I've lived for peak tomato season for as long as I can remember—since way before I knew tomatoes had a “peak season.”
I had many early childhood obsessions, including (but not limited to) shark attack data, the whereabouts of my Sims, and getting to the bottom of whether or not Leonardo DiCaprio smoked cigarettes (I was largely unsupervised). But the earliest and strongest obsession I can remember was with a trilogy of children’s books called Voyage to the Bunny Planet. In particular, I loved the story First Tomato.
First Tomato follows its protagonist, a bunny named Claire to whom I related fervently, as she navigates a bad day. We’re talking super bad: She has to sit through a two-hour math class, she’s publicly humiliated when she's unable to do a cartwheel in P.E., and to make matters worse, it’s freezing out, so she gets snow in her shoes. (It’s not explained why, as a rabbit, Claire is made to wear shoes.)
Things take a turn for Claire, though, when she’s magically transported to a dream universe called Bunny Planet, an alternate realm ruled by a benevolent (bunny) queen, Janet. On Bunny Planet, everything is perfect: It’s summer—peak tomato season!!—and Claire is now suddenly barefoot and dressed in an effortlessly cute green gingham dress and a straw hat. She looks like how I wished I looked the one time a year I go to an outdoor barbecue. And oh my gosh, let me tell you about Queen Janet. Perpetually draped in a purple velvet cape, Janet lives in a garden and has a maxi dress patterned with seasonal produce. I revered that bunny-woman like she was Beyoncé.
But back to Claire. On Bunny Planet, she finds the biggest, juiciest, ripest tomato in the garden; it “smells like rain," for God's sake. Big hitch, though: Claire desperately wants to eat the tomato right then and there, but she somehow “knows” (an ill-explained plot line) that she has to take it home to her mother for use in a soup.
The idea of Claire not being able to immediately bite into the ripe tomato right there in the garden killed me as a child. I could never enjoy the wholesome ending where mother and daughter share a cozy soup dinner, because I was so shaken by what could’ve been for Claire in the garden.
I know, I know: The story is supposed to teach kids about self control. Well, it didn’t work on me. When August rolls around, I'm not sitting around waiting for any soup-flavors to meld. I'm grabbing some bread and a sharp knife, because it's tomato sandwich time.
In fact, my open-faced tomato sandwich actively discourages self control. It’s for those times when you find the best-looking tomato (whether on a mythical planet, or at your local farmers’ market) and you’re so excited to eat it, you don’t even have the patience to close a sandwich before taking a bite. It celebrates heavy-handed mayonnaise application, yolky dregs, and flaky salt.
It pays homage to all of the great tomato sandwiches before it—especially this one by Merrill, which is honestly one of the top five reasons I wanted to work at Food52 (Amanda’s brown butter tomatoes were the other four…). My sandwich tips its hat to BLTs, and wonders whether tomato toast might be its second-cousin.
It’s the tomato sandwich I’ve been dreaming of for two decades. I only wish I could make one for Claire.
And for the LibraryThing user who said of First Tomato: A Voyage to the Bunny Planet, “At some level it's sort of cute and so are the illustrations, but at the same time it's a sad story, even bordering on disturbing,”—well, perhaps my Ultimate Tomato Sandwich can provide a happier ending.
- 2 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon room-temperature water
- 1 cup safflower oil (or another neutral oil)
- 1/2 cup loosely packed basil and chives, very finely chopped (I like to blitz mine in a food processor, for ease); plus more for sprinkling
- 2 slices rustic, crusty bread
- 1 large ripe tomato (I like beefsteak), sliced roughly 1/2-inch thick
- 1 pinch each flaky salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil for drizzling
Leftover Mayo? Follow me!
What's your favorite way to use peak-season tomatoes? Let us know in the comments!