For Aug. lunch, you can't outdo tomato sandwich

August 09, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

A friend of mine from off the Belair Road, Little Flower parish, nominated his idea of the components of a classic Baltimore August lunch:

A tomato sandwich on white bread, some macaroni salad, iced tea and a starlight blue snowball were his choices for an unpretentious, non-nachos, pre-McDonald's-era noontime repast.

Is there anything better than a tasty and sloppy red tomato sliced, salted and peppered, with a little touch of mayonnaise? The bread has to be plain white -- no toast, no rye, no whole wheat, no French bread, no sourdough and no bagel allowed. This is the raw material of real Baltimore comfort food.

A plain tomato sandwich sounds like Depression or World War II food, but I'm not sure Baltimore ever completely made it out of those periods.

O.K. Some basic Baltimore poverty fare is plain, but it's good. Haven't you ever craved a tangy tomato sandwich on one of those horrible gray February Tuesdays?

I think I saw a tomato sandwich on a menu printed atop a counter at the Broadway Market in Fells Point. It is not what you see at restaurants. It would be a sin to charge more than $1.25 for one of these treats.

On to the macaroni salad. It would be slander to call this dish pasta salad.

I didn't grow up with this item. We had it made hot with cheese and it was served only in the cooler months. We did have plenty of potato salad. I can still smell the vinegar hitting the hot spuds. There is a definite affinity between potato salad and tomatoes. Both the macaroni and the potato constitute first-class comfort food.

Iced tea. Now here is the great summertime beverage. My Grandmother Lily Rose made it from May through September in her mother's big blue crockery bowl.

Ice tea -- in Baltimore the D always gets dropped from the iced and the two words are rammed together as in icetea -- is one of the few ways to beat the heat and humidity. The only other recourse we have is a lengthy Canadian vacation.

Lily Rose's icetea recipe is the supreme, the best, the unchallenged potable of the summer agony months. Hers takes a mere four hours to make and it goes slightly bad after eight hours, even when refrigerated.

She used a potful of boiling water over a handful of loose tea, a couple of scoops of sugar and the juice and rinds of two or three lemons. All this mixture steeps four hours and disappears very quickly when placed before thirsty souls.

People who don't know what good icetea is call Lily Rose's version a lemon punch.

On the other hand, it amazes me to see people shelling out upward of a dollar a bottle for flavored teas that aren't half as good as the stuff you can brew in your own kitchen.

Tea was such a foundation of Lily Rose's lunch that she summoned her household to the table not by saying, "Lunch is ready." No. Her message, often called out down the cellar steps, was, "Tea's made."

On to the snowball. Once again, here is one of the bedrocks of culinary Baltimore. There are fancier products. There are more glamorous ones. But the snowball's universality from Memorial Day to Labor Day remains entrenched.

Granted, there are people who don't like them, but why is there always a line at good snowball stands, the stands where the egg custard is always sweet and the pineapple so strong it could send you into a diabetic coma? Is a good, clean, basic snowball stand a throwback to a youth spent on Cliftmont or Wylie avenues? Of course it is. Few things taste as good as they did in 1950 and a snowball is one that somehow has survived with little tampering.

Someone might ask what is the standard for listing the components of a classic Baltimore August lunch. There is none. It's just there, like the heat, the smell of the Patapsco River and the taste of that gorgeous marshmallow running over the top of a cup of shaved ice.

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