Summer tomatoes are a delicacy. The closer you live to a tomato vine the better your life will be. There is nothing like the smell of a warm tomato on the vine, nothing. Here at Camellia’s Cottage-we not only hire a pet sitter, we hire someone to water our tomatoes if we’re gone on vacation! We’ve even been known to bribe folks with tomatoes…‘If you’ll come by and pick up the mail, you can pick some tomatoes.’ Works every time. We wait on the tomatoes , fret over them- we check on them, often. When we talk tomatoes- we say morbid things like –
- ‘I think my tomatoes have blossom end rot’
- ‘Well, the hornworms are going to get to the tomatoes.’
- ‘I think a possum uprooted the tomato plants.’
- ‘The birds are going to get all of the tomatoes if you don’t get them first.’
- ‘This is the last year I’m going to plant tomatoes, so you better enjoy them.’
- ‘These tomatoes aren’t fit to eat, they’re mealy, because we’ve had too much rain.’
Even against the odds we continue to plant more than we can eat. We’ve come to believe that the smaller the tomato the bigger the taste; but the real reason is this- you can get a ripe tomato sooner! Some people want a one tomato slice sandwich- from a tomato so big, just one slice covers the whole piece of bread! Southern cooking depends on tomatoes. Fried green tomatoes originated in the south, don’t argue with me about this. We know tomatoes, especially in the very county where I live. In the upper part of St. Clair County- the most famous and highly prized tomatoes are grown, the conditions are said to be perfect right at the tail end of the Appalachian Mountains- in that one boat shaped plateau– Chandler Mountain! People take vacation time, even plan whole expeditions to go to tomato farms, owned by men like Dwight Rogers or the Smith Family and pick Chandler Mountain tomatoes!
There are at least three things folks don’t understand about southern cooking:
- Why we love to eat Grits
- Why we drink Sweet Tea
- The fascination with Tomato Sandwiches
Grits might have to wait for another time- just know that adding sugar to grits is disgusting to a Southerner. Sweet Tea we’ve already covered. Tomato sandwiches are a delicacy which can be eaten for a short span of time, only when summer tomatoes are available; otherwise you have to add things to a tomato sandwich- like bacon and lettuce or a hamburger pattie! You have six to ten weeks to consume tomato sandwiches, depending on where you live in the south- maybe less. Now, here is the recipe for one perfect tomato sandwich:
- 2 slices of white bread– this is not the time to break out the whole wheat.
- Good mayonnaise, smeared on both sides of the bread- this is to create a barrier between the bread and the juicy tomatoes.
- 1 summer tomato– sliced as thick as you dare.
- Fresh cracked black pepper
- And a generous sprinkle of good salt, tomatoes take to salt.
That’s it. There are only a few things that you can add to a tomato sandwich. Vidalia Onions sliced as thin as tissue paper and a bit of lemon zest added to the mayonnaise if you didn’t think to look for lemon juice in the ingredient label on the jar! Add anything else and you no longer have a tomato sandwich. On the side, I like to nibble a hot skinny green pepper and munch on Golden Flake Potato Chips made right here in Alabama, with my Tomato Sandwich. Pure, simple- nothing better.
I don’t expect you to understand this if you don’t have a southern palate. For me, there is a romance to a summer tomato sandwich. Imagine it- a sultry summer morning, you sashay barefoot out to check on the tomatoes, the dew is still thick on the grass. You smell the scent of the tomato vines, you see the green, the newly ripening and the perfect red fruit. Tomato red, like polished toenails. Hanging there, tempting you to reach out and pick. Oh lord, my mouth is watering now… your hand reaches out to pick the tomatoes, the prickly vine warns you to think before you pick– is it ready or not? is there any White Wonder Bread? some good mayonnaise? Golden Flake potato chips? You pick a few perfect vine ripe tomatoes, maybe a green one or two to fry…the tiny green ones would be good pickled. Bend down to the pepper plants and pick several slender.. long…green hot peppers …perfect. As the sun goes down, you might hear this-
‘Honey, do you want me to grill some steaks?’
No darlin’- it’s so hot, I think I’ll just fix us a tomato sandwich.’
‘Sounds good to me.’
I hope wherever you are, the summer tomatoes are red, ripe and delicious- maybe you’ll find it in your heart to try a Summer Tomato Sandwich! And remember, Southern Recipes are always part passion, part potion and part inherited wisdom.
Love y’all, Camellia
*Image of Dwight Rogers by Mike Callahan from Discover – the Essence of St. Clair – a wonderful local Alabama magazine! The editor is our dear friend Carol Pappas. Click on the link and you can read more about Chandler Mountain tomatoes! and visit their website- www.discoverstclair.com