The late columnist, writer, humorist and avowed Southerner Lewis Grizzard once said, “The nearest thing to heaven is a home-grown tomato.”
I think he may have been right, and if not right, close. A home-grown tomato is pure, natural and, at its best, Southern. What could be closer to heaven than that?
Well, it’s that time of year again. I’ve kept up with daily reports on the state of this summer’s tomato crop. The summer’s heat has taken its toll, but all-in-all it’s been a good tomato year.
When I think of home-grown tomatoes I can smell the tomato patch, and I can feel the heat of summer. And then, I begin to think of all the possibilities.
I can dive into a fresh, red-ripe tomato like eating an apple. I prefer a pinch of salt with it, but I can do just fine without it.
A big slice of tomato adds color and zest to any plate of summer food. Tomatoes are just hard to beat.
Whether you call them “to-may-toes,” “to-mah-toes,” “ta-may-ters,” or “ma-ters,” it makes no difference. They are what they are … delicious — which brings to mind a true Southern delicacy, the tomato sandwich, or as some would say, “a mater samwich.”
According to Mr. Grizzard, in order to construct a proper tomato sandwich, you must use white bread. Any other kind of bread will not do. And the white bread must be fresh. To make the optimum sandwich experience, the tomato must be red-ripe. Preferably, the tomato slice should be so big it covers the bottom slice of bread. Salad dressing or mayonnaise should be applied liberally to two sides of the bread.
When the sandwich is ready you must eat fast. If not, you will find yourself holding a hand-full of pink mush, but it is delicious mush.
I have found when you take the first bite of a big tomato sandwich, you must sip from both sides of your mouth to keep from getting tomato juice on your chin, shirt, and lap. But it is well worth the potential hazard.
A word of warning here — do not try to make a tomato sandwich with a “store-bought” tomato. You will be bitterly disappointed, and it may turn you against tomatoes for the rest of your life.
Before I move on let me note that my friend Beverly Baines prefers mustard, “lots of mustard,” on her tomato sandwich.
For you tomato lovers who enjoy fresh salsa, here’s a word … well, two words, “Mrs. Wages.” You can find “Mrs. Wages” salsa mix in your grocery canning section (in early summer). I think the recipe calls for 12-14 ripe tomatoes, a half-cup of cider vinegar and the contents of the packet. Bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes and you have six pints of great salsa. It will maintain its fresh tomato taste for the coming year.
Caution: You must peel the tomatoes before you coarsely chop them. The results are well worth the effort. For those who like it hot, add a few chopped jalapeños to the mix.
During the last few summers of my mother’s life, she and I spent many a Saturday morning making tomato juice. My mother served as consultant and taster, and I served as the worker bee. She instructed me in how to boil the pink foam off the juice before canning, and all her other canning secrets.
Recently, I overheard a resident of West Tennessee refer to “jarring” vegetables. I had never heard that term.
Well, I am here to tell you, I can “jar” or “can” tomato juice with the best of them. And just like home-grown tomatoes, it is hard to beat home-canned (jarred) tomato juice.
I’ve said all that to say this: Enjoy the fruit of the vine before this summer is gone! (You do know tomatoes are classified as a fruit?) And have a “mater samwich” on me.
Jack McCall is a motivational humorist, Southern storyteller and author. A native Middle Tennessean, he is recognized on the national stage as a “Certified Speaking Professional.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2021 by Jack McCall.