UPDATE 6/10: It's Official

Enormous and enthusiastic response to the "BLT From Scratch Challenge" cause me to make it official.  Rules for the sandwich itself are stated below in what "from scratch" means; it should go without saying that there will be no honor in purchasing bread or mayo or a slab of bacon and not acknowledging it; indeed, this will result in much bad karma.

Entries will be judged in three categories: best photograph, best overall preparation, and best interpretation of a classic.

The last category requires explanation. An interpretation means playing off the original.  To make an overly simplistic example, a BLT salad, lettuce and tomato with a mayo dressing, lardons and croutons made from homemade bread; an Alinea-inspired version might be lettuce ice cream served on a crouton, topped with deep-fried mayo and a caramel bacon sauce, garnished with powdered tomato. The interpretation must include one of each of the main ingredients: homegrown tomato and lettuce, a home-cured meat, some form of mayonnaise or emulsified sauce, and some form of yeast-leavened baked good.

Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free interpretations are welcome! If there are enough, they may warrant their own category.

Submissions will be accepted through Friday, August 28th. Limit: one entry per category per person.  Send pix and any notes or recipes to michaelruhlman@gmail.com.  (DO NOT send to the main "contact" email address or it may get lost!)  Winners will be announced on Labor Day Weekend.  Books of mine will serve as token prizes; internet fame and glory will be byproducts of the real prize: an awesome sandwich you really made yourself.


Two readers of the below pancetta post, Gareth, who has a very nice blog, and Carrie, who has become obsessed by what Gareth said in comment #1, have given me a great idea!

A collective challenge for all of you who really love to cook: Make a BLT from scratch.  No, this does not mean raising a piglet for the bacon or growing your own wheat to grind into flour.  Yes, extra credit for either, but I want this to be a challenge that everyone can accept, whether you live in a Manhattan walk-up or rural North Carolina, Alaska or suburban splendor: make a BLT from scratch, photograph it and send the photo to me.  If you blog, blog about it (and please link back to this post to encourage others to accept the challenge).

From scratch means: You grow your tomato, you grow your lettuce, you cure your own bacon or pancetta, you bake your own bread (wild yeast preferred and gets higher marks but is not required), you make your own mayo.  All other embellishments, creative interpretations of the BLT welcome.

Later this summer, say, mid-August or even on Labor Day (to give anyone way north more time to grow a tomato), I'll post the results and my wife and favorite photographer, Donna, will choose her three favorite images. Those cooks shall receive everlasting glory, an enthusiastic post here, and perhaps a copy of Ratio or another of my books of the winners' choosing (signed in bacon fat)—but the prize is not the point.

The point is to cook an American classic for ourselves and for our families without resorting to Oscar Meyer, Helmann's, Wonderbread, or even the Florida and California Tomato Growers associations.

Please join me and if you like the idea, spread the word.  Take the homemade BLT challenge!  Happy growing, curing, cooking, eating!


106 Wonderful responses to “BLT From Scratch—Summertime Challenge!”

  • NWCajun

    I hope my family likes BLTs, because I now have something new to obsess about this summer. I’m glad you’re giving us through August. Here in the Pacific Northwest our tomatoes look more like gooseberries than sandwhich toppers. This will be fun. Thank you.

  • Ed Hawco

    Well, I’m part way there, as I currently have four pork bellies hanging in my basement (a friend and I make our own pancetta together, inspired by your book). Pictures and post here: http://www.blork.org/blorkblog/2009/06/01/pancetta-overload/

    But I’m not going to grown my own tomatoes or lettuce. So close though! Seriously, this was going to be the year we planted a garden, and lettuce and tomatoes were on the list of things to plant. But stuff happens and people get busy and next thing you know, it’s too late. Maybe next year!

  • StumptownSavoury

    Thanks for the compliment! And count me in. I see flowers on the tomato vines. Extra points for wild yeast? Great excuse to work on sourdough starter. It’s going to be a fun summer. Gee, think of all the taste testing. Hmm, maybe I should make some beer to go with the sandwich….

  • ruhlman

    walker, next time, add minced shallot and more lemon juice and you will have converted them.

    Nurit: if you can marinate a steak, you can cure your a belly!

  • Walker

    Ha! I did something like this last summer when my mother-in-law was in town. I didn’t make the bread though, but used lettuce and tomatoes from our backyard garden (I had to beg my wife for the tomatoes — bad tomato season in Oregon last year) and of course, homemade bacon and mayo. Interesting thing was nobody but me liked the mayo — everyone preferred Best Food’s (Hellman’s on the East Coast) which speaks more towards people being used to the manufactured stuff rather than homemade…I hope!