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.
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.