Buford Watson didn’t realize that I had pulled him into an improv game. Part of my interview with him for Smoky Mountain Morning was similar to a scene where one character speaks in gibberish and another translates. I had a mouthful of tomato sandwich and I asked Buford to figure out what I was saying. He didn’t know that I was just making random sounds while mixing in a few recognizable words like Grainger, tomato and Buford. I wanted to hear what he thought I might be saying.
People, including Buford, say the soil in Grainger County makes their tomatoes taste especially good. A “mater sammich” is one of local treats that I tasted during my first summer in Knoxville. The recipe is simple: white bread, mayonnaise, salt and tomato slices. Since then, I’ve thought that one of these years I would make the drive out to Rutledge for the Grainger County Tomato Festival. I finally did, which is how I met Buford. His recipe was even simpler: white bread, tomato slices and onion slices. He sells his tomato sandwiches for $2 each.
We saw the gang from WBIR’s “Live at Five at Four” at the festival. Beth Haynes, Russell Biven, Erin Donovan and John Martin were collecting footage for their own show, which originated from the festival on Friday. I thought we might also see Chef Walter from WVLT but we missed him. He gave the Grainger County Tomato Festival a big plug on Thursday’s show, which is what gave me the idea to go too.