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Kent Bernhardt: ‘Mater Sandwiches


Kent Bernhardt


A huge chasm is widening in our nation today. It is growing with each passing year.

And I do not speak of the usual culprits of faith or politics. I speak of the acute division among us concerning the makeup of the perfect tomato sandwich.

I was a late arrival to the joys of the ’mater  sandwich. As a child, I didn’t care much for this fruit — and it is a fruit, not a vegetable. My parents and grandparents would slice them as a standalone side dish, or sprinkle them on salads. I would always find a polite way to push them aside with my fork until forced to eat them.

One hot summer day in my late teens, someone shoved a fresh ’mater  sandwich in front of me at lunch, and I was hungry enough to consume it rapidly. In that single moment, my opinion of this southern dietary staple changed. I became an ardent fan.

It didn’t take me long to experience confrontations with tomato sandwich purists, though. They came out of the woodwork like an army of termites to inform me that I was “making the sandwich all wrong.”

To begin with, I was using the wrong mayonnaise. We were a Kraft and sometimes Hellman’s family at our house, but to me one mayonnaise tasted pretty much like another.

I was wrong, they told me. Dead wrong. Tomato sandwiches must be made with Duke’s mayonnaise. Any other brand constitutes ’mater  sandwich heresy.

I should mention that late in life I converted to JFG mayonnaise, but I don’t want to be asked to leave the county so I won’t. I simply found its flavor more of a compliment to the southern tomato. Besides, I have rabid Carolina fans in my family who wouldn’t think of consuming any product with the word “Duke” on the label.

When it comes to mayonnaise, one can never be too careful. A family member once tried to slip in a jar of some kind of “healthy mayonnaise made from olive oil that we should all be eating.” That family member mysteriously disappeared and hasn’t been heard from since.

My grandmother used to tell me to add a small amount of sugar to the tomato to cut the tanginess, but I never found that necessary. I do, however, enjoy blanketing the tomato with a large amount of pepper. No salt, just pepper. Massive amounts of it.

I do the same with cottage cheese. I virtually cover it in pepper, almost to the point where you can’t quite make out the ‘white’ of the cottage cheese.

I love pepper, and so far the health police haven’t come out with any reason I shouldn’t. Aside from it sticking to your teeth, pepper seems like the perfect spice. And it is a wonderful compliment to the tomato-bread-mayonnaise combo.

Many people add cheese or lettuce to their ’mater  sandwiches. I do not. In the south, if anything drowns out the flavor of the tomato, it had better be bacon.

And let me state for the record that white bread is preferred in most traditional southern homes, though I gradually migrated to wheat bread, again fearing the health police.

In conclusion, let me inform you that most southerners will never openly judge you for your choice of bread, mayonnaise, or condiments used in the construction of your perfect tomato sandwich. We are far too polite to do that.

We will, however, talk about you in your absence, and you may be excluded from certain social circles because of your choices.

You have been warned.

Please don’t judge Kent Bernhardt if you find him with traces of mayonnaise at the corner of his mouth.

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