Editor’s note: For many years, Johnny Vardeman, retired editor of The Times, would write his annual “’mater sammich” column as homegrown tomatoes started coming in during the summer. “’Maters and Music” will be the theme for a tomato sandwich event from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 23 at the Byron Herbert Reece Farm and Heritage Center one mile north of Vogel State Park, 9 miles south of Blairsville on U.S. 129.
Tomato sandwiches will be served free, and mountain-grown tomatoes will be available for purchase. The Byron Herbert Reece Society is sponsoring the event to let people know more about the farm and heritage center and to enjoy tomato sandwiches.
In honor of the occasion, following are excerpts from some of Vardeman’s ’mater sammich columns.
• It could be compared to your first date or your first kiss. Some might even go so far as to say it’s akin to the day you get your driver’s license or the moment that you graduate from high school or college. Baseball fans might liken it to Opening Day. The first paycheck. A child’s first steps. The first fire in the fireplace in the fall. The first snowfall of winter. The first gift opened at Christmas. The first car. The first home. The first flower in springtime.
But give me that first ’mater sammich of the season, leaning over the kitchen sink with the juice dribbling down your arms. Add a cold glass of sweet milk or a tinkling glass of iced tea, and you have a mouth-watering memory you’ll taste the rest of your life.
Have plenty of napkins or paper towels handy, and if your sandwich begins to fall apart so you have to end up finishing it with a fork, all the better.
• You don’t have to hunt the tomatoes and peaches when they first arrive at the farmers market. Just look for the longest lines. When those two favorites first come in, you have to decide which line to stand in. If you wait in the peach line, the tomatoes might run out, and if you stand in the tomato line the peaches might be gone. That’s a tough choice to make at 6 o’clock in the morning.
Of all the sumptuous summer products, the ’mater sammich is by far the star. People celebrate homegrown tomatoes in these parts. They either ignore or barely tolerate those imitations – those fraudulent excuses for the real thing that are shipped in from who-knows-where in the off season. Those imported imposters that pass themselves off as authentic homegrown tomatoes ought to be deported. They lack the juiciness, texture and unmistakable flavor of our local Big Boys, Better Boys, Parks’ Whoppers, Rutgers, Beefsteak and other varieties that strain the vines in our gardens.
• White bread or wheat? That was the question posed by Richard Pilcher the other day about how to eat tomato sandwiches. Wife Jorene had had him on wheat bread for a while, and he wanted to know if there was anywhere in the Bible that said you had to eat ’mater sammiches on white bread.
They didn’t make the Ten Commandments, nor were they on Adam and Eve’s menu. They weren’t mentioned when Jesus was feeding the multitudes either, though it would have made a lot better story if he’d made ’mater sammiches.
• History suggests that the tomato originated in South America with Indians in the Andes Mountains. Early Americans missed out on a lot of ’mater sammiches because the tomato is a fruit from the poisonous nightshade family. Pioneers avoided it until the 19th century.
Who discovered the tomato sandwich or when isn’t known. More than likely we stole it from the Indians like everything else.
The tomato isn’t just idolized hereabouts. A biggest tomato contest is held annually in New Jersey, and at an annual Tomato War in Vermont, hundreds drink Bloody Marys and throw tomatoes at each other. What a waste.
• Inmates on Death Row might opt for such better known delicacies as filet mignon, chateaubriand, prime rib, lobster Andalouse or beef Wellington as their last meal. If I ever get in such a situation, Lord, make mine a ’mater sammich. Slap a couple of saucer-sized slices of homegrown tomato between two slices of white bread, slaver them with mayonnaise, and pepper them profusely. That’s almost like dying and going to heaven anyway.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.