Classic Southern Sandwiches… A whole new category of Southern food began with the advent of the pre-sliced Pullman loaf of bread. If you were driving through Birmingham late at night years ago, you could see the fires of Sloss Furnace and smell the delightful aroma of fresh baked bread! Dainty Sandwiches were served in the nursery all the way to the grave as funeral food. Whole generations of children learned their shapes from dainty crustless sandwiches- rectangles, squares, triangles and circles. Dainty sandwiches, easy to pick up and digest- well, they became a perfect funeral food- with fillings to die for… Generations of school children had crustless Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches packed in brown bags- I know this because my best friend in second grade- lorded over me with hers by slowly mashing the filling up to the edge of her triangle and batting her pale blue eyes at me, then she would run out her little pink tongue and lick it off, while I was at the mercy of the lunch ladies to fix my plate with arguably the finest food in the region at Minnie Holman Grammar School. I do admit to trading a big warm yeast roll for a half of her dainty crustless sandwich! Crustless Sandwiches became known and revered as Tea Sandwiches. The finest cooks took almost as much time decorating Tea Sandwiches as they did icing Petit Fours for Afternoon Teas, Coffees, Bridal Tables and Ladies Luncheons. In fact our Southern mothers insisted on removing the bread crusts for dainty sandwiches and for toast points- leaving the crust on- just wasn’t done. However, two Classic Sandwiches did allow for crusts and were often eaten- privately (I’m sure) or by common folk who had the nerve to leave the crusts on…these two classic sandwiches are revered by Southerners- the Tomato Sandwich and the Classic Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich. I do not know of a Southerner who doesn’t love a summer Tomato Sandwich above all others, but will turn their nose up if tomatoes are not in season. Second on the favorite sandwich list has to be the Classic BLT. Now, I know there are Designer Versions out there and yes, some are very good- the problem is- once you veer away from Bacon Lettuce and Tomato- you don’t have a BLT anymore! Now, before summer tomatoes get ripe and for the few short weeks they are available to us, still warm from the vine- Southerners console ourselves with a hothouse tomato or maybe an early tomato shipped from Florida- but we know it won’t taste right in a Tomato Sandwich. Here’s the solution- what seems like an interminable period of time, when the tomato plants are in the ground and the flowers are set…on a warm sunny day- we dream of a Tomato Sandwich but we whet our appetites with a Bacon Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich. We actually leave the crusts on! Let me describe a real one…
- There cannot be enough Bacon- some like it thin and crisp- others like it on the thick side but the main criteria is that it must be fully cooked and drained on paper towels.
- While I have developed a taste for a healthier light wheat bread- Purists insist on Merita® or Bunny® Bread- the much maligned white bread is just right for a Summer Tomato Sandwich, however we never eat a BLT without Toasted Bread!
- Smear the toasted bread with Mayonnaise lemon-y and smooth- preferably homemade.. I know, I know- I’m just going for perfection here (find a commercial mayonnaise with lemon juice in it and add a squeeze or two and maybe the Grand Southern Ladies won’t notice!
- Cool, Crisp Crunch Lettuce on each side of the mayonnaise-d toasted bread.
- Take the best firm Tomato you can find. I prefer to slice the Tomato into a medium slice, some prefer thinly sliced- but the main requirement is to make sure there is enough Tomato to cover the surface so there is tomato in every bite.
- Fresh Cracked Black Pepper is a really nice touch, but regular pepper is a must, then just enough Salt to offset the less than perfect not-quite-summer Tomato.
- Now, you cannot eat a BLT whole, but please carefully cut this Classic Southern Sandwich on the diagonal before you eat it.
- Golden Flake Potato Chips are the perfect side and made right here in Alabama.
- And I am not opposed to a garnish of a perfect boiled egg dusted with paprika or a spicy pepper, but please not in or on the Classic BLT.
Our weekly household helper, Bea, occasionally made BLT sandwiches for me starting when I was four when my sister was in ‘big school’ and Momma was on her weekly shopping trip downtown- Bea wrapped the whole BLT in an amazing fashion with wax paper, then with a serrated knife cut right through the paper and sandwich- into those perfect triangles. Somehow she turned back the wax paper to catch the drips- telling me-
‘Now, missy if you gone eat this sam-ich, you gotta have it wrapped or the juices gonna run down yo’ ah-rm, and yo momma gonna whup me and you bof-h!’
Bea was right about those juices- I’m doubtful my sweet momma would’ve laid a hand on either one of us! You might want to diaper your BLT with a nice paper napkin…or shoot…just go ahead and let the juices run down your arm! On warm Spring days- I hope you will enjoy a Classic Southern Sandwich- the wonderful Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato! Love y’all, Camellia
*photographs are obviously mine