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Garden Lifestyle

The Tomato Sandwich: Summer’s Ultimate Food

What's better than garden-fresh tomatoes on sandwich bread slathered in mayonnaise?

  • A fat and juicy heirloom tomato is the star of this tomato sandwich.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Sliced garden-grown tomatoes, sandwich bread, and mayonnaise: With just three main ingredients, you can make a delicious summer sandwich.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger

Well, it is finally that time of year again that we gardeners anticipate with great pleasure…harvesting our garden bounty. While we have been eating our greens, onions, squash and garlic already, my long-awaited garden favorite is the first-picked dead-ripe summer tomato. My first of the season garden tomato sandwich is indeed a gourmet delight and a taste sensation.

Ingredients for a perfect tomato sandwich

A tomato sandwich is simple to create, You’ll need a tomato (of course). mayonnaise, bread, and seasoning.

• The first and most important requirement is that the tomato must be summer ripened. It cannot be hothouse grown or shipped unripe maturing into a mealy-textured non-flavored fruit. It has to be dead-ripe, succulent, and bursting with juice. It should never be refrigerated.

• A good-quality mayonnaise is second on the list. For those of you who do not like mayonnaise, you are just plain up the creek without a paddle. I suppose you could drift along with olive oil, or nothing at all, but without it, part of the magic is missing. 

• Third is the bread, which must be soft, not toasted. Childhood sandwiches were on soft sandwich white bread, the kind that you could roll a slice up in a ball and use for fishing bait (doughballs my grandmother called them). As an adult I prefer a whole-wheat country-style loaf that has a harder crust, but the inside is soft. The bread must be soft and yielding to absorb the mayonnaise and juice of the tomatoes. No honey or nut-type breads—they would interfere with the flavor. 

• Last but not least, salt and freshly ground pepper are the essential seasonings.

I have been eating tomatoes since I was a child growing up in Baltimore; my mother bought them during the summer at roadside stands or from the street vendor who came down our back alley with a horse and cart. Before we assemble the sandwich, I have to tell you that they are better than ever since I became a gardener and grow my own. Sometimes I spy a tomato ripening in the garden and I earmark it for a tomato sandwich. I visit it every day and await its ripening with great pleasure. Any big juicy tomato will do, but some of the heirlooms, with names like Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, German Striped, or Zapotec Pleated provide extra sensual taste experiences.

Make the sandwich
Wash and dry the chosen tomato. Using a tomato knife, make a little V around the stem core to remove it. Slice the tomato; thick or thin is a personal thing. I like medium-thin slices so I can pile them two high.

Slice the bread and spread the mayonnaise thickly on both slices, paying attention that the mayonnaise reaches all the way to the edges of the crust (sometimes I have to lick mayonnaise off my knuckles off from reaching into the jar).

Arrange the tomatoes to fit onto one of the slices of bread. Add an extra slice of tomato on top. Generously season the tomato slices with salt and freshly ground pepper. Place the other slice of bread over the tomatoes. Press down gently but firmly with your hand as you cut the sandwich in half; I prefer sandwiches cut on the diagonal.

Slice the tomatoes Spread mayonnaise on the bread
Slice the tomatoes to the thickness you prefer.   Spread mayo on the bread right up to the crust.
   

At this point, you have two options, well maybe three. You can take the sandwich and eat it over the sink, letting the juice run down your chin or your hands (this is handy for clean-up). Or you can put it on a plate and take it out to the back stoop, where it is less formal but it doesn’t matter if you drip, and eat it in the sunshine where the tomato was grown. Or you can be civilized, sit at the table, with lots of napkins, and perhaps a glass of iced tea. I pretty much like to eat my tomato sandwiches alone.

Love at first bite

Tomato sandwich
  Yum!
 

The first bite is all about texture, before the flavor. Sinking your teeth into the soft bread, the velvety emulsion of mayonnaise, the juicy-bursting tomato are all parts of the sensory experience that I look forward to. The combination of flavors to the tastebuds is perfect harmony—the subtle sweet and yeastiness of the bread is in the background for the creamy richness from the fat of the mayonnaise and the tart acid and sweetness of the tomato, accentuated by the salt and a bite of pepper. The first bite is so overwhelming to my senses that the second and third bites I actually can taste the flavors better, and the rest of the sandwich I can think about and savor.

This is a food that is about as basic as you can get, so it is very satisfying and grounding, it makes me feel safe, like coming home. However it is at the same time exquisitely sensual, titillating all of my senses, leaving me feeling satiated and well fed. Since these can only be had during the summer season, I eat them just about every day, for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or in between.

Read more about growing the best tomatoes…

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