The song “Homegrown Tomatoes” was written by a guy named Guy Clark, but most folks remember the recording by far-out John Denver. The song could be our ‘Berry Summer Anthem.
‘Tis one of my all-time favorite toe-tappers, and if you haven’t heard it, Google soon and sing along. Just keep in mind, one part of the lyrics is flat-fritter wrong. According to the song, “Only two things that money can’t buy, That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.”
As for true love, you’re on your own. As for homegrown tomatoes? They can be bought every Berry Saturday at 9 a.m. in Memorial Park at the Farmers’ Market. Best use of homegrown tomatoes, from the backyard garden or the farmer’s market? In my never humble opinion, nothing tastes more summertime-delicious than a fine tomato sandwich. Most of us grew up with little variation on the traditional theme. Slather white bread with Duke’s mayonnaise, pile on the sliced tomatoes, sprinkle with salt. Serve with Lay’s potato chips on the side.
Healthy? No. Summertime goodness on a paper plate? Goodness, yes! The double-goodness is, of course, intentional.
As “far out” as I go in veering from the traditional is this: I sometimes use light Duke’s mayo instead of regular. I have also, when feeling particularly daring, added pepper. Some traditions are too dear to our hearts to be forsaken. The publisher of Newberry Magazine, however, has taken the tomato sandwich to new heights—on two continents.
First, Rob Summer’s Best-Ever Tomato Sandwich (BETS) story begins, “I was hitchhiking across Ghana with an Italian girl—” Yeah, at first I thought he was joking, too, but he’s not. Then there’s his Best Ever Tomato Sandwich (BETS) itself, the assembly of which requires a culinary adventure kit. Indeed, he was a fierce competitor in the first ever Battle of the BETS in Memorial Square.
At the first Farmer’s Market of the season, Rob Summer and I went sandwich-to-sandwich and story-to-story in a Battle of the BETS. I brought what I needed for the traditional sandwich assembly, and the story I brought was simple and sweet. When my Aunt Eva James took all her nieces and nephews to the beach for the first time, she carried along a basket of tomatoes for our sandwiches. Rob, of course, brought super-healthy whole wheat bread, a jar of prissy Hellman’s mayo, smoked kosher salt, coarse-ground gourmet pepper and scissors for snipping the fresh sweet basil—and one downright incredible story.
Neither of us brought tomatoes.
Before the 9 a.m. bell, as I searched in vain for tomatoes at the market, I recalled what our Atlanta friend Phil Dickey once said: plant tomatoes on Good Friday, pick tomatoes on the Fourth (of July). Early June was quite early for tomatoes, but thank goodness, some folks plant early. On the third pass around the market, the Battle of the BETS was saved when one vendor brought out tomatoes from the back of a pick-up.
So the Battle began…
While the market buzzed by, Rob and I assembled our sandwiches, set ‘em on a tray, and asked folks to give ‘em a try. We asked for their Best Ever Tomato Sandwich (BETS) suggestions, as well as their best BETS stories. Incredibly, Rob’s fru-fru gourmet-inspired sandwich received better reviews than my traditional (I mentioned he’s the boss, right?). No doubt in all the world—on three continents, at least—his BETS story trumped mine hands down, hands up, and give-the-boy-a-hand.
Yep, the winner of the Berry’s first Battle of BETS is Robert the Summer. As for Sue the Summer? I am nothing if not loyal. When the heat is on this summer, I’ll be humming “Homegrown Tomatoes” and slathering on the Dukes.
Hurrah and hurray, homegrown tomatoes are for sale on Berry Saturdays-
And with a traditionally fine tomato sandwich, it may be possible for me to buy a li’l true love at my house. As Guy wrote and John sang, “What would life be without homegrown tomatoes?
Life is good, children. Life is good
BETS: Hellman’s, white bread. Home-grown tomatoes.
Rob Summer, Publisher of Newberry Magazine
BETS: Multigrain bread, Hellman’s, kosher salt, fresh basil.
**BEST BETS Story-Ever: “I was hitchhiking across Ghana with an Italian girl. Her name was Elisabetta. We were in a small village, and she went to market. She bought local bread and fresh tomatoes, used Laughing Cow cheese instead of mayonnaise to make the tomato sandwiches.”
(Yeah, at first I thought he was joking, too.)
When not traveling through Africa with Italian beauties, Rob makes a healthy and tasty tomato sandwich with multi-grain bread, kosher salt, fresh basil and Hellman’s.
No way, no Duke’s for the world traveler.
BETS: Dukes, bright red sweet tomatoes, white soft bread, salt and pepper. Paired with wine from Enoree River Vineyards, of course.
“With tomato sandwiches, I’d recommend a chilled white wine. Sadly, we don’t have any Curious White at the moment, but a glass of Chardony, or dry white Carlos muscedine would be perfect for the Southern palate.”
BETS: light bread, the softer the better; Dukes mayo currently, but years ago used Miracle Whip (or a combination of both); home-grown tomatoes (from the deck); salt and pepper.
In the Coggins household, Hellman’s is not for tomato sandwiches but for potato salad.
“I want my tomatoes so juicy, I have to lean over the sink to eat the sandwich!”
BETS: Dukes mayo (“of course”), white bread, tomatoes.
Molly grew up on a farm in the 1950s, and her dad had a garden. Usually, his tomatoes were ripe around the Fourth of July, and his tomato sandwiches were the best-ever.
“I like to squish the sandwich down, to make the tomatoes extra-juicy.”
BETS: BLT (bacon, lettuce, tomato). Avocado or cucumbers.
“The avocado is great, really great. Cucumbers are good, too.”
BETS: Dukes, whole wheat bread.
“We love tomato sandwiches!”
BETS: She thought Rob’s sandwich was better, with the multi-grain bread. Usually, she uses Miracle Whip on white bread, with kosher salt and pepper.
“Best-ever tomato sandwich was at our house, made with tomatoes we bought at the Farmer’s Market. I had to stand over the sink to eat it, otherwise the juice would have dribbled everywhere. My grits bread makes a great tomato sandwich, too, because it holds up to the juice. I like Hellman’s better than Dukes, it’s more acidic.”
(Acidic? My breadmaker friend Andy thinks vinegar is the fifth and finest of all basic food groups. If Vinegar Jello were available, and if it could be used as a sandwich spread, Andy would buy it by the case. Thank you, Jim Chaffin, for the raspberry vinegar epiphany.)
BETS: Beefeater tomatoes.
“I grew tomatoes in Tennessee. When they came in, I knew they were good. I like the Beefeater tomato for sandwiches because one slice covers the bread.”
BETS: With bacon.
Tomato sandwiches were served for lunch on Richard’s first beach trip with his new in-laws, soon after he and Polly were married. He remembers vividly that tomato sandwich with five (1-2-3-4-5) slices of bacon.
Again, what’s not to like about bacon??
BETS: Tomato pie, if she had no allergies.
“If I could eat tomatoes, I’d use Miracle Whip—if I were having a sandwich, but chances are my homegrown tomatoes would be in a pie.”
Lexy the Clown
BETS: Dukes. White Sunbeam bread. Newberry County tomatoes. Lettuce.
“I do love tomato sandwiches. That’s why I have this big belly!”
BETS: White bread, fresh tomatoes, Dukes mayo. OR Tomato biscuits.
All sandwiches are better at the beach, particularly tomato sandwiches. “When I was little, we ate tomato biscuits. Put a fresh tomato on a biscuit, turns the biscuit pink. Sooo good!”
BETS: Fresh tomato on a grilled cheese.
As with bacon, what’s not to like about grilled cheese??
BETS:. Dukes mayo, Wonder Bread, for its “better texture.”
BETS: Mayo on white bread.
“When I was a child, I walked in one day and there were tomato sandwiches. It was hot, in the summer, but the tomatoes were cool. I still remember that day!”
BETS: Homemade biscuit, juicy tomato, Dukes mayo.
“My parents ran a small grocery store, and they sold Sunbeam bread and Duke’s mayonnaise. That makes a wonderful tomato sandwich, too!”
BETS: Basil, dill.
“I think dill would be good on a tomato sandwich. Will try that tonight.”
“Rob’s sandwich looks healthier, and basil gives the sandwich a kick.”
BETS: Tomato biscuit.
“I love fresh tomatoes on a homemade biscuit, with mayo or without.” Her granddaughter Edie has not yet had a tomato biscuit, but as soon as those teeth appear….
Mary Alex Kopp, tourism and events coordinator for the City of Newberry
BETS: White bread, mayo, tomato.
Mary Alex once worked at a summer camp in North Carolina, Bonclarken. After dealing with children all day—teaching songs, playing games, herding kids safely from Point A to Point B—all the counselors would meet to discuss the day.
Camp director, Trip McGill, knew how to keep his counselors smiling. Once a week, he would hit the farmers’ market in Hendersonville, and his counselors would have fresh tomato sandwiches.
For Mary Alex, these best-ever tomato sandwiches were also the best-ever remedy for homesickness.