Biting into the soft ripened flesh of a locally grown peach is a summertime pleasure I look forward to each year. A quick rinse, a bit of rubbing to remove the downy coat peaches wear so proudly before the moment of truth – will it be sweet and succulent or mealy and dry. And what a reward when the result proves once again it is Nirvana from a tree. The peach is an explosion of juice and sweetness with that tiny hint of sour – a harvest for the soul.
Yet peaches aren’t the only perfect fruit one can enjoy, nay experience, this time of the year. Let’s not forget about the tomatoes.
I’m not sure when my love affair with the tomato first began, but assuredly it had to have been in my youth. Back in the 1950’s all fresh fruits and vegetables were primarily only available during their respective growing seasons. Mass production, while part of the farm industry by then, wasn’t on the scale it is today and very few grocery chains were importing fresh produce from southern countries during the winter season. No sir, we had to enjoy peaches and tomatoes, watermelons and zucchini, leafy greens and pole beans during their short growing season – summer.
My mother depended on local farms of all sizes to provide her family with fresh seasonal fruits and veggies. As the trucks rolled along the village streets of my tiny seaside home filled with produce picked that morning, she’d flag down the driver and gather in the riches from Earth. Tomatoes were one of her personnel favorites.
These were not merely red colored orbs, these were tomatoes packed with flavor – a flavor I have yet to experience again. These tomatoes weren’t cooked into a sauce or even sliced for a salad, these tomatoes were the main course, the entrée, the prima donna of the dinner table. These tomatoes would be the stars of her bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches.
After securing the red treasure, she’d send me to the store to get the bread. Second only to the tomato, the bread for these sandwiches had to be a fresh loaf of Wonderbread.
The soft, doughy enriched and bleached wheat slices baked in a factory located in New Bedford were a mainstay of our existence. They were breakfast before school, lunch during school, and – in the summertime – a participant in that sandwich unmatched anywhere else on earth: a BLT.
Ma would cut thick juicy slabs of beefsteak tomatoes while the bacon sizzled splendidly in the cast iron flying pan. Meticulous as ever, she’d keep the flame just right to minimize the fat splatter, her stove was a beacon of cleaning virtue bar none. The simmering result was bacon cooked to perfection. The smell was intoxicating.
On the table, she’d place the jar of mayonnaise, the absolutely necessary condiment, the shimmering plate of tomatoes, the cooling strips of bacon, along with the bag of bread, “Come and get it!”
Dad always got his plate first in deference to his position as the breadwinner, no pun intended, but he scanned his eye across the table noting the bounty he’d provided and, no doubt, taking pleasure in seeing his children fed.
I’d carefully build my sandwich. Avoiding the tougher end slices from the bread loaf as I preferred the spongy inner slices. Then came a slathering of mayo, followed by a crisp iceberg lettuce leaf positioned to cradle the tomato lovingly placed in its waiting embrace, and finally the smoky, salty bacon strips. Take that you Jambon Beurre! Touché!!!
We were a very causal family, not predisposed to sit at a dinner table, but instead we’d leave Dad at his post in the kitchen and bring our plates into the living room where Ma would have placed the TV tray tables, and where we’d watch the nightly news while eating supper.
From the first bite until the last, the only thing I remember are those sandwiches, not what Walter Cronkite was reporting, regardless of its importance. I was eating a summer BLT.
The combination of soft yielding bread, creamy mayonnaise, acidic and flavorful tomato flesh, and salty crunchy bacon blended slowly in the mouth of an eight-year-old connoisseur – is this not how a gourmand is created I ask you? And given that all these decades later one of my fondest childhood memories are the summer tomatoes of my youth prepared into BTL sandwiches by my mother, well it speaks volumes, does it not?
Today, my favorite sandwich remains a white bread BTL, although the bread most likely is sourdough or, I must confess, even a baguette.
From my three tomato plants I harvest my small crop of homegrown jewels. As I assemble my leafy greens and lemon tomato sandwich with mayo, I think of Ma and how much she taught me to appreciate simply good, fresh foods. While she was the Queen of all things frozen and canned, in the summer, she knew the few precious weeks of fresh fruits and vegetables had to be taken advantage of – maybe she hoped I’d remember.
This Mattapoisett Life
By Marilou Newell