I’m a sucker for antique cookbooks, and this whole Minnesota Lunch project has, I’ll admit, stirred a curiosity on my part of the old-school sandwiches of yesteryear.
So, lo and behold: While poking around a shop in St. Paul, I stumbled across a sandwich cookbook put out in 1942 by the Duluth Universal Flour company.
Written by “Frederic H. Girnau, Culinary Expert” and purporting to share “400 New Ways of Making Delicious Sandwiches,” the Sandwich Book of All Nations takes a nominally international approach to its material. I say “nominal,” because in most cases, the relationship between the sandwich and the supposed nation of origin is not merely thin but actually preposterous (see the “Chinese Oriental” sandwich below, for starters.)
Still, a lot of the sandwiches looked relatively tasty, many were provocatively bizarre, and the whole book is a delightful time capsule of received gastronomic wisdom from 60 years ago.
Here are a few of my favorites from among the 400 recipes provided, with commentary:
Chinese Oriental Sandwich
Mash four bananas; add one-half cup of maraschino cherries, two tablespoonfuls of honey, and two tablespoonfuls of sweet thick cream. Mix and spread on thin slices of lightly buttered white bread, cover with another slice, and garnish top with a cherry.
COMMENTARY: Ah, Chinese cuisine. Well known the world ’round for its liberal use of bananas, maraschino cherries and dairy products. Also: this sandwich is more absurd than a fluffernutter, and that’s saying quite a bit.
English Fig and Roll
Split twelve figs, scrape out the soft portion and rub this to a paste; butter thin slices of fresh white or brown bread, remove the crust, spread on the fig paste and roll the bread carefully; press for a moment, then roll it on a piece of tissue paper, pressing the ends as you would an old-fashioned motto, or it may be tied with a baby ribbon of any color.
COMMENTARY: I quite liked this recipe for its roll-up technique; we’re all pretty well sick of wraps, but the idea of rolling white bread into a tube of tastiness is a pretty interesting one. I could actually see adapting this.
Wisconsin Tomato Jelly Sandwich
One cupful of boil and strained tomatoes, seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika and a little tabasco sauce. Dissolve quarter box of gelatine in one-half cup of water, add to the tomatoes, and mix thoroughly. Cool in forms that will slice in shape of sandwiches to be used. Place between thin slices of lightly buttered white bread.
COMMENTARY: Nothing says “The Badger State” like gelatinous tomatoes. Seriously, though, this sandwich is just crazy.
Italian Banana Sandwich
Place peeled bananas, sliced across, between thin slices of buttered brown bread from which the crusts have been trimmed. Place in the oven and leave until bread is toasted and you will have delicious and nourishing hot sandwiches. Very good for invalids.
COMMENTARY: “Invalid” is a word few of us have probably heard in quite some time, and for good reason. Also: are hot bananas actually supremely nourishing for those on the mend? Not clear.
French Violet Sandwich
Cover the butter with violets over night; slice white bread thin and spread with the butter; put slices together and cover with the petals of the violets.
COMMENTARY: This sandwich is filled with nothing but butter and tiny purple flowers. Charming and strange.
On thin slices of Swiss cheese, spread fresh butter and put the two slices together.
COMMENTARY: Uh-oh, somebody let Salvador Dalí make lunch, and he used the cheese… as bread!
Bummers Custard Sandwich
Take a cake of Roquefort cheese and divide in third; moisten one third with brandy, another third with olive oil, and the other third with Worcestershire sauce. Mix all together and place between split water biscuits toasted. Good for a stag lunch.
COMMENTARY: Is a “stag lunch” an archaic event wherein everybody arrives at the meal totally high? Did people ever really consume brandy, olive oil, and Worcestershire sauce-soaked cheese between toasted crackers as a meal? And what, exactly, are bummers? And how does this relate to custard? This recipe raises far more questions than it answers.