Free Markets, Free People

The Hunt For Red Tomato

One of the things I love about living in the South is the food. Yeah, I know all about the propensity to fry just about anything that can be eaten. That includes two of those foods I love – fried okra and fried green tomatoes. And hell, if you haven’t had a fried pickle, you just haven’t lived.

But there’s much more to it than fried food.

For instance there is one goody that you’re most likely not going to find in a Pennsylvania roadside produce stand that is almost a staple at a Southern produce stand. I speak, reverently, of boiled peanuts. I can’t tell you how many northerners I’ve converted over the years to this Southern delicacy. I’ve stopped many a time while driving from, say Huntsville, AL to Montgomery to pick up a hot quart of these beauties. With plenty of paper towels and an ability to drive with my knee, I’ve eaten these things until the steering wheel has a bit of a salt crust. Please note: If you’ve been driving down I-75 and stopped at Jim Bob’s Pecan Farm and bought a can of “boiled peanuts” you are a true Yankee (and Jim Bob is still chuckling about it).

Another of my Southern favorites is the tomato sandwich (or “mater sammich” if you want to go deep South). Now, before you get all excited and run off to make one, there are some things you need to know.  While it is indeed a simple delight it does have certain stringent requirements that must be met before it is certified as the “real deal”.  So pay attention.

First, it has to be on white bread. And not some “artesian”, whole grain ,fru-fru white bread. We’re talking Wonder Bread white bread. Yup, if it isn’t made with overprocessed bleached white flour with no nutritional value, it’s not fit for a tomato sandwich.

Secondly it has to have mayonnaise on it. Real mayonnaise – not “lite” or aioli or any other nasty concoction that’s low on cholesterol. Mayonnaise. Real, honest to goodness, artery clogging Hellman’s. Or Duke’s.

There is a heretic band of Southerners who claim Miracle Whip is a sanctioned substitute, but purists turn up their nose at such a desecration of a sacred Southern staple.

And, of course, wonderful, vine ripe, plump and thick homegrown tomato slices. And that’s where the eternal hunt for the tastiest tomato comes in.

Now obviously you can grow your own – and that’s preferred. But if, in your harried and hurried life, lovingly caring for a few dozen tomato vines isn’t in your future, you must, of necessity, develop your tomato sources. And trust me one of them isn’t Publix, home of more tasteless tomatoes than Food Giant. Or is it the other way around. Over the years grocery stores have tried their best to improve their tomato selection, even dragging in the little red golf balls still on the vines. But they still taste like the picked-green-and-gassed store-bought maters.

No we’re talking sources which grow their own, vine ripen them and have enough for others to buy. As you might imagine Southerners hold their tomato sources close. We’re likely to share our winter tomato sources because we can appreciate the need for a decent tomato during that season when the tomato craving hits you. We all know a year round produce place that imports Florida tomatoes. Not the picked-green-boxed-and-gassed variety, but those that are vine ripened and sold locally in FL. While they’re a commercial brand in which most of the taste has been genetically removed in favor of pest resistance and longevity in storage, they still have enough tomato taste to get you through the dark times.

But when summer rolls around, it is everyone for themselves. And July is the peak of tomato hunting season because that’s when the heirlooms come in. For taste, it’s pretty darn hard to beat ’em. There’s a type for every taste (this morning I visited my heirloom source and came home with some beauties the size of my fist).

However, other than taste, there are other requirements for the perfect tomato sandwich tomato. I mentioned plump. Like in not grainy or mealy. Ye gods there is nothing worse than cutting into what looks like a fantastic tomato and finding the inside all mealy. Blech.

The tomato must be red, although some sort of orangish or pinkish tomatos, if they’re heirlooms, are becoming grudgingly accepted. But as good as they taste in a salad, don’t hand me any yellow looking tomato in my tomato sandwich.

Last but not least, it has to smell like a tomato. If I have to tell you what a tomato smells like, I’ll just refer you back to Food Giant because you wouldn’t know a good tomato if you were formally introduced.

So take your white bread, mayonnaise and beautiful, plump and tasty tomato and combine to make a sandwich. Salt and pepper to taste. By the way, the healthy aspects of the tomato are enough to offset the health destroying aspects of the bread and mayo making this a health neutral treat and not likely to be banned under the upcoming new health care regime.



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31 Responses to The Hunt For Red Tomato

  • If you’re going to make a tomato sandwich, you need to use a Hanover tomato from Hanover, VA. Best tomato anywhere and I say this as someone who grew up in NC. The rest of your recipe is spot on.

  • My parents grow their own. My dad insists that you must have the bread waiting on the plate before you cut the tomato off the vine. And, sorry, I’m a Miracle Whip heretic in all things mayo.

  • Oh, and we eat Sunbeam around here.

    • Sunbeam works, although I find it tends to be a bit dry. I’m a Colonial man myself. And I have to say, Zozo, for a guy who’s dad is obviously dedicated to providing a mater sammich at the peak of freshness, I’m rather disturbed by the fact that he still raised a Miracle Whip heretic. 😉

  • Man, you can’t beat boiled peanuts for a driving snack. My 74 year old aunt is down visiting from Jersey, she had never heard of a boiled peanut, she quickly fell in love.
    One variant of the mater sammich that I have is, nice thick slices of Vidalia onions, when in season, and real vidalia onions, not the ones that are called vidalia and come from Florida. There is nothing wrong with Florida sweets but, you can’t beat a REAL vidalia. That’s good eatin man.

    • I like that variation Jamie and agree whole heartedly that Vidalia onions are in a class by themselves (btw, if you’re ever in Vidalia there’s a great steak restaurant there called Popi’s). Mmmm – I’m getting hungry.

  • Although salt and pepper is optional i prefer it.
    You can also put a slice or two of a real tomatoe in your grits (no sugar sorry).  Cut it up and stir it in or just eat it as you go.
    You can usually pick up real tomatoes from most farmers markets and occasionaly from side stands but be careful of the early season tomatoes some of those compete with grocery stores for tastelessness.  If you can find them brandywine (spelling?) is probably one of the best heirloom tomatoes you can get.  They tend to have more meat to them than the hybrid varieties.

  • cold biscuit with a slice of onion is pretty tasty too.

  • Oh yeah, If you HAVE to buy your tomatoes from a super market, see if there is a Whole Foods Market in your area and buy them there. Plus, they have a damn good meat selection.

  • You forgot the bacon and lettuce.

    • I was thinking much the same Harun.  Though you can skip lettuce as far as I’m concerned 😉

    • Not averse to a good old BLT, Harun, but the white bread has to be toasted if we’re going there. Oh – and then Miracle Whip is acceptable (but I’d use inferior tomatoes in the case of a BLT).

  • Real, honest to goodness, artery clogging Hellmans.
    It’s got to be Duke’s mayo and followed with a Moon Pie and an RC cola.
    Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp

  • I ate there this past May, you’re right, it is a great steak house.

  • And hell, if you haven’t had a fried pickle, you just haven’t lived.

    In Texas there is a chain of burger joints call, if I recall correctly, “What-a-Burger”.  In addition to the charm of a place that’s not a drive-thru – car-hops bring you your food, thank you very much – they have Item One of proof that God not only exists, but is indeed a good and loving God.
    Pickel-O’s.  Sliced pickles (“disks”, not wedges or those long and flat slices) battered and fried…  Truly one of the greatest foods I have ever tasted…

  • Being from Columbia, South Carolina, I do have to point out one ommission in your piece. You have dismissed the great “Hellman’s versus Duke’s” mayonnaise Debate.  I, as well as my family, prefer Duke’s. Miracle Whip is an abomination and is not spoken of in respectable circles.

    P.S. The very thought of canned boiled peanuts makes me throw up a little in my mouth.

    • Joel – I’ll make an online admission here – I have both Hellman’s and Duke’s in the fridge. So it wasn’t so much a matter of omitting it as the fact that I was ducking it. 😉

  • Curse you, McQ. I had resigned myself to yet another year of not being able to get good tomatoes, and now you have made me drool all over my keyboard. What a mess.

    Much as I detest white bread, you are indeed correct that a good tomato sandwhich must have it. That and fish bait are its only uses as far as I am concerned.

    • Sorry about that Tim — but I woke up this morning with a hankering and I’ve managed to appease it. And, as a general rule, I agree with your point about white bread. I also agree with the exceptions.

  • The only thing a store bought tomatoe is good for is decoration (cherry tomatoes are ok).

  • Whats really good is a fresh Bacon and Tomato sandwich (skip the lettuce) with just a light covering of mayo.  If the bacon is crisp and the tomatos are garden fresh it’s one of the best things in life.

    • I was introduced not too long ago to a GCBT – Grilled Cheese, Bacon and Tomato…
      Texas toast, american cheese, crispy bacon and fresh tomato slices…  I highly recomend it to anyone…

  • All of your ingredients: A proper tomato (excellent); proper mayonnaise (excellent); salt/pepper…

    Then, your bread? I like white bread as well as the next guy, but that Wonder bread crap is an abomination. If you don’t grow your own tomatoes, at least bake your own bread. Cut the crust off if you must … but I’d rather slather up a tortilla that I had joyous lard-filled plans for than use Wonderbread…

  • Ahh a good tomato sandwich. The version I grew up with was home grown tomatos, lightly toasted bread, buttered with a pich of salt. Couldn’t get enough of them.

  • I’m not sure where you are talking about (sounds good) but it ain’t Whataburger.  Whataburger has some of the best commercials, running neck and neck with Carl’s JR IMHO.
    I thought for a while that you were going to miss the salt and pepper, BTW (vital ingredients).  Here in Texas it has to be on Mrs. Baird’s bread.  Miracle Whip was preferred until they changed the recipe a few years back, and now only mayo is allowed.

  • Wnder Bread, a large helping of Hellmanns mayo (Dukes did not exsist in NJ), fresh maters, and salt to taste. That was lunch many a day in the summer growing up. Ah the memories……….