Slice of Summer

Jul 10, 2021 | Dine, Life

It’s summertime, when the living is easy, and the tomatoes are juicy and ripe! Tomato sandwiches, with or without the bacon, lettuce and other fixings, are a seasonal southern favorite.

There’s just nothing better than a tomato that’s been ripened in the sunshine.

BLT. Perhaps — no, certainly — the most appetizing acronym ever written, spoken, devoured.

B as in bacon. L as in lettuce. And T, wonderous T, for tomato. Put them together and you have a gastronomical marvel. A mouthful of summer memories. The trifecta of taste — savory, crispy, run-down-your-chin juicy.

Tuck in your napkins, friends: It is time for fine dining straight from the vine.  

While everyone has an opinion about the proper assembly of a BLT (which we’ll get to shortly), no one is quite sure about its origins. 

So, with pens and forks poised, welcome to BLT 101: Bacon sandwiches are believed to have been around since Victorian times, served as teatime treats in England. BLTs made their first appearance in British cookbooks in the late 1920s and gained popularity state-side with the post-World War II rise of supermarkets and year-round availability of seasonal produce. Until recently (2019, to be precise) the BLT was ranked the second most favorite sandwich in the U.S. It has (inexplicably) fallen to 6th place, behind ham, roast beef, turkey, grilled chicken, and grilled cheese.

There’s no accounting for taste. But the season is short, so let’s dive into the more important debate: How to construct and consume the most perfect, palatable BLT.  

Part of the sandwich’s beauty rests in its simplicity: Three primary ingredients. No preheated ovens or messy mixing bowls. Just a layering feat of epicurean engineering. 

Tomatoes take center stage. They are the marquee star; bacon, lettuce, mayonnaise and any other elements of choice are the supporting cast.  

What type of tomato, you ask? Divergent views, of course. The lead contender is a hefty beefsteak. Others opt for a German Johnson or the heirloom Ferris Wheel. Key criteria include certifiable homegrown or produce stand status; soak-your-shirt ripeness; and a diameter that allows for a single slice to fill the surface area of your bread. 

For some, like Keia Mastrianni, gifted food writer and founder of Milk Glass Pie, nothing more is needed. “Living in the south, my summer sandwich was a tomato sandwich — no bacon, no lettuce, just a really great tomato from the farmer’s market between a couple slices of sourdough.” Keia and her husband Jamie Swofford live on a farm in Cleveland County where they grow boutique, high-quality produce for chefs, breweries and distilleries. Their current Saturday ritual, after a busy time working the farmer’s market, is a tomato, white onion and lettuce sandwich with a dab of Duke’s Mayonnaise. They also enjoy a breakfast BLT with eggs, cheese, tomato — and Duke’s. “There’s just nothing better than a tomato that’s been ripened in the sunshine,” Keia sighs. You’ll get no argument there. 

While people may disagree till their last breath whether to use Duke’s Mayonnaise or Hellmann’s, to toast or not to toast the bread and whether avocados are acceptable BLT add-ons, reverence for the tomato crosses all lines. 

Diane Flynt of Foggy Ridge Cider makes her BLTs with local sourdough bread, homemade basil mayo or Hellmann’s, lettuce and a really great beefsteak or German Johnson. And then, of course, she says with the authority of experience, “You must eat it over the kitchen sink!”

Charlie Brummitt, a founding board member of the Greensboro Farmers Market, doesn’t care for bacon, but he does enjoy a tomato sandwich made this way: Start with dark, grainy bread. Add Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, flavored with Texas tarragon and Genovese basil. Add a “generous but careful” sprinkling of chili pepper. And the tomato must be German Johnson.

If all this talk about BLTs has got you craving a tomato sandwich, you’re in luck! The Greensboro Farmers Market will celebrate all things tomato on Saturday, July 17, starting at 8 a.m. The event will feature BLT plates for purchase, crafted with locally sourced ingredients from Market vendors. Proceeds benefit the food security programs supported by the Market, a nonprofit 501(c)3 corporation. 

– Lucinda Trew, editor

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