Every summer, Ruth Smith looks forward to using good Jersey tomatoes when making a recipe she learned as a girl growing up in New England.
The 77-year-old Cape May Court House woman assembles lettuce, tomatoes, bacon - and peanut butter - to produce what she's known for decades as a Beechnut Sandwich.
"Everybody has had BLTs, but the peanut butter - it just adds to it. You know peanut butter and bacon are wonderful together," she said.
Smith's husband and her five daughters agree. The Beechnut Sandwich is a staple in their homes, too.
"People sometimes think it sounds strange when they first hear about it. But I have to tell you - all of my sons-in-law - they are all eating that peanut butter sandwich," Smith said.
While Smith and her husband Leo, 80, only eat the sandwich a couple of times each summer - they're concerned about cholesterol - there were no such concerns when Smith was growing up in Warren, R.I.
Back then the sandwiches were a staple on Ruth and John Callanan's family lunch menu, and their nine children devoured them with relish.
"My mom fed this to us while we were growing up. We'd have it every summer. We had it quite often at home," Smith said.
Smith isn't sure exactly how her mother got the recipe, but she believes it was an entry in a sandwich contest sponsored by Beech-Nut foods that her mom saw in the newspaper.
Ruth Callanan was a good cook who worked hard to provide good meals for her husband and nine kids, Smith recalled.
"She made all her own homemade puddings. She would make the real Boston cream pie. She didn't make a lot of fancy things for meals, because she was feeding nine of us, but everything she made was good," Smith said.
The family ate a lot of roasts and potatoes and comfort foods, such as shepherd's pie. Callanan also taught her children to cook.
The one thing the family never ate was spaghetti and meatballs, which is ironic, because it is one of the dishes Smith is now known for.
Smith learned to make spaghetti sauce when she was 18, when she and a friend were working at a soda fountain that had a grill.
"My girlfriend thought we should have a special where we had meatball sandwiches. There was a pocket of Italian families living in town and the guys would come in and say, 'This is how you do this, this is how you do that.' That's how I learned to make it," Smith said. "Later, when I was married and we were living in the mountains of North Carolina, I became famous for my spaghetti sauce. People in my church loved it when I made it."
As a young wife and mother, Smith turned to many of her mother's recipes to feed her growing family. Cooking was a family affair, with the Smith children all getting instructions "from the time they were old enough to stand on a stool."
Her children all enjoyed cooking, and when Smith became a working mom her children would help make the family meals.
"They got kind of competitive about it. They wanted to see who could make the best meal," she said. Her late son, Dan, enjoyed cooking so much he worked as a chef, Smith said. With the tables turned, he taught his mom some things about cooking, she said.
Smith was happy to learn. Her interest in food has continued throughout her life and she's collected recipes whereever she and her family have settled or visited.
"I clip recipes and try new things. I like to try new things, but I like things that use common ingredients," she said.
Moving to Cape May Court House to be close to family, Smith and her husband are now reaping the benefits of those years spent teaching their children to cook.
"My kids will have us for dinner. I'll let them make the meal. I'll bring the hors d'oeuvres," she said.
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
2 slice of bread, lightly toasted
1 tablespoon Hellman's mayonnaise
1 tablespoon peanut butter
3 slices of tomato
3 slices of bacon
2 leaves of lettuce
Lightly toast the bread. Fry the bacon and drain on towel. Spread mayonnaise, to taste, on one slice of bread and spread peanut butter on the other slice. Stack remaining ingredients on bread.