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Column: Never heard of a mater sammich? Let me help you out with that
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

I didn’t expect to talk about tomato sandwiches in our 75th anniversary Zoom event with retired editor Johnny Vardeman on Wednesday night.

We talked about the days of typewriters and film photography. We talked about the pace of today’s journalism in a world full of smartphones. We talked about big stories The Times has followed like the building of Lake Lanier.

And we talked about mater sammiches.

Thanks to those of you who joined us — and to those who didn’t, I think you missed a good time. The recording is available at gainesvilletimes.com/virtualevents.

We answered many reader questions, and one of those was about columns Johnny has written about mater sammiches.

Now, you all know what those are, unless you’ve by chance recently transplanted here from another part of the country — maybe for retirement, maybe for a new job.

So, just in case: it’s a sandwich made with a slice or two of summer’s ripest, juiciest tomato picked from the backyard and put between two slices of white bread slathered with mayonnaise — better be Duke’s — and sprinkled with a little salt and pepper.

No, you can’t put cheese on it. No, you can’t put lettuce. Sure, wheat bread would be better for you, but that’s just not how you make a mater sammich.

It’s a bit messy — juice might run down your forearms to your elbows. And it’s a Southern staple, more Southern than fried green tomatoes and definitely more Southern than chicken and waffles, which I’ve only ever seen at restaurants trying to be Southern.

My dad, born in Atlanta and raised in Greenville, S.C., has enjoyed many a tomato sandwich. It was just something you knew was a sacred right of summer, just as much or more as running through sprinklers in your swimsuit or making lemonade.

I can picture him now in the dining area of my childhood home in Suwanee, ready to enjoy a tomato sandwich. And I’m sure he’ll make some this summer with the tomatoes my brother grows at his small farm down in Atlanta.

I’ve had a few tomato sandwiches myself even though I might prefer avocado toast to mater sammiches (If you send me hate mail over that one, I’ll understand — but still eat deliciously creamy avocado toast).

But cub reporter Conner Evans, who graciously helped moderate our virtual event, has not heard of a mater sammich.

If you haven’t sensed by now the importance of the tomato sandwich, here’s an excerpt from one of Johnny’s 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.”

So, yes, I’m outing my reporter — who does a heck of a job reporting on government for us — here in print, not just to our Zoom audience, one of whom promptly ribbed him as a heretic in the chat window.

This reporter didn’t move here from Chicago or the Bronx. He grew up right here in Georgia — but it was metro Atlanta, Roswell to be precise. And if you hadn’t guessed already, his parents ain’t from ’round here.

Rest assured, we have properly razzed him about this mater sammich — he tried to call it a master sammich — incident. 

We also found our Southern manners and educated him about what a mater sammich is.

Unfortunately, a tomato sandwich can’t be had in January. If you are from ’round here you understand a grocery store tomato will not do.

But come July, we’ll be sure to get him a mater sammich. And if you want to bring him one, too, we might just put aside our journalistic ethics and accept the gift in support of the honorable Southern tradition of mater sammiches. 


Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident.