Maybe it’s a sign of our times. We disagree about everything. Politics seems to head the list, sometimes followed by religion.
And then there’s food. Some food disagreements are national, sometimes regional, and some are just neighbor against neighbor. Many of us seem to believe that people who don’t like the same food we like, prepared in exactly the same way, are un-American, or at least not very bright.
People have for generations disagreed about grits, that delicious and wholesome dish that warms the taste buds on a chilly morning as handily as it warms the soul when embellished with shrimp at dinner or supper. (Those who eat lunch at midday and dinner at suppertime are less likely to adore grits, although I suppose there’s always room for hope.) Some have disagreed just as strongly about barbecue. In my native state of North Carolina, the subject of barbecue has long been involved in state politics, with some clinging to Lexington or Piedmont style, others to Eastern style, with the legislature involved in determining what should officially represent the state.
Sandwiches seem to claim loyalties at least as strong as the more complex dishes. Some of my friends from other parts of the country have gasped in shock when I mentioned one of my favorites, the banana sandwich. How anyone could not like this magical combination of fresh white bread, mayonnaise, and fully ripe but not overripe bananas, sliced just so and layered across the waiting bread, is beyond me. And, no, I’ve never disgraced the original version (I think it may be mentioned in the Bible) by using peanut butter instead of mayonnaise. Sure, it would be good; nothing could be bad with peanut butter. But I could never bring myself to waste the opportunity to eat an original style just to try the abridged version.
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The sandwich that seems to come in for more discussion than any other is the tomato sandwich. Even Rick Bragg, in his Southern Living column, wrote about it recently. Although I don’t personally agree with his brand of mayonnaise, everything else he said about it is acceptable to me. White bread, even though I can use whole wheat if it’s fresh and soft, mayonnaise, ripe tomatoes, and plenty of salt and pepper. He didn’t mention one thing that I insist upon, that the tomato be peeled. A tomato sandwich should not have its wonder diminished by any tough elements. If I want something between my teeth, I’ll go with dental floss, not tomato peeling. As for the tomatoes themselves, if you don’t grow your own, beware of super market varieties. Most are as soft and tasty as cardboard. Go for the expensive heirloom types.
Too often would-be chefs think complicating the construction of a sandwich will improve it. No, hardly ever. I recently read a description of what was described as the best possible grilled cheese sandwich. It seemed to take about the amount of effort I would expect to devote to a six-course dinner (or supper). It involved heating butter in the pan ahead of time, seasoning with garlic, using rye bread, and making the thing in multiple layers with a variety of cheeses. Not for me. My version is two slices of white or whole wheat bread, a slice of sharp cheddar in between, plenty of butter spread on both sides of the sandwich that is now slapped into a hot pan or griddle until the bread is golden brown on both sides and the cheese is gooey. Not in the same league as tomato or banana sandwiches, but wonderful nonetheless.
Little spoken of, but a favorite of mine since childhood, is the pineapple sandwich. Fresh white bread, mayonnaise, with slices of canned pineapple fitted together between the bread. I hear there are people who have never tried one of these, though I find that hard to believe.
I don’t expect everybody to do sandwiches the same way I do. Just the enlightened ones.
Robert B. Simpson, a 28-year Infantry veteran who retired as a colonel at Fort Benning, is the author of “Through the Dark Waters: Searching for Hope and Courage.”