I asked several friends to describe favorite tomato sandwiches. People are passionate about this and provided descriptions and a few ground rules, meant to be broken.
1. They go on bread (that's why they're called sandwiches). Most popular bread is sturdy white. Lisa Cherkasky, who blogs about sandwiches at midnightsnack.wordpress.com, specified thin-sliced white bread with a fine crumb that's just slightly sweet. Martha Foose uses her baker-husband's slicing loaf. Michele Scicolone likes hot pita bread but remarked that anything would do. Susan Barclay uses homemade white bread. Marlene Parrish and I prefer toast. China Millman specified toasted California sourdough. Lacking that, thinly sliced, toasted Breadworks sourdough makes an admirable sandwich.
2. Gotta have mayo. Hellmann's was named most often, though Susan likes Miracle Whip, plus a fried egg and bacon, and then feels guilty. Michele likes to "keep it simple -- a pinch of kosher or fleur de sel, lots of Hellmann's."
Martha and China prefer homemade mayonnaise. China specified mayonnaise prepared with half olive and half grapeseed oil. Marlene likes to mash an avocado with salt to spread over the mayo.
Linda Cedarbaum and Marie Simmons eschew mayo altogether. While Linda provided a laundry list of delicious spread options, including tapenade and pesto, Marie was simple and specific: "Warm buttered toasted English muffin, one thick slab of a beefsteak tomato (no wimpy heirlooms will do for this recipe!) and a few big green basil leaves. No mayo, I like butter better."
3. Good with bacon. Bacon was the most popular add-on. I'm not sure if that brings the tomato sandwich into the BLT range. It does seem that when some people think "tomatoes" they next think "bacon." China likes thick-cut bacon, thick slices of red or yellow Brandywines, and frisee, instead of lettuce. Marlene might add good bacon to her tomato sandwich, but "then it becomes a BLT," she said.
For my sandwiches, I cut ripe homegrown Brandywines into thick slices, sprinkling them with kosher salt before sandwiching. I might add thinly sliced red onion and a slice or two of bread-and-butter pickle. This goes on toasted sourdough or rye; mayo is Hellmann's, used sparingly. That's it, really. It's all about the tomato. You must eat the sandwich warm, tomato must be ripe but not mushy and there's got to be enough salt and never too much mayo.
In Vicksburg, Miss., people make quite a fuss over the tomato sandwich. Marcie Cohen Ferris, president of the Southern Foodways Alliance, mentioned the Vicksburg tomato sandwiches prepared by Emily Compton in a touching piece about a family funeral in Mississippi.
The tomatoes must be peeled (bad form not to). The bread is white and soft with no crusts, cut into rounds with biscuit cutters, about the size of the tomatoes. The mayo is always homemade.
"Mrs. Compton made some with a light whole wheat bread and a spicier mayo, which were delicious too," said Marcie. "She called those 'hot,' and you eat a zillion of them, not just one or two."
This recipe was printed in The New Orleans Times-Picayune. In Vicksburg, these sandwiches are considered mandatory at every party.
- 4 loaves day-old sliced bread
- 6 to 8 medium tomatoes, peeled
- Salt and pepper
- Mayonnaise, preferably homemade
- 1 grated onion with juice
With large (2- or 3-inch) biscuit cutter, cut bread slices into 72 rounds. Slice tomatoes thinly and place on double sheets of paper towel to drain. Salt and pepper tomatoes.
Spread mayonnaise on bread rounds. Place well-drained tomato slices on half the bread; sprinkle again with salt and pepper. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon onion with juice over each tomato and top with remaining bread rounds. Sprinkle tops with paprika.
To hold until serving, place on baking sheet with waxed paper between the layers.
Makes 36 sandwiches.
-- Junior Auxiliary of Vicksburg, Miss.
Miriam Rubin, a cookbook author and food writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .