Editorial: Tomato sandwiches gone wild

Published 1:42 pm Tuesday, July 12, 2022

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It’s that time of the year when I usually write my ode to the tomato sandwich – that mushy, wet, messy taste of summer.

According to the internet (We all know there’s never anything that’s not true there.), the first known reference to the tomato sandwich was found in a newspaper article in 1911, when a man’s lunch was described as a tomato sandwich, a slice of watermelon, iced tea and a slice of coconut cream pie.

Well, fry my okra and butter my biscuits – that sounds like a perfect southern lunch. Or dinner. Or snack.

And believe it or not, that same internet had websites devoted to – get this – how to properly make a tomato sandwich. Step 1: Slice the tomatoes. Step 2: spread mayonnaise on two slices of bread. Step 3: Add a tomato slice or two or three to one of the slices of bread. Step 4: Top with other slice of bread. Step 5: Get a life and use your head, man (I made that one up.) But who would need a recipe to make a tomato sandwich? As it turns out, there are hundreds of such recipes out there.

At this time of year, there are so many tomatoes that you can test dozens of recipes for that beloved sandwich. Here are some gleaned from the computer, some make sense, some sound intriguing, but most – like the instructions above – are so simple even a northerner could figure them out.

“Use soft and fluffy white bread.” I’ll agree that is the best, but they’re pretty good on substantial grain breads, as well. You can get more mayo and more tomatoes on that bread without it falling apart as quickly.

“Toast the bread.” Not in my house … unless that tomato sandwich is also going to include a couple slices of bacon and a chunk of lettuce. BLTs on toasted bread, yes; tomato sandwiches on toasted bread, no.

“Salt and pepper the tomatoes lined on a paper towel.” That depends on personal preference, and how juicy the tomato is. There is a delicate balance between the soggy innards of the sandwich and the soft and pillowy bread. If you’re a very slow eater, you may actually want to follow this advice, less the sandwich fall completely apart before you finish.

One of the more odd recipes came from the New York Times, if you can believe that. The sandwich sounds good, but calling it a tomato sandwich is a bit of a stretch. It calls for toasted bread, soft tomatoes, garlic and onions, all smushed together inside of a toasted country-style bread, then sprinkled with olive oil. If I want my tomatoes mushed, I’ll make a marinara sauce. But for a sandwich? No, thank you. There’s a reason folks like me get nervous ordering from a restaurant above the Mason-Dixon Line.

One of my favorite descriptions of the sandwich came from cozykitchen.com. “During the summer we’d drive to Virginia … It was there where I’d buy big-ass tomatoes from old men who sold them out of their pick-up trucks parked alongside the road. They were beautiful and warm (the tomatoes, not the old men).” That site even knew the proper way to prepare the sandwich. “And then you eat it. Is this a recipe, per se? Not really, it’s about instincts and common sense.”

There was another recipe for a broiled tomato sandwich, in which the tomato slices are marinated in olive oil and vinegar, and the mayo is combined with herbs. The writer of this recipe proclaimed their Italian heritage.

Another site advertised a tomato sandwich with peanut butter. It sounded gross to me, too. It got even worse when it suggested you use a low-fat, creamy salad dressing such as Miracle Whip. Some folks shouldn’t be allowed to post things on the internet. Repent, people. Repent, now.

Epicurious, which sounds pretty fancy to me, too, suggested adding cole slaw to a tomato sandwich, a “slaw-mato” sandwich if you will. Hmmm. And the advice from the man who made the sandwich and gave it to the writer: “Move quickly, that won’t last.”

You’re darn right it won’t.

– Mike Barnhardt