Summer has come, and with it wedding season, so you must brush up on cucumber sandwiches. These exclusively summer dainties come our way from England, where they are mandated for those incredibly fussy and rapacious high teas you read about in Edwardian novels. Similarly, we serve cucumber sandwiches for gatherings where decorum rules (however ostensibly), at social luncheons, cocktail (i.e. happy) hour on the patio, and of course those inevitable wedding rehearsals and receptions. Offering cucumber sandwiches at a kegger is the epitome of gauche.
Do not use those elongated green zeppelins you’ll find in the local grocery; your sandwiches will become soggy before making it to the table. Go to the farmers’ market and select the larger cukes, even if they’re a bit yellow, as long as they’re firm. These should be partially peeled and sliced as thinly as possible; use a mandolin. Refrigerate and drain.
When it comes to cucumber sandwiches, cast your concern for your colon to the winds and concentrate instead upon looks. Use the best white bread you can find, and trim the crusts. Some prefer cutting into squares, some triangles. While the Brits use a butter spread, our warmer climate requires a more stable blend of cream cheese and mayonnaise (3:1). Season with dill, a little lime or lemon, white pepper, and fine salt.
Here in the Mid-South, we make three sandwiches with raw vegetables. One is the cucumber sandwich, served on pretty little trays aside ewers of lemonade, iced tea or gin and tonic on tables topped with linen and silver, eaten by ladies smelling of lavender sachets and gentlemen of a certain persuasion in pastel seersuckers. Diametrically opposite of this delicate denizen of elegant afternoon gatherings is the sweet onion sandwich, gnawed upon with indecorous gusto as well as deservedly considerable discretion over a kitchen sink and washed down with Miller or PBR by the likes of hunters, ATV enthusiasts and women’s sports columnists.
Then we have the tomato sandwich. Egalitarian and comfortable in company, this summer staple of Dixie is found on every front porch and patio, at picnics and tailgatings, on the table for breakfast, lunch or even a late dinner. For me a tomato sandwich is the ultimate nosh on a sultry summer afternoon when you’re watching the “Real Housewives” reunion. The essential components are bread, sliced tomatoes and mayonnaise. The bread should be sliced loaf, a soft wheat or white; for the sake of authenticity, Wonder bread is often mentioned. The tomatoes should be the best your particular part of the world has to offer, firm and richly ripe, though not uniformly so, since you want a blush of green around the stem end to ensure the fruit has a tinge of acidity that is the signature of a homegrown tomato.
The mayonnaise should be slathered on the tomatoes as well as the bread, thus ensuring an even moisture to the arrangement. Season with plenty of salt and a bit more black pepper then you would ordinarily consider enough. Adding bacon elevates a tomato sandwich from a mere culinary concoction to sheer poetry, but lettuce in any form or fashion is superfluous and annoying.