It was hot. Very hot and very humid. In those dog days of summer at Dad's house, we would turn on the one air conditioner window unit we had downstairs and pretty much camp out down there. I can remember Wimbledon playing on the tiny TV that traveled around to whichever room my dad, barefoot wearing cut-off denim shorts and a perfectly worn in red Adidas t-shirt, was situated in. In the kitchen, also barefoot, with the back door open the sound of the cicadas and the smell of the 30% chance of afternoon thunderstorms through the screen door, I would be standing over the sink with a tomato sandwich in my hands and the magical mixture of salty mayonnaise and the seedy, juicy mess of the perfectly sweet and ripe tomato running down my face and wrists.
After wiping my face with the back of my hand and throwing on some flip flops, I would run out the front door to meet up with neighborhood friends and roam around streets, parks, alleys or the river until the light began to shift, the cicadas got ear-piercingly louder, and the fireflies began to light up the dusk, signifying the end of our day. All of us kids, with our hands and feet brownish-black, covered with dirt and muck, would scurry home for baths and dinner. And in those beautiful, nasty, hot, humid dog days of summer, the deep red, ripe tomatoes would most assuredly be on the plate at dinnertime as well. Perhaps served in chunks with some raw sweet corn kernels, in a mixed salad or most often, simply thickly sliced and generously sprinkled with salt and pepper.
I couldn't tell you my favorite color. I couldn't tell you my favorite ice cream flavor or my favorite band. Shockingly, I couldn't even tell you my favorite dish or meal, though sea urchin and extra salty movie theater popcorn would invariably be in the running (but not together). But I can tell you this: the tomato is my favorite food. I will eat a tomato any way it can possibly be made to exist, even in jam form. And unlike my dad, if I'm desperate, I will even eat a wintery, mealy out of season tomato. I just can't turn one away.
The perfect tomato – at least in Virginia - is a singular yet fleeting experience. Its prime season is short and very sweet. Even after spending more than a decade in Southern California, with its vast array of year-round beautiful and amazing produce, I never came across a tomato to rival the ones in Virginia in July and August.
It's 4th of July weekend – America's birthday – which harks to a lot of tradition and nostalgia for many of us. With all of our senses: smells, sounds, textures, sights and tastes in overdrive, we think of apple pies cooling on the windowsill, hot dogs and hamburgers sizzling on the grill, baseball, parades, picnics on the grass, music and fireworks. But for me, my Americana, though it can and does include those things, is really that tomato sandwich and its gorgeous juicy mess running down my face and wrists as I triumphantly devour it over the kitchen sink as the cicadas sing and I can smell the 30% chance of afternoon thunderstorms just outside the screen door.
The Perfect Tomato Sandwich
Makes 2 sandwiches
The perfect, transcendent tomato sandwich is so extraordinarily simple that it requires considerable restraint to not mess it up, to not gild the lily. There is a place and time to add the avocado or to toast the bread - or to even go full BLT - but that is a different thing entirely. For the sandwich I speak of you will need only five things and napkins and plates are not on the list.
4 slices of soft, white bread
1 large, perfectly ripe tomato, sliced about 1/4” thick (the quality of the tomato is 99.9% of what makes this sandwich great, so select yours wisely)
Salt & pepper (no need for the fancy stuff)
Go ahead and be decadent with the mayo. Smear it liberally on each piece of bread.
For that matter, go ahead and be decadent with the salt and pepper as well. Salt and pepper each slice of the mayo-laden bread.
Ideally the tomato is large enough that you will only need one, maybe two slices for the whole sandwich. Put the tomato on one side of the bread and place the other piece of bread on top.
The mayo and the juices of the tomato will quickly create a beautiful pink, milky liquid that renders the sandwich a drippy, wet mess. Embrace the mess but eat fast and deftly - I suggest over the sink. While the last bite is still in your mouth, slurp juices off hands, wipe face with back of now 'clean' hands and promptly run outside to play with your friends.
One year ago: Fig, Peach & Mascarpone Tart
Two years ago: Sausage, Egg & Fontina Cheese Pizza
Three years ago: Yerp: Part 4 - Les Sentiers Gourmands
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Five years ago: Pimiento Cheese