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Red, ripe fruit of vine refreshes summer anglers

by Flip Putthoff | August 31, 2023 at 5:40 a.m.
Home-grown tomatoes plucked fresh from the vine make divine tomato and mayo sandwiches, a summertime treat enjoyed out on the boat or under a shade tree. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

In a verse of his great song "Home Grown Tomatoes," the late folk singer Guy Clark tells us, "You can eat 'em with eggs, eat 'em with gravy. Eat 'em with beans, pinto or navy."

I'll wager another way to enjoy the juicy fruit of the summertime vine is chowing down on a simple, delicious tomato and mayo sandwich.

Here at the shack-ri-la, we like to pack tomato sandwiches for summer fishing trips. These adventures generally start at dark-30 in the morning, before first light sweeps aside night's dark curtain. A little pleasure of life is to pack a lunch and enjoy fine dining on the lake right there in the boat. Friends and neighbors, there's no main course tastier than a thick slice of home-grown tomato tucked between two slices of bread spread with a touch of mayonnaise.

When trips start before daylight, an angler can work up a powerful appetite by 8 a.m. A tomato sandwich is guaranteed to silence a growling stomach. No need for beans, pinto or navy, or anything but bread, mayo and a slice of red delight. We even skip the salt and pepper.

I discovered the joy of a tomato sandwich one year on the week-long Ragbrai bicycle ride in Iowa, officially named Des Moines Register's Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa, or Ragbrai for short. Church groups, schools and families in towns and out in the country sell every kind of food a rider could want, especially pancakes in the morning and pie, lots of pie, all day.

It was blazing hot one afternoon, hot enough that it was almost no joke to say, "It's so hot today that I saw a rabbit chasing a beagle. They were both walking." Around noon our pack of bikers rolled through one of the many small Iowa towns that welcome riders with major-league hospitality. There under a big shade tree by their driveway was a mom and her two kids selling tomato sandwiches. I'd never imagined such fare, but it sounded like a cool light lunch for a warm day on the bike.

I watched the kids spread a dab of mayo on two slices of white bread, then add a cold slice of red tomato that was bigger than the bread. Friends and neighbors, that sandwich was worth ten times the dollar I paid for it.

Tomato sandwiches were pretty much forgotten until one day this summer when I got invited to join the Paddlelarks informal kayaking group for a morning on Beaver Lake. Talk got around to gardening and homegrown tomatoes. One of the paddlers happened to mention tomato sandwiches. I hurried home that afternoon and fixed one.

One laughable tomato memory happened on the job. Years ago, the late Ed Houston, well-known Realtor who lived at Prairie Creek east of Rogers, invited me to come and shoot photos for the paper of his head-high tomato plants.

The vines were as tall as the Jolly Green Giant and heavy with baseball-sized green and ripe tomatoes. This tomato rookie was impressed big time. So I asked Ed, "How many years did it take you to get these plants to grow so big?" That got Ed to guffawing big time, laughing and slapping his knee so hard it might require surgery. Once Ed caught his breath, he educated me that tomato plants only last one growing season, so new ones have to be planted each spring.

Everything worked out. Ed got a huge chuckle out of it, and we got a nice picture of some trophy tomato plants for the newspaper.

Flip Putthoff can be reached at [email protected] when he's not slicing tomatoes.

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