When I opened the book, a note fell out. “Paul. Read this. Jack.” I don’t know how long it had been there. Maybe since around 1984. That’s when Norwood, a short novel by Charles Portis, was published. Well, I’ve finally done what you told me, Jack, and I enjoyed it so much I’ll make you a tomato sandwich if you’re ever in the neighborhood at this time of year.
J.F. Powers’ Morte D’Urban, another book that has gone unread for years had no note, but I can still hear my friend Tanner saying, “Paul, you have to read this.” I’m in the process of doing that, T. You too, have earned a tomato sandwich.
Both books are light reading – diverting, funny, just the thing to counter the effects of the evening news and talk shows.
Joe, I’m working up to that 606 page biography Grinnel, which you strongly urged me to read when you put it in my hand as we were leaving Austin. But – forgive me – so far, I just haven’t started it. Maybe because it’s too heavy to read comfortably in bed.
In the on-deck circle are three books I’ve already read. They are lined up next to each other in the haphazard arrangement that resulted from opening whatever boxes came to hand first. Seamus Haney’s translation of Beowulf stands next to Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge followed by The Pilgrim’s Progress.
I think I’ll start with Pilgrim’s Progress. It has never been out of print since it was published in the late 17th century, so I assume that apart from its use as devotional material, it must have literary merit. I’ve found that elusive in the past, but I’m going to take another look. Razor’s Edge was the first adult book I ever read; I was in grade school and enduring a period of forced inactivity. I liked it as a nine-year-old; it will be interesting to see what time has done to its charm.
When not satisfying shamefully neglected assignments or rereading things, I spend a good deal of time eating Jersey tomatoes Their recent appearance in the markets has been a joyous event. Christmas is fine, of course, but Andy Williams should also have sung about this second “most wonderful time of the year.”
Opinions vary on the best way to incorporate one of these Jersey beauties in a sandwich. Never mind what others say, just listen to me on this. Start with good quality white bread. Not Wonder Bread, and not whole grain or hearty bread that might compete with the tomato for starring role. Then, lay on a soaking good amount of mayo or veganaise and a thick slice of the tomato itself. Cheese, onion, ham are welcome in other contexts, but they’re an adulteration in a tomato sandwich. These things are best eaten standing over a sink. Alternatively, a large plastic or rubber bib will work.
New Jersey, the Garden State, offers another seasonal joy – sweet corn of the Silver Queen variety. It’s a sybaritic pleasure when served with Jersey tomatoes, potato salad (especially the Jacques Pepin recipe), and Aunt Muriel’s “bickles.” (I don’t know why they aren’t called pickles like similar cucumber dishes are.) Aunt Muriel is Ann’s late aunt on her mother’s side. They are easy and quick to make; if you are me, they just magically appear on the table, which is good. It gives me more time to respond to reading assignments. Here’s the recipe.
AUNT MURIEL’S BICKLES
8 c thinly sliced cucumbers, skin left on
1 c finely chopped green bell pepper
1 c thinly sliced or diced celery
1 c thinly sliced or finely chopped onions
1 ½ T salt
Place all ingredients together in a large bowl, mix well, and let sit for two hours.
2 c granulated sugar
1 c white vinegar
1 t celery seed
1 t mustard seed
Cook over low heat until sugar is melted. Cool. Pour over drained vegetables. Refrigerate.