Thursday, August 6, 2015

Garden & Gun, Duke's Mayonnaise, and the Ties that Bind

I have become a big fan of Garden & Gun magazine, especially after discovering that, despite its name, the publication is not in fact about gardens or guns (I can't grow the former, and while I'm not opposed to the latter, I don't particularly enjoy reading about the subject). The magazine is a great resource for all things southerly, genteel, and charming. That's why it came as no surprise that last week, Garden & Gun put together a short article entitled "Why Duke's Mayonnaise Matters." And it certainly does matter, my friends.

Let's just start at the beginning, where all that goodness originated: Greenville, South Carolina in 1917. Eugenia Duke (now forever known as the Duchess of Mayonnaise) started making and selling sandwiches with her signature homemade spread to World War I soldiers stationed at Fort Sevier. Needless to say, the sandwiches, and that mayo, got rave reviews, and by the spring of 1919, Eugenia sold over 10,000 sandwiches in one day. A brand, and a business, was born.

Duke's mayonnaise has achieved a type of cult following in the South. It's the third largest mayonnaise brand in the United States, and even if many folks north of the Mason-Dixon line aren't familiar with this fine product, any good Southerner worth their salt will tell you that there is just something special about Duke's. I came across another article, this time from the Washington Post, with some pretty impressive anecdotes from Erin Hatcher, who oversees the brand's label (the article is here if you want to read it in entirety): "There was the man on his hospital death bed who asked for a tomato sandwich made with Duke's. There was the mother of the bride who, after the company made its switch from glass to plastic containers around 2005, demanded four glass jars with labels intact to use as centerpieces at her daughter's wedding. And there was the elderly woman from North Carolina. She wrote in hopes of obtaining just three glass jars, saying she'd like to be cremated and have her ashes places in the containers for her three daughters." Hatcher assured the article's author that she made good on that last request.

For me, Duke's is synonymous with that summertime delicacy, tomato sandwiches (which I only recently found out are also commonly called "sink sandwiches" because the best way to eat them is to stand over the kitchen sink and just let all the juices run right down your arms). Ripe, homegrown tomatoes, a fresh loaf of soft white bread, salt, pepper, and Duke's--that's how you really make a sandwich. For those of you who have been using an inferior product like--heaven forbid--Miracle Whip, come on over to the tasty side and use my mayo. You'll never go back. As further evidence that Duke's mayonnaise and tomatoes are the best pairing since Bogart and Bacall or Ben and Jerry, here is a quintessentially summer-in-the-South picture a friend of mine posted on Facebook over the weekend, aptly captioned "Southern nights:"

Photo by Jake Green

Duke's, fresh tomatoes, and a little candlelight. If that doesn't make you swoon, you might need to check your pulse. There's good reason for the battle cry: if it isn't Duke's, it isn't really a sandwich!

I could eat tomato sandwiches all day long. But sadly, those garden grown tomatoes don't last all year, which is why it's fortuitous that Duke's is also equally delicious in deviled eggs, potato salad, pimento cheese, casseroles of pretty much any kind, and even...desserts. The Duke's website has over a dozen delicious-sounding sweet recipes that are made with their spectacular spread. (The mayonnaise keeps cakes and baked goods moist, in case you were wondering how in the world the idea of mayonnaise for dessert came into existence.)

I have an early memory as a kid, in the kitchen with my mom, watching her put together some homemade chicken salad. She scooped a big spoonful (or three) of mayonnaise and began to stir all the ingredients together, explaining as she worked that you needed to be sure to use enough mayonnaise--after all, "it's what binds it all together." All these years later, I still remember that advice and consider it true, especially in the case of Duke's, in more ways than just the kitchen.


  1. When I lived in California, I had it shipped to me or I would bring a carefully wrapped jar home in my checked luggage. When people came to visit me from the South, I also made them bring me some.
    I had no idea it originated in Greenville, SC. I knew there was a reason I moved here!

  2. I have my Duke's shipped to me regularly by my mother-in-law because you can't get it here in Okinawa. I love Duke's! It's yumminess for the soul.


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