way into our favorite family cookbook we called “the red book,” – a compilation of recipes from the Home Extension Club in Surry County’s Mt. Airy.
1 large container of Cool Whip
1 pkg. instant pistachio pudding
1 can crushed pineapple and juice
½ c. pecans
1 ½ miniature marshmallows
Mix all ingredients together and store in refrigerator. Make the evening before so the salad can congeal. Delicious and light every time. If there was any Watergate salad left over my sister and fought over who would take it home, perhaps to eat the next morning as a light breakfast.
Suggested wine: The 2018 Maison Roche Bellenos Rosé of Gamay Noir came from Burgundy, and tastes like it was destined for our Southern table.
Stay Safe. Eat Well. Love One Another.