Ode to the Tomato Sandwich

Growing up, one of the surest signs of summer was the sight of my grandfather hunched over the kitchen sink and hastily eating a tomato sandwich.

It had to be hasty because the whole thing could have fallen apart at any moment. His tomato sandwich was a precise work of art. One slice of soft butter bread, preferably Sunbeam. A thick swipe of mayonnaise, preferably Hellmann’s. And as many slices of tomato as possible, preferably fresh from the garden. Topped with a little salt and pepper (or maybe sugar), finished with another slice of Sunbeam, and devoured, standing over the sink to catch the drips.

My grandad always offered me a bite, and I nearly always refused. Something about the soft bread grown mushy under the weight of a juicy tomato and mayonnaise applied with a heavy hand made me gag. I never understood the appeal of a tomato sandwich until I was older, after my grandfather died. Something about them now seems homey and comforting, rather than strange and repulsive.

My version is changed significantly, but remains true to the original. One thick slice of homemade or bakery white bread, never wheat. A healthy but not excessive swipe of mayonnaise, Hellmann’s if not homemade. And finally, a fresh, sun-ripened tomato topped with salt and cracked pepper. That part of the recipe has never changed.

I regret not developing my taste for tomato sandwiches while my grandad was alive. But eating one over the sink, with the tomato still faintly warm from the sun, brings him back just a little bit every summer.

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