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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Simple, Frugal Pleasures: The Tomato Sandwich

By Frugal Son:

In these times of economic uncertainty, I have noticed an increasing number of newspaper articles on the subject of simple pleasures. Usually, the articles profile a few of the formerly wealthy—almost invariably workers in finance or real estate—and the adjustments they’ve had to make since their jobs and savings collapsed along with the rest of the economy. It’s as though these articles are all cut from the same mold with only a few details changed; without fail, these fallen elite mention that the things that have truly brought them happiness were not expensive cars, luxurious boats, or opulent houses. Rather, the simple pleasures of life continue to steadily deliver even in the worst of financial scenarios. Things like taking a walk with your family, reading a book, or enjoying a piece of good Cabot cheddar are affordable even in the worst of times. And lest you think I’m preaching self-deprivation, there are frugal pleasures to be had even within expensive contexts. While a walk in the neighborhood is nice, a night stroll in a great city like Paris heightens an already enjoyable experience.

Believe it or not, this meandering post came to me as I thought about how much I enjoy eating sandwiches made with my father’s home-grown tomatoes on my father‘s (already blogged-about) bread. For the six weeks out of the year that our tomato plants produce--soil blight and the heat shorten our growing season--we have beautiful, fresh tomatoes every day. Rather than cook them and destroy the fresh flavor, our family’s preferred method of use is the simple tomato sandwich. According to my father, he developed our version of the tomato sandwich out of necessity as a way to use up the precious, but perishable, tomatoes. He credits the venerable BLT as the inspiration for his stripped down and tomato-centric sandwich. The sandwich is composed of just four ingredients: bread, mayonnaise, cheese, and tomatoes. After toasting the bread, I put a thin layer of mayonnaise on one slice of bread followed by a few thin slivers of Cabot cheddar. The raisons d’etre of the sandwich, of course, are the plump round slices of succulent tomato that I add last before closing the sandwich.

In years past, the family has embellished the sandwich with lettuce, adding a pleasant crunch, or a few leaves of fresh basil, for a burst of herby freshness, but we always end up going back to the original, simple sandwich. Something about a fresh tomato sandwich, the lingering warmth of the toasted bread meeting the cool tomato slices, is supremely refreshing on a hot summer’s day. The experience, for me, is almost Proustian and reminds me of summers long ago spent playing in the rows of tomato plants. Conversely, when I think of summer tomato sandwiches are one of the first things that come to my mind.

Though our tomato plants have a fleeting production cycle, they yield copious amounts of fruit for a few brief weeks, and, during the times of tomato plenty, each person in the household eats two sandwiches per day, if not more, lest the tomatoes start to go bad. The tomato glut has other strange effects on our eating habits; the six brief weeks of tomato sandwich season account for well over half of our yearly mayonnaise consumption. So, as the world faces its problems and I my own (a particularly unpleasant visa situation for my upcoming study abroad experience being my latest fiasco), I take great comfort in the fact that I can stop for a few minutes in the mid-afternoon to relax and remind myself of the simple pleasures and beauties of life in the austerity of a tomato sandwich.


Chance said...

Eyeing my Vermont green tomatoes and thinking of you with envy. I'll be there next month but I can't wait. And yes! Cabot Seriously Sharp Chedder is the best cheese evah to put on a tomater sanwich. We take the same approach at our house, eat like the queens of carotene and then when we can't anymore, we start canning.

Seth said...

Tomatoes are very hit and miss for me. Growing up, my mom would frequently slice a tomato (generally fresh from my grandparents' garden) on a plate and add salt and pepper. It made a great little snack.

I recently tried to recreate this with a supermarket tomato, but was disappointed. I'm not sure if my slices were too fat, if it was simply too cold fresh out of the fridge, or if the supermarket tomato just wasn't very good.

At any rate, I support your tomato-related frugality.

Over the Cubicle Wall said...

Tomato sandwiches are excellent. I usually eat mine with a sweet onion slice, some good mozzarella, and oil and vinegar rather than mayo. One of the best parts of Summer.

Duchesse said...

Few things in life rival a tomato sandwich on homemade bread.

We like to cut the tomato into chunks and skewer with a toothpick adding a little chunk of bocconchini (the little balls packed in water) and shreds of basil for a Mark Bittman-style quick hors d'oeuvre.

re the simple pleasures, I picked up an article in Vanity Fair on Johnny Depp while at the hairdresser's. Depp says, "Money can't buy happiness but it buys you the yacht that lets you sail right up to it." (And what a yacht!)

Funny about Money said...

Yum! Sooo lush!

Like Seth, I also have problems getting tomatoes to grow. But I've discovered a commercial variety sold under the brand name "Campari tomatoes"...very good. They're as flavorful as cherry tomatoes but are larger. Not as big as a regular tomato but big enough that one or two will do the job in a salad or melted-cheese-&-tomato sandwich.

SLF said...

Thanks to all!

@Chance: We don't have the know-how or equipment to can + Frugal Scholar is very wary of home canning stuff. Fortunately we have enough appetite to get through all of them while they are still fresh.

@Seth: Sliced tomatoes with salt and pepper are also delicious. Usually we do it with vinaigrette which is also very tasty and refreshing. I think supermarket tomatoes are usually lacking in the flavor department for whatever reason. Maybe the breed is meant for uniformity and survivability during transport at the cost of flavor?

@Cubicle: You recipe sounds delicious; I'll have to try it. Mozzarella might be a better choice in some cases because the Cabot can be quite over powering.

@Duchesse: I'm not saying that money CAN'T buy happiness (traveling, my chosen luxury, isn't cheap); my point was that in difficult times the cheap / free pleasures of life continue to deliver.

@Funny: MMmmmm sounds perfect. Can't say I've had any experience with Campari tomatoes (though my grandpa loves the liqueur). Frugal Papa has promised to try planting some heirloom tomatoes next year...should be a real treat!

--Frugal Son