By Chuck Reece
Instructions for making a tomato sandwich the right way should always begin with this couplet from the late, great songwriter Guy Clark:
Up in the mornin’, out in the garden
Get you a ripe ’un, don’t get a hard ’un
Perfect tomato sandwiches require ripe, juicy tomatoes, preferably fresh off the vine or from your local farmer’s market. If you don’t have a tomato like that, then don’t make a tomato sandwich. Few things are worse than a tomato sandwich with a mealy, plain-Jane, supermarket tomato.
If you have a fine, fresh tomato (and you should, because it’s summertime), you need only four other ingredients:
No. 1: White bread. By that, I do not mean dense, homemade white bread. I mean store-bought white sandwich bread. Sunbeam is my go-to loaf.
No. 2: Salt. I like kosher salt, because it gives you just a smidge of crunchiness.
No. 3: Black pepper. Freshly ground is best.
And finally, No. 4, you need mayonnaise.
Most Southerners, I believe, would agree with me about the fresh-tomato requirement, but the question of which mayo to use will always start an argument among tomato-sandwich lovers. The battle is always between the Two Great Southern Mayonnaises: Duke’s vs. Blue Plate.
Duke’s origins were in Greenville, South Carolina. Blue Plate was born in Gretna, Louisiana.
Hellmann’s, which originated in New York City, should not even be under consideration.
As for the Duke’s vs. Blue Plate question, I stay on the sidelines. I grew up eating Blue Plate, and I still stick with it, but I have no problem with Duke’s. To my palate, it’s slightly tangier than Blue Plate. Either works on a tomato sandwich.
To assemble the sandwich, slice the tomato thickly, spread lots of mayo on the white bread, cover one side with tomato slices, then salt and pepper it to taste.
You probably think you need no instruction on how to eat a tomato sandwich, but I do have some recommendations. First, never eat a tomato sandwich wearing long sleeves. Second, a tomato sandwich is best eaten while standing over your kitchen sink.
The Southerner’s ideal tomato sandwich — with a juicy, ripe tomato and the requisite amount of mayonnaise — will, when bitten into, send a stream of tomato juice and mayo out of the sandwich and down your arms. That’s why you can’t wear long sleeves. It’s also why you stand over the sink, so the juice can run down your arms and drip from your elbows, safely, into the drain.
When you’re finished eating, just grab the soap, wash your arms and hands, and then go on about your day, happy in the knowledge that you have made and eaten a tomato sandwich just as your grandmama intended.
An edited version of this column was first presented as an audio commentary for “On Second Thought,” a Georgia Public Broadcasting radio program.