Nothing is more anticipated than the first tomato of the season. Homegrown tomatoes, still warm from the sunshine that ripened them, make the best sandwiches. The tomato seedlings that we planted back in May and nurtured throughout the long, hot summer are finally bearing fruit. We look forward to a plentiful harvest from now until mid-October.
I was introduced to gardening by my aunt, Mary, in Summerville, South Carolina. Not only did I learn how to grow tomatoes, I learned how to enjoy them as well. Nothing is more satisfying than an old-fashioned, southern-style tomato sandwich. The beauty is in its simplicity – tomato, bread, mayonnaise, salt and pepper. There are infinite variations on the theme, but the simpler the better.
A tomato sandwich is all about the tomato. Heirloom varieties have a wide range of flavors and textures. My favorite is the Cherokee Purple. It has an old-fashioned tomato flavor – not too acidic, not too sweet. It’s a beefsteak type with a mahogany-red flesh, perfect for sandwiches.
Now is not the time to indulge in a fancy artisanal loaf of bread. The kind of bread to use depends on what you grew up eating. The classic tomato sandwich requires a soft white sandwich bread – think Wonder bread or Sunbeam.
Here’s the controversy – mayonnaise or Miracle Whip? Not all mayonnaises are created equally. In 1919, a woman named Eugenia Duke was selling more than 10,000 sandwiches a day to the soldiers stationed near her home in Greenville, South Carolina. Her recipe went commercial and by 1929, Duke’s mayonnaise became a regional sensation. To this day, many southerners consider Duke’s to be synonymous with mayonnaise. If Duke’s mayonnaise was available in the Midwest, it would be a no-brainer, but since it’s not, Miracle Whip is my choice by default. Miracle Whip has a sweeter taste that’s not to everyone’s liking, in that case, go with Hellman’s Real Mayonnaise.
The assembly: spread a thick layer of mayo on two slices of lightly toasted bread. Next, slice the tomato thick. The flesh is firm and meaty. This is what beefsteak tomatoes were made for – a single half-inch wedge to cover the entire slice of bread. Sprinkle kosher salt and fresh-cracked pepper to taste. Finally, place the second slice of bread on top and press down firmly. Wait a moment to allow the tomato juices and mayonnaise to mingle. Slice on the diagonal, and enjoy with a glass of ice-cold sweet tea. Summer goodness doesn’t get much better than that.
Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org