The Kitchen Sink: The tomato sandwich

tomato sandwich

This tomato sandwich has no bacon, no lettuce. AFR photo by Domenica Marchetti

Harriet M. Welch turned me on to the tomato sandwich. Harriet, better known as “Harriet the Spy,” was the spunky and nosy protagonist of the classic children’s novel, the girl who spied on her friends and neighbors and recorded their failings and eccentricities in her notebook. She also ate a tomato sandwich for lunch. Every day.

I was captivated by Harriet when I was in elementary school many (many) years ago. I loved her acerbic observations, and the way she wrote everything down in that notebook as if it all mattered. I got myself a composition notebook like the one pictured on the book’s cover, with the intention of doing some “spying” of my own. No matter that I lived not in Manhattan, like Harriet, but in the sedate suburbs around Princeton, N.J.

harriet the spy

Harriet the Spy is responsible for my enduring love of the tomato sandwich.

I also (just like Harriet) started bringing tomato sandwiches to school. My mother thought this was odd. Tomatoes with mayo on white bread—no bacon, no lettuce—didn’t seem like much of a lunch to her. (Plus, being Italian, she liked her sliced tomatoes atop good Italian bread, drizzled with olive oil.) She humored me, to a point. I lobbied for cottony Wonder bread, but no, I had to settle for Pepperidge Farm, which is what my parents used for sandwiches.

I gave up on the spying almost immediately. I didn’t relish the idea of having to cross my neighbors’ yards in order to look in their windows. Creepy. Plus, I simply wasn’t interested in their private lives. I kept on eating those tomato sandwiches, though. (Maybe this should have been a clue that I’d make a better food writer than investigative reporter.)

When my daughter was little, I wanted her to love “Harriet the Spy” as much as I did. I was forever trying to force persuade my kids to read my favorite childhood books, but, of course, they had their own preferences, and “Harriet the Spy” was not among them.

However, I am happy to say that my daughter shares my love for tomato sandwiches. We’ve been eating them a lot lately, and will keep on until the last tomato of summer has been dispatched.

To make a good tomato sandwich, you first need a good tomato. We’ve been using Cherokee Purple and Brandywines from the farmers’ market, both of which are juicy and have lots of flavor. Lay out two slices of sandwich bread—old habits die hard, and for sandwich bread I’ve stuck with Pepperidge Farm, though these days I use either white whole wheat or honey oat. Spread a judicious (but not stingy) amount of mayonnaise (Hellman’s or Duke’s please) on both slices of bread. Slice the tomato thinly (we use a tomato knife) and arrange the slices, overlapping, on one slice of bread. Sprinkle or grind a little sea salt over the tomatoes. Top with the second slice and gently press down. Cut the sandwich in half on the diagonal. Enjoy.


18 Responses to The Kitchen Sink: The tomato sandwich

  1. Beth (OMG! Yummy) September 2, 2013 at 1:34 pm #

    I loved Harriet the Spy but I don’t remember the tomato sandwiches! I know what I’m having for lunch today as I continue to hope that summer is not really quite over… surely my heirlooms will help me feel that way…

    • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti September 3, 2013 at 6:38 am #

      Beth, it’s funny what details stick in our minds, isn’t it? I don’t know how many times I read that book, and the original sequel, The Long Secret. When I went to the library the other day I found a bunch of pseudo sequels written by someone else (Louise Fitzhugh passed away in ’74). Keep enjoying those heirlooms. They make the best sandwiches.

    • Scott Cofrank December 17, 2015 at 11:40 am #

      No one ever mentions the fact that if you toast the bread and add just the proper amount of sea salt AND pepper … OMG just doesn’t cover it!, try it on some freshly baked bread too .. simply amazing. I’ve been trying to see where this sandwich Originates and so far, all I can come up with is somewhere in Canada! Yes, Canada.
      Ok, well enjoy, and if anyone has more info on this- (one of my all time fav Sammy’s) PLease, let me know!
      Scott from Portsmouth, NH 🙂

  2. Profile photo of Katia Cafardi
    Katia Cafardi September 2, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    I great idea…… favorite in summer is an “unconstructed” tomato sandwich…….a bowl of coarsely chopped tomatoes (from our friends’ Giorgio’s and Fiorenzo’s garden), a bit of sea salt, fresh basil and good olive oil…….with a couple of slices of our panificio’s heavenly bread to lap up the juices! Eat this almost daily, now!!!

    • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti September 3, 2013 at 6:41 am #

      Katia ~ that reminds me of the ‘merenda’ that my mom and aunts used to make for me and my sister in summer in Italy. Pane, olio e pomodoro. Thickly sliced bread, tomato half squeezed on top (they used to squeeze the tomato like a lemon and spread the pulp around), olive oil and salt. Delizioso!

  3. Profile photo of Michele Kayal
    Michele Kayal September 2, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    Domenica, I love this! Harriet the Spy was also one of my favorites — you’ve inspired me to force (you should have stuck with that verb) my kid to read it. And tomato sandwiches… ’em.

    • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti September 3, 2013 at 6:44 am #

      I don’t know why the book didn’t appeal to my kids Michele. I was flipping through it the other day and it still appeals to me. Times change, I guess. My son (almost 17) has no interest in Catcher in the Rye. All his friends said it’s “boring.” (To be honest, I never loved that book the way so many of our generation seemed to.)

  4. Natalia de Cuba September 2, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

    This is wonderful….sharing!

  5. Jamie September 3, 2013 at 6:34 am #

    What a wonderful story… and I am sure that you make a better storyteller than journalist. I love when our kids love something, anything that we loved when we were kids (Henry & Ribsy, Ramona & Beezus!). Now I am craving a tomato sandwich.

    • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti September 3, 2013 at 6:48 am #

      Ramona and Beezus! Did I ever love those books. Also the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series, which I made my kids listen to in the car on long trips. They did like the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle stories, I’m happy to say. Thanks for reading, Jamie.

  6. Annie Nielsen September 3, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    What a coincidence. Today’s lunch: tomato sandwich, made with homemade herb focaccia and a homegrown tomato (Nebraska Wedding?).

    • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti September 5, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

      Annie ~ is Nebraska Wedding a type of tomato? If so, what a great name. I wonder what it means?

      • Annie Nielsen September 6, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

        Apparently it is a name of a tomato. This is my second year planting this heirloom. It is a bright orange tomato with a streak crimson heart. Fabulous sweet flavor. One of my favorite tomato varieties. As to the name origin, no clue what it means.

  7. Carol Guensburg September 4, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

    I never read “Harriet the Spy” — somehow, instead, got sucked into Lenora Mattingly Weber’s “Beany Malone” series — but I packed away tomato sandwiches, too. With iceberg lettuce for crunch. I still like the tomato sandwiches. Maybe I need to schedule a tomato-sandwich lunch date with Harriet, too.

  8. Profile photo of Wayne Byram
    Wayne Byram September 6, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

    Have ya’ll had a tomato sandwich made with a hot buttermilk biscuit? I used to have them for breakfast when I was a kid. I bet I’ll have one in the morning. Thank you Domenica for the reminder, good job!

    • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti September 7, 2013 at 10:01 am #

      And thank you, Wayne, for this excellent idea. Guess I’ll be making biscuits in the morning!