Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Years ago, I was a guest on WUNC's The State of Things. I don't remember the topic that day, but as it was in mid summer, I took a big bag of tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches on white bread as a present for the staff. It was an afterthought. I usually take something to interviews and events if I have time. Apparently, after I left a small riot ensued. Ever since, on some Monday in mid July, I show up at the studio with a bag of these sandwiches. I throw them in the front door and jump out of the way- just kidding folks. I also take a bag of them out to my publisher, Algonquin Books . I use them at work sometimes as little hors d'oeuvres for old friends and once, last summer I piled a bunch of them into the shape of a birthday cake for a friend's party. Jean Anderson reprised the recipe (if you can call it that) in her new book A Love Affair With Southern Cooking . Jean received a James Beard Award this year for this book.
About the mayonnaise. My great grandmother insisted on Hellmann's. She thought it more refined. Many Southerners take issue with this and insist instead that Duke's is the only acceptable choice. I've gone round and round on this with friends like John Shelton Reed. After a lifetime of Hellmann's, Duke's seems too sweet to me, but I refuse to get really worked up about this. People should suit themselves. We're talking about lunch , not a historical re-enactment. I always salt my sandwiches as well. Some people don't. As for the type of bread, people seem to be less opinionated. I used to use only Pepperidge Farms thin sliced white sandwich, but that loaf is a little narrow for big tomato rounds, so I've switched to assorted grocery store loaves of late. I was surprised, this week to discover that freshness does make a difference with this bread. I had always assumed that it was immortal due to additives, but I got to compare a loaf that was a few days old with one that was fresh. There is a difference, although it is hard to describe, because I'm not sure that the fresher one was any better, and when the sandwiches are properly soggy, the difference vanishes.
Early on, I had mentioned the guy who lived in the hut beside the junkyard. I met him when I was picking honeysuckle. We would chat from time to time and one of our conversations was about tomato sandwiches. It was May and we were both looking forward to them. We talked about having a tomato sandwich supper in July, but now he's gone. The little lean-to is still there, but no sign of him. I used to see him around town on his bicycle, even before we met, but no sign of him of late. I always notice grown ups who travel exclusively by bicycle. I hope he's ok.
posted by Bill Smith at 5:07 AM