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Possumhaw: In praise of homegrown tomatoes

 

Shannon Bardwell

 

Picking up one tomato, I slid the blade of the Pampered Chef knife easily across its rosy skin. The tomato yielded four thick slices. The tomato plants in the greenhouse are producing an ice cream-bucket full every other day. The two plants themselves, though curling up to the rooftop, look terrible due to the effects of whiteflies. I've tried simple home remedies like soapy water, and I've tried tough stuff like Malethion, but nothing seems to work. The plants look bad, but production is good. I promise myself that as soon as the plants wane, I will pluck them up, fumigate and start over. 

 

In the meantime, I'm making tomato sandwiches. Neighbors suggested making tomato pies; there are recipes on the Internet. But for now, I smear some mayonnaise across one slice of bread and pile all four slices on top. I eat the topless sandwich by cramming it corner-to-corner into my mouth.  

 

There's an art to eating a topless tomato sandwich. I have a theory that the best sandwiches are the sloppy ones -- the ones that leave juice running down your chin and forearms, the ones you eat at home standing over the kitchen sink when Miss Manners is not looking. 

 

I wanted to smear more mayonnaise on top but I thought about the preacher-man I ran into while visiting at the hospital. He had lost a lot of weight. "I just cut out mayonnaise," he said. 

 

My gosh, I thought. How much mayonnaise was he eating? Ever-after I've been going a bit light on the mayonnaise. 

 

When my brother, Skip Shelton, moved to Colorado, if anyone went for a visit they had to pack tomatoes. This was before the days when you can barely pack toothpaste, and we were packing tomatoes.  

 

Once, Momma arrived in Denver, only to discover she had left the sack of tomatoes at the Memphis airport. Skip was sorely disappointed, and Momma was a little huffy that some stranger would be enjoying her Better Boys. 

 

Another year, I flew out to Colorado and had to take the tomatoes. I managed to make it all the way to Denver, and after the suitcases were settled we all made a trip to the grocery store. I remember a slight argument broke out. 

 

Skip and nephew, Mark, wanted "white bread." They insisted it was the only way to eat a real Southern tomato sandwich. My sister-in-law, Gwen, who can be a bit prissy even though she hails from Glen Alan, Miss. (pop. 498), wanted 100 percent whole wheat bread. 

 

We rushed through the grocery store with Skip hollering, "You can get any bread you want, but we're getting white bread!" 

 

We hurried home and compiled our tomato, mayonnaise and white bread sandwiches.  

 

My Southern boy brother had left the South, but the South had not left him.  

 

Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie. Her email is msdeltachild@msn.com.

 

Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.

 

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