The Tomato Sandwich: Summer's Ultimate Food

comments (19) July 28th, 2009

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cookinwithherbs susan belsinger, contributor
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A fat and juicy heirloom tomato is the star of this tomato sandwich.
Sliced garden-grown tomatoes, sandwich bread, and mayonnaise: With just three main ingredients, you can make a delicious summer sandwich.
A fat and juicy heirloom tomato is the star of this tomato sandwich.Click To Enlarge

A fat and juicy heirloom tomato is the star of this tomato sandwich.

Photo: 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...


posted in: tomatoes

Comments (19)

el_ocsuro writes: Best. Article. Ever. I didn't even know there was such a thing as a tomato knife. I hopped over to Amazon and found Rada, which is $6, highly rated and (most surprisingly) made in the USA.

My tomatoes are pretty much played out this year and I will have to subside on the farmers market.

If you like Wonder bread, try Martins potato bread, It is soft just like Wonder but actually has a lot of Fiber. For the mayo, I use an olive oil version. It has half the calories and all of the major brands have one now. More mayo and less guilt. What could possibly be better?
Posted: 8:15 pm on September 15th
Whit128 writes: During my childhood, these were known as Squishy tomato sandwiches, and we used celery salt instead of regular salt, but otherwise they were the same. When we were traveling in the car, my mother would put the sandwiches into the glove compartment to "age" and they would be wet and squishy for lunch. I still eat them nearly every day, and still wonder why anyone would bother with lettuce, which interferes with absorption of the juices.
Posted: 11:22 am on August 20th
70weeder writes: Thanks for the additional ideas for the beloved tomato sandwich. My favorite is with soft white or wheat bread, sliced tomatoes, and cucumber slices that have been marinated in vinegar and water. Add a little salt & pepper. No Mayo needed, just lots of napkins.
Posted: 8:57 am on September 14th
RubyM writes: While I'm almost embarrased to send this in,
there is nothing better than a tomatoe warm
from the sun in a sandwich with cheeze whiz
(the only time of the year I buy it) and chopped
onions). Salt and lots of pepper..........mmmmmmm
Posted: 4:25 pm on August 17th
LRaye writes: Susan, you have beautifully described my own favorite summer ritual, right down to licking the mayo off my knuckles and eating the sandwich in private. Of course there are tasty variations, but one cannot improve upon this most basic and ambrosial of sandwiches.
Posted: 1:47 pm on July 21st
TorinSC writes: Hmmmmm, hubby and I have been enjoying tomato sandwiches for weeks now! I agree, I could live off them! Sometimes I add cheese or lettuce, but usually the basic is my favorite!
Posted: 9:35 am on July 20th
Schatzi writes: I can live on tomato sandwiches in the summer! But I prefer a bread with some substance and texture to it - cracked wheat, for instance. But for pure perfection, try a tomato sandwich on lightly toasted jalapena bread. It is a whole new flavor experience.
Posted: 2:59 pm on August 11th
beckia writes: Only homegrown tomatoes go in my sandwich. Wheat bread, thick slices of tomato, mayo (fat free because of diet), salt, pepper and-----a shot of vinegar, either cider or balsamic. Yum.
Posted: 11:08 am on August 11th
MarAnn writes:
Hi!

I was reared on a tobacco farm in eastern North Carolina. We naturally had a huge vegetable garden and I loved those tomatoes! On the days we barned tobacco I would get up earlier enough to make me a tomato sandwich with lots of mayo and definitely on white bread (we called in light bread), wrapped it in wax paper. I always looked forward to Break Time so I could eat that soggy tomato sandwich -- all the flavors would blend together -- so good! Today I grow Homestead Tomatoes so I can have the same treat. When I eat them it is like being back at my homeplace.

Margie Woodall
Posted: 6:47 pm on August 10th
cookinwithherbs writes: dear delolds,
ain't it the truth!

for the other vg commentators,
for me the whole idea of the tomato sandwich is the simplicty of it--tomato, bread, and the adornment of good quality mayo along with salt and pepper of course--i am a purist (who rarely deviates from this particular sandwich).

and then there are variations on the theme...which are endless...whatever makes your tastebuds tapdance--go for it.
right now i am favoring the brandywines although the cherokee purple are pretty darn good. sorry for you northerners--guess you'll just have to salivate at the thought of our tomato pleasures.

here is another tomato-type sandwich which makes me happy:
toast nice rustic bread and once cool, rub each piece, both sides with a garlic clove. the clove should disappear as you "grate" it into the toast. place on a plate and drizzle eversolightly with extra-virgin olive oil. lay slices of dead-ripe summer tomatoes on the toast with a few shredded basil leaves and garnish lightly with salt and freshly ground pepper. if you want--gently mash the tomatoes onto the bread with the back of a fork--this step releases the juices and holds the tomato slices from slipping around however it is not necessary. buon appetito!
Posted: 6:13 pm on August 10th
cookinwithherbs writes: dear delolds,
ain't it the truth!

for the other vg commentators,
for me the whole idea of the tomato sandwich is the simplicty of it--tomato, bread, and the adornment of good quality mayo along with salt and pepper of course--i am a purist (who rarely deviates from this particular sandwich).

and then there are variations on the theme...which are endless...whatever makes your tastebuds tapdance--go for it.
right now i am favoring the brandywines although the cherokee purple are pretty darn good. sorry for you northerners--guess you'll just have to salivate at the thought of our tomato pleasures.

here is another tomato-type sandwich which makes me happy:
toast nice rustic bread and once cool, rub each piece, both sides with a garlic clove. the clove should disappear as you "grate" it into the toast. place on a plate and drizzle eversolightly with extra-virgin olive oil. lay slices of dead-ripe summer tomatoes on the toast with a few shredded basil leaves and garnish lightly with salt and freshly ground pepper. if you want--gently mash the tomatoes onto the bread with the back of a fork--this step releases the juices and holds the tomato slices from slipping around however it is not necessary. buon appetito!
Posted: 6:12 pm on August 10th
Zoyd writes: Here in Northern Virginia we had a cool, wet spring. There was concern that the flowers would be washed off the tomato plants and we would get nothing. But, unlike you folks in the Northeast who have been paying dearly for your licentious ways, we have had beautiful lush tomatoes for some time now at the farmers market. We also have the luxury of a baker who delivers the perfect bread - a sweet, yeasty loaf - from which big fat slices may be cut to provide the perfect envelope for the fresh tomato, cheese and basil.

Although it is highly unlikely that I will ever experience it, this is what I imagine heaven to be - an eternity of fresh tomato sandwiches.

(Zoyd is on his way to the kitchen now and it is advisable not to interrupt him until he is done.)
Posted: 6:02 pm on August 10th
Delolds writes: Only two things money can't buy, true love and home-grown tomatoes!
Posted: 4:29 pm on August 10th
shantihhh writes: My favourite Heirloom Tomato Sandwich:

Lightly toasted SF Sourdough bread
thick slices of heirloom tomatoes*
Best Foods Mayo smear on each slice of bread
slices ripe avocado
crisp Applewood Smoked Bacon
Daikon sprots.

That's a tomato Sandwich!

* such as Paul Robeson, Brandywine OTV, Aunt Gertie's Gold, Hawaiian Pineapple, Cherokee Purple, Kellogg's Breakfast, Mr. Stripy, Great White, Kosovo, Thessaloniki Ox Heart, etc.

We're just beginning to pick some large heirlooms!

Mary-Anne in SF Bay Area
TomatoMania





Posted: 3:42 pm on August 10th
stephi writes: No ripe tomatoes here in Ohio either. The last two days it has finally been above 80 degrees!
I have not tried the tomato sandwich but my fave is Hellman's. I'm just not sure I can live without the bacon.
Posted: 2:47 pm on August 10th
WhatsTheMuck writes: As another girl from Baltimore, I concur with most of the author's post.
BUT.
A light toasting of a fabulous whole grain bread adds an extra dimension; you get the creamy mayo juicy tomato initial resistance of the bread crust experience. Said crust then succumbs to the above mentioned creamy juiciness, and hence reveals tomato nirvana.
And a basil leaf tucked in here and there ain't too bad either!
Posted: 11:06 pm on August 6th
Ruth writes: You are both so lucky to have tomatoes already. It looks like I might have to wait until Labor Day this year, since the varieties I'm growing don't take kindly to the cool, wet weather we've been having in the Northeast.
Posted: 8:55 am on July 30th
cookinwithherbs writes: hi chris,
glad you are inpsired; i have been eating a tomato sandwich pretty much everyday now that they are in season. i've toasted the bread before which makes the sandwich more like bruschetta. somehow the softness of the bread with the mayonnaise seems to soak up the juice of the tomato so well. the lemon pepper sounds like an interesting twist--sometimes i add a basil leaf--however mostly i eat my tomato sandwiches unadulterated.
happy herbing!
susan
Posted: 3:05 am on July 30th
ChrisMcLaughlin writes: Susan,

Thanks for reminding me of an old favorite! My friend (years ago) taught me to toast the bread and add lemon pepper...it was heavenly! Especially with heirloom tomatoes!
Posted: 8:37 pm on July 28th
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