Every day, twice a day I check my garden to see if I have any “maters” ripe and ready for picking. In less sophisticated parts of the country, this veggie-fruit is called a tomato, but I live in Georgia, so I call them maters.
I don’t even want to think about what Italian or Mexican cuisine would be like without maters, so I’ll just focus on how delicious they are fresh off the vine. I love a fresh sliced, homegrown mater with some fresh sliced, homegrown cukes.
That’s what folks in North Carolina call cucumbers. I lived there long enough to pick up some Tarheel lingo. Cukes are not to be confused with kooks, which can be contagious during political seasons.
Mater and cuke slices deserve a sprinkling of sea salt and cracked black pepper before eating by themselves or as a side dish with any Southern meal. They add character to everything. I especially like mine with fried chicken or pork barbecue.
Sometimes I’ll eat a mater, cuke and Vidalia onion salad with just a drizzle of ranch dressing. Salt and pepper too, of course. I first discovered this salad at K&W Cafeteria, a family restaurant chain based in Greensboro, North Carolina. They left out the Vidalias, though. I first found Vidalias included with maters and cukes on a salad bar in Georgia.
Fresh mater slices are pretty much mandatory on most sandwiches. A summer picnic with grilled hamburgers wouldn’t be the same without a large slice of beefeater mater. In fact, some of us enjoy a plain mater sandwich. Just add a little mayo, salt and pepper.
When I ate mater sandwiches as a kid, I figured we didn’t have any burgers, ham or bologna to put on our sandwiches. I quickly learned to love them and didn’t care if I had anything else to go with the mater slices.
Bacon? Well, that’s different. Bacon and maters were made for each other (with mayo, salt and pepper). You really don’t need lettuce, which has no nutritional value anyway. If you want a healthy BLT (if that’s possible), use spinach leaves in place of lettuce. If you’re really hungry, add a -pound grilled Angus beef patty with cheddar cheese (then throw away any notion of eating healthy). Rest assured a homegrown mater will blend its sweet-acidic flavors with these add-ons.
There are a variety of maters for the backyard gardener. This year I planted heirlooms and Burpee’s Big Boy hybrids as well as some cherry and grape maters. I also planted a yellow variety called Lemon Boy, which have a different but wonderful flavor. According to Prevention.com, red maters are slightly better for you than the yellow ones, mostly due to the extra Vitamin A and C. I like the yellow ones anyway.
I can’t tell the difference between cherry and grape maters, except that one tends to be a bit oblong. I prefer them to plum maters in a salad because plum maters are too big to eat whole. I’m not the only person to ever bite down on a plum mater, sending mater guts streaming across the table. I like roma maters though, which are really plum maters, only bigger. You have to slice them to eat them, which can save you an embarrassing moment.
In ancient times, folks thought maters were poisonous, maybe because the leaves of some varieties are poisonous. According to several online sources, maters originated in Central and South America and were taken into western North America and Europe by Spanish explorers. English explorers who first settled North Carolina’s coast brought with them a fear of maters that was prompted by the poison myth.
According to North Carolina’s barbecue history buff Bob Garner, drinks made with mater juice were consumed from a common drinking vessel at the time, the pewter mug. In those days, pewter mugs contained lead. The acid from the mater juice tended to leach lead from the mugs, which caused revelers to act like kooks (not cukes). This led folks to believe maters were poisonous. It was so strongly believed that eastern North Carolina barbecue sauce developed without maters, just a peppery vinegar.
I do like my maters, but I’m sort of glad they left them out of the eastern North Carolina barbecue sauce I also love. When I make summer visits to Wilbur’s BBQ in Goldsboro, I make sure I get a plate of homegrown, local maters to go with their delicious pork barbecue. The maters add character to their already-perfect barbecue.
Email Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org.