If there’s one dish that signifies summer to me, it can be summed up in three simple letters: B-L-T.
But the kind of Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich I’m talking about can’t be ordered at any restaurant and the ingredients can’t be purchased — you must wait for it — sometimes even years.
Growing tomato plants in my backyard isn’t hard, but getting the little darlings to produce vine-ripened fruit can be a different matter altogether.
There are squirrels and woodchucks that either eat the tomatoes before they ripen on the vine or decimate the leaves, leaving sad sticks to try and produce fruit.
Last year, the weather dried up our tomato crop and with it, our dreams for the perfect BLT.
I should know how to coax a fair-winning tomato from the earth. I grew up on a farm in southwestern Iowa, and my family planted a big garden to feed the 12 of us.
Come August, I can remember being sick of tomatoes, as we would bring the harvest into the kitchen by the bucketful, to can and preserve the bounty for winter.
So, this year, we were ready. My husband had constructed a brilliantly-designed, raised bed garden, with removable gates to keep out the critters, while the blessed, timely rains keep falling.
When three tomatoes precariously hung clustered together from one branch, my family was excited — but we had been down this road before.
But, when they started to change from green to green-yellow to yellow-orange to orange-red — a successful sandwich feast was in our sights.
Last night, I went to the back of the freezer to retrieve the thick-cut bacon a butcher had processed in Dedham, Iowa, from my brother’s hog. As it fried, we washed the cool lettuce and set the table outside.
At the very last moment, I harvested three tomatoes, still warm from the sun, rinsed them and cut hearty slices.
We toasted bread outside, smeared homemade mayonnaise on top and heaped bacon, lettuce and our homegrown, fresh-picked tomatoes between the slices to contain the assemblage.
A first bite dripped tomato juice down my chin and tasted of a childhood summer.
And, it was good.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes the nationally syndicated home column and the much beloved Star column weekly Come Into My Kitchen featuring home cooks and their recipes.