Back last winter, when I was knocking together the first of six raised bed garden boxes in a cold breeze and a billowing flurry of snow, I found myself laughing my head off. Who would do a fool thing like this, and why?
Well, truth was, it was sheer hope for the day that surely would come, when soil had filled the boxes and manure had been worked in and the pebbles and roots pulled out and the first of the German Johnsons and the Dolly Partons and the Brandywines and the Purple Cherokees would grow fat and red and bright and be ready to adorn a slice of bread coated with a nice comfy mattress of mayonnaise.
Tomato sandwiches, yep. 'Mater Sammitches, we called 'em when we were kids. I liked 'em anyway I could get 'em: open-faced on white bread, stacked on a Ritz cracker or a saltine if we were out of bread, piled up on whole-grain bread with fresh 'cukes, or cheese dreams buried under a slab of toasted cheese or fixed in place by a slice of good sharp melted white cheddar. Poor man's pizza.
Mostly, though, I liked 'em in a sandwich, made at 8 and eaten at noon, when the bread had soaked up all the very essence of a ripe summer tomato, pulled off the vine the evening before, and the whole thing was a soggy mess, heaven in a gooey hand.
Listenhere, Ben Franklin was said to have observed, "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." If Ben said it, surely he was right.
But lookahere: you can get good beer any day of the week, 365 days a year now.
But you cannot get a good tomato every day of the year. You cannot, Sam I Am.
Good tomatoes come in for a month, maybe two in an extraordinarily good year. You have to take 'em when you can get 'em, and dream about 'em the other 10 or 11 months of the year.
I once met some good folks from Charlotte who insisted, on a stack of Bibles, that the only way to make a proper tomato sandwich was with Duke's mayonnaise. But my people were Carolina people, and we didn't have Duke's in the house. So I made do with Krafts and occasionally Miracle Whip. Then one day I watched my future wife make mayonnaise the way her momma had, with egg yolks and vegetable oil dribbled in in the tiniest of streams while the mixer whips the whole thing into a perfect blend that needs only a little lemon juice to make it just right. Spread on the mayo, easy on the 'naise, and you have got proof that Ben Franklin was probably inspired by a tomato sandwich first before he picked up his Sam Adams.
August's bounty is beginning to thin. We've still got 'em coming in on our vines, and a row of them in the kitchen window, but we can see the end coming. The garden has begin to peter out; some of the vines have dried up and rattle in the breeze, and I don't think we'll be picking them much longer.
Well, okay, It's been a superb season for nearly a month, and the tomatoes have been among the sweetest we've ever picked. I expect we'll long remember 2012 as the year the big reds came in on time and hung around long enough to forget the absurdity of working on the garden in the snow. And if Old Ben were here, we'd raise the first toast with a thick slice of summer tomato on it.