Iced gin and tomato sandwiches
I almost never complain about the weather in the South. It’s always hot and sticky in the summer and cold and dreary in the winter. Every year. But this year we got August heat in June. And it’s not going away. It has been close to, or over, 100 every day for the last week.
But it did get me to thinking about how some Southerners deal with the heat. If you were a person of means back in the day, you simply left town. That’s how the resorts of the North Carolina mountains got to be resorts. They were just littered with hot people from the flatlands.
I recall a friend of mine telling me the story of his aunts in Charleston who would sit on the veranda of their house sipping straight gin they kept in the freezer. I’m not sure that would cool you off, but you’d feel pretty happy being hot. There actually is a lot of alcohol involved in keeping cool in the South. The Mint Julep comes to mind.
The proper Mint Julep is one of those lovely three-ingredient Southern recipes: Sugar, mint and Bourbon. It’s a mojito with bravado. You simply put a little sugar in the bottom of a glass (sterling silver is the standard, but how many of us have sterling silver cups?). Then you add a wee bit of water and the mint and muddle it. Next comes the Bourbon and then shaved ice. Ta da! Southern men, in particular, have been known to start their day in the summer with a Mint Julep. Makes them forget how dang hot it is.
Southerners are constantly getting criticized by Northerners for moving so slow. We move slowly in the summer because it’s the smart thing to do. No need coming down with heat stroke for the sake of briskness. Besides, after a few Mint Juleps or straight shots of ice cold gin, it’s not easy to move fast.
As for me, I lose my appetite when it gets hot. At least until the tomatoes come in and you can have a tomato sandwich, which always makes you feel better no matter how hot it gets. A tomato sandwich is my reward for maintaining some semblance of movement in blistering temperatures. You see, you cannot have tomatoes without heat. Tomatoes thrive in high temperatures.
I cannot lay claim to an original recipe for my favorite way to make a tomato sandwich. I read it in Saveur a few years ago and tried it and have not made a ‘mater sandwich any other way since. The trick is that it involves toasting the bread and buttering it and then adding mayonnaise. Nothing succeeds like excess.
(Courtesy of Christopher Hirsheimer of Saveur Magazine with some additions by me)
1 really ripe tomato
2 thin slices of good toast (think Pepperidge Farm)
Mayonnaise (Duke’s naturally)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Thickly slice tomato. Butter toast, slather a thick layer of mayonnaise on both pieces, then lay on two or three tomato slices and season with a generous sprinkle of salt, the tiniest pinch of sugar, and a few good grinds of black pepper.
2. Roll up your sleeves (or just take off your shirt), lean over the sink, and bite through the crisp buttered bread and creamy mayonnaise, and into the sweet taste of summer. Abandon yourself. And let the juice run down your arms.