In the South, nothing quite says summer like a fresh tomato sandwich. I was able to enjoy this treat every summer as a child growing up in East Tennessee. The sandwiches were loving prepared by my paternal grandmother and I could have enjoy one any time her tomatoes were in season since my grandparents lived next door. Grandma was an extraordinary gardener and cook, as were all her relatives and lady friends. Her summer kitchen was always filled with red ripe tomatoes. There was something magical about eating those sandwiches, with the luscious tomato juice dripping down my chin. My little sister and I enjoyed them with glasses of ice tea, while sitting in the midst of grandma’s beautiful, wild backyard garden. If you don’t have a garden to serve tomato sandwiches in, I promise they will taste just as delicious standing over the kitchen sink.
I thought of grandma’s sandwiches when I saw all the beautiful red ripe tomatoes last week at the Sandhill Farmers’ Market. I have purchased wonderful tomatoes from several of the vendors but this time, I selected tomatoes from Livingston Farms. Small tubs were available but I couldn’t resist purchasing a larger basket with really ripe tomatoes ready for eating or preserving. They tasted really delicious.
I had planned to use them in testing recipes for a magazine article I was currently working on. Those beauties were soon to become batches of Spicy Tomato Jam but after seeing another vendor’s mouthwatering cheese bread, I knew that some would be destined for fresh tomato sandwiches. This is a treat you shouldn’t miss.
The basic ingredients are simple – bread, really ripe tomatoes, mayonnaise and salt and pepper. The only absolute is red or yellow, garden-fresh, ripe tomatoes, preferably still warm from the summer sun. If all you have is a typical grocery store tomato, then skip this recipe.
Choose your favorite kind of bread – some people like Wonder Bread; others swear by homemade. I love to use soft homemade bread but Pepperidge Farm sandwich bread is also a great choice. The bread slices are a bit small but they make a nice sandwich-size snack.
The delicious cheese bread from the Company of Oh’s at Sandhill Market, (Baked Goods, Cheese Straws, Baklava, Eggs) was my choice of bread that day. They were also selling wonderful small butter cakes and cupcakes with fabulous caramel icing. For tomato sandwiches, I also like to use the crusty, chewy hearth breads from Heather’s Artisan Bakery – another popular Sandhill Farmers’ Market vendor. I especially like the Ciabatta. (Buy an extra loaf or two from these vendors and put them in the freezer -properly wrapped, they freeze exceptionally well. )
The choice of mayonnaise can be more contentious. Many South Carolinians swear by Dukes Mayonnaise, a Southern favorite. For me, Hellmann’s is the mayonnaise of choice. Full-fat is delicious but the low-fat version works just fine. Do not use the fat-free variety -the texture seems very different. You may even prefer Blue Plate or Miracle Whip Salad Dressing-but the latter tastes too sweet to me.
It isn’t necessary, but sometimes I like to add a few fresh basil leaves. (Also available at the farmers’ market.) Arugula is also a good addition or tender baby butter lettuce leaves.
This then, is the purist’s tomato sandwich. Bread, tomatoes, mayo -that’s about it.
The ingredients are simple -but they should be the finest quality you can find.
- Fresh sliced bread (fresh cheese bread is wonderful)
- Mayonnaise (Your brand – low-fat works well)
- Sliced, garden-fresh, red ripe tomatoes, preferably still warm from the sun (no substitute)
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Fresh basil leaves, or arugula leaves and butter lettuce leaves (optional)
Whether you toast the bread slices or not is up to you, but most people don’t. Spread mayonnaise generously over one slice of bread and top with tomato slices. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Top with fresh basil leaves, if desired. Spread mayonnaise on the second slice and place the bread, mayonnaise-side down, on top of the tomatoes and basil. The only remaining question – whether to cut or not. Most folks like to grab up the sandwich and eat it whole. If you cut the sandwich, use a serrated knife. Enjoy! Serves one.
Notes and Variations:
Here are some variations that take the tomato sandwich to another realm -not exactly a traditional tomato sandwich, which borders on perfection, but delicious nontheless.
- Spread bread slices with fresh creamery butter.
- Spread bread with herb-flavored mayonnaise (basil, mint, cilantro, marjoram)
- Other tasty spreads can be used on the bread, such as pesto, spicy tomato jam, olivada, tapenade or artichoke spread)
- Drizzle extra virgin olive oil and a few drops balsamic vinegar over the tomatoes.
- Add freshly-sliced cheese (smoked mozzarella, Cheddar, Brie, Swiss or any favorite kind).
The Sandhill Market is located at 900 CLEMSON ROAD, ACROSS FROM THE VILLAGE AT SANDHILL, IN NORTHEAST RICHLAND COUNTY AT CLEMSON UNIVERSITY’S SANDHILL RESEARCH AND EDUCATION CENTER. The market is open every Tuesday through November 2.
A listing of Farmers’ Markets in other areas of Columbia will soon be posted.
Photos copyright by Susan Fuller Slack