There are many things to love about sultry summer weather and one of them is the opportunity to check out the farmers markets that spring up from spring to fall. When I go to a farmer’s market, I don’t go to linger and socialize; I go to do my business and move on. My typical routine is to make the rounds of all the stalls – making a mental note of what looks good this week – and then to make one more pass to make my purchases and leave. My typical trip to a farmers market takes about fifteen minutes.
That is not to say that I am completely antisocial at the market. There are purveyors that I have seen for years now and have come to know and we always catch up with each other. But there are usually other customers to be served and I don’t like to take up too much of their time so we speak, quickly share any news, and promise to see each other next week.
Today at a local market there were beginning to be tomatoes. By midsummer the tomatoes will be abundant but now, in late spring, good local tomatoes are just beginning to appear. Today it was clearly time to make the first tomato sandwiches of the season.
I have always known tomato sandwiches but I find that I still occasionally get a puzzled look when I mention them to certain people. For those of us who have known them from childhood, there is no standard way to build a tomato sandwich and everybody has evolved a preferred technique over time. My tomato sandwiches are constantly changing based on my tastes and what is available.
The essential ingredients for a tomato sandwich are a tomato, bread, and mayonnaise. The rest is up to taste and imagination. I always challenge myself to use only the freshest available local ingredients.
I usually buy larger tomatoes and I look for them to be less ripe so they will last. Today, however, a Cullman County farm was displaying small to medium size ripe red tomatoes that I knew were destined to go home with me and to be the star of my first tomato sandwich of the season.
I grabbed a loaf of Mrs. London’s bread that was made this morning. It is a fluffy soft bread that I have been buying for years now. Mrs. London’s bread is about the best I’ve ever tasted. There were sweet red spring onions at another stand and I always buy a container of Humble Heart Farms goat cheese; my flavor of choice this week was the Mediterranean blend.
As I walked into my back yard, I plucked some basil off the plants growing near the back gate, went into the house, and began to assemble the ingredients for a sandwich.
Mrs. London’s bread needs a bit of toasting to take on the load of a soggy tomato sandwich so I started the oven, cut off two generous slices of bread, and toasted it on both sides.
The tomatoes were sliced, the basil leaves were washed and picked, and the red onion was sliced into slivers. When the bread was toasted, I generously slathered mayonnaise (Blue Plate or Duke’s work just fine) and sprinkled some goat cheese on top of the mayonnaise. Basil leaves were layered onto the mayonnaise and goat cheese. A drop of lemon was squeezed over the basil.
Next the onion was spread over the basil. Then slices of tomato were generously layered, completely covering one of the slices of bread, with salt and pepper added at the end.
After I pressed the two slices of bread and ingredients together, I drizzled olive oil over the top slice and let the sandwich sit for a few minutes so the ingredients could meld. I ate it with some fresh strawberries from the farmers market and a big glass of iced tea.
The first day of summer is still a couple of weeks away, but the first tomato sandwich of the season tastes like summer to me. And, except for the mayonnaise and olive oil, everything I ate came from farms within twenty-five miles of my basil in the back yard.