Marti Olesen's favorite summer recipe is plucked straight from the garden — and the faster it gets to your plate, the better. She calls it Diane's Dad's Summer Sandwich.
"I've been eating this sandwich for 27 years, and I am the epitome of health — and beauty," Olesen laughs.
Olesen is an elementary school librarian in Ponca, Ark. She first encountered the sandwich when a co-worker, Diane Dickey, told her about it decades ago.
"She was reminiscing about this wonderful sandwich that she ate every summer with her dad. I was a vegetarian at the time and I thought, 'I'm game. Tell me about it,' " Olesen says.
The ingredient list starts out pretty traditionally: Tomatoes, Vidalia or red sweet onion, and cucumbers, all fresh and sliced thinly. The veggies are placed between two slices of whole grain bread with white cheddar cheese. But the sandwich isn't complete until you slather on some crunchy peanut butter.
Olesen was skeptical as she headed to the farmers market to gather the ingredients for the first time. Once assembled she took a big bite and thought, "You know, it's OK, but I'm not loving it yet."
Realizing there might be a secret in the layering, she reordered the sandwich three of four different times but never loved the result.
"But I was very polite, and I did not say anything to Diane," she says.
A couple of weeks went by before Dickey asked about the sandwich. Olesen played it off, conceding Dickey's love of the sandwich was probably wrapped up in her childhood memories.
It turns out there was a secret order, after all: Cheese on top, then tomato, cucumber, onion and crunchy peanut butter on the bottom. Olesen is still mystified why the order matters so much.
"I did an experiment the other day. I made the sandwich in the right order, and I turned it upside down, and it was not as good," she says.
Its effect on Olesen was long-lasting. In addition to becoming a fixture of her summers for nearly three decades, it also inspired her to plant a garden when she moved to the country.
"I thought, 'Wow, what if I had my own tomatoes and my own cucumbers?' " she says. "And I would like to thank Diane for sharing this recipe with me, because it actually did impel me to change the way I look at summer."
Recipe: Diane's Dad's Summer Sandwich
Olesen says this sandwich tastes best when the ingredients are impeccably fresh, thinly sliced and added in the order listed. She suggests serving it with blue corn chips.
Makes one sandwich
4-6 thin slices white sharp cheddar cheese
Tomato, thinly sliced
Cucumber, thinly sliced
Vidalia or red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
2 slices whole grain bread
Layer the ingredients in the order given; eat with the cheese layer on top.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Several weeks ago, we asked you to share your favorite summer recipes and the true stories behind them as part of our Found Recipes Taste of Summer contest. Well, three listeners have made it to the final round. And we're now going to ask you to tell us which of them deserves to be the winner. Will it be Susan Jones and the strawberry trifle that solved this problem?
SUSAN JONES: I'm not a good cook, so whenever someone says everybody bring a dish, I'm not happy.
SIEGEL: Or will it be Patricia Mulvey and her Ensenada slaw, the only bright moment in a vacation gone bad?
PATRICIA MULVEY: Well, if I swerve left, I'm going to hit 60-mile-an-hour oncoming traffic. If I swerve to the right, I'm going off a cliff.
SIEGEL: Or perhaps it could be our final contestant.
MARTI OLESEN: I've been eating this sandwich for 27 years, and I am the epitome of health and beauty.
SIEGEL: That's Marti Olesen of Ponca, Arkansas. She's an elementary school librarian and enjoys gardening, especially since it provides the ingredients for her Taste of Summer entry.
OLESEN: I've coined it Diane's dad's summer sandwich, and it is just wonderful.
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OLESEN: Fresh garden tomatoes, and I mean, you just picked that tomato, Vidalia or red sweet onion, cucumbers straight out of the garden, two slices of your favorite whole grain bread, white cheddar cheese. I prefer sharp. Oh, and you'll need some crunchy peanut butter.
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OLESEN: I work with Diane Dickey years ago when I taught in Springfield. We used to eat lunch together and team-teach. And she was reminiscing about this wonderful sandwich that she always ate every summer with her dad. I was a vegetarian at the time, and I thought I'm game. Tell me about it. So she told me the ingredients, and I was like, OK.
OLESEN: Well, I'll give it a try. I went to the farmers' market because I didn't have a garden at the time, bought all the ingredients, thinly slice those cucumbers, thinly slice the onions, slice the tomato and layer it all on my sandwich and took a big bite, and I thought, you know, it's OK, but I'm not loving it yet.
OLESEN: A couple of weeks later, she goes, so, Marti, did you try that sandwich? And I said, yeah, I did, but I'm probably not as a big fan of it as you are. It probably has childhood memories. It's sentimental or something for you.
OLESEN: And she goes, how did you layer it? And I said, oh, you didn't tell me the secret. The secret order is cheese on the top, then the tomato, then the cucumber, then the onion and then crunchy peanut butter. It's just not the same without it. I think the order matters because of the chemistry of the acids and the bases or the fats and the vegetables. I'm not sure, but I did an experiment the other day. I made the sandwich in the right order, and I turned it upside down, and it was not as good.
This wonderful sandwich instigated my planting a garden when I moved to the country. I thought, wow, what if I had my own tomatoes and my own cucumbers? And I would like to thank Diane for sharing this recipe with me because it actually did impel me to change the way I look at summer.
SIEGEL: That's Marti Olesen with her Taste of Summer entry: Diane's dad's summer sandwich. You can weigh in on which of our three finalists should win the Taste of Summer contest by leaving your comments on the Found Recipe's page at npr.org. We'll tabulate the results and announce the winner on Friday's program.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.