Despite the unfortunate Phaseolus vulgaris moniker—the American Common Bean category includes bunches of beloved, native-to-the-Americas beans: navy, red kidney, pinto, great northern, marrow, & yellow eye, plus garden variety edible-pod beans (string, stringless and snap.) It’s not clear which of these the New England colonists first stewed in a pot, but we do know baked navy beans started with Native Americans. The Narragansett, Penobscot, and Iroiquois wrapped navy beans in deerskins—or put them in earthenware pots, along with venison, bear fat and maple syrup and then baked the lot in hot-stone-lined pits. Puritans eschewed the deerskins, but took to bean-pot cookery because the long, slow cook times meant housewives could prepare the beans a day ahead, and in so doing, stick to Puritanical no-cooking-on-Sabbath rules.
One of the more entertaining things about recipe books from the ‘30s and ‘40s, is what they reveal about changing tastes. The jellied chicken, minced tongue and sardine and egg mixtures that were considered delectable snacks then have been replaced by sunchoke bundles grilled in ash, or spoons of gruyere-slaked pumpkin on tasting menus today. But despite changing tastes, vintage tea sandwiches with yummy spreads endure. This is a post full of those.
My copy of the 1943 Household Searchlight Recipe Book from Topeka, Kansas’ Household magazine is especially dog-eared in the “Gelatins,” “Icing and Fillings,” and “Cakes” sections, clues that the books original owner, Mrs. Elbert Jackson, had a sweet tooth. But more apparent? She entertained. The end sheets and margins of the book are filled with hand-scrawled recipes for petit fours, bon-bons, canapes and cocktail nibbles. And the section tab for “Sandwiches” is completely worn through : )
Far from the meat-and-cheese-stacked clubs, panini, and submarines of today, most sandwiches in the ‘30s and ‘40s relied on spreads. Both thrifty and easy, sandwich spreads translated very well into bite-sized morsels for receptions, teas or ladies’ luncheons.
Some vintage sandwich ingredient combinations seem wildly weird now–the Grapenut cereal and cheese with Tabasco, catsup and mustard, for example, or the peanut butter and chopped pickle with cream and onion (!) But the best spreads endured, making their way into the Ladies Guild and Auxiliary Club menus that would come to define an accessible sort of ‘50s “fancy”: pretty, tasty, but still a little homey.
There are the “salads”: Ham, egg, chicken, and shrimp. There are the cheese blends: pimiento cheese, cream cheese with salmon, or for a lighter flavor– mascarpone cheese sweetened with honey or marmalade. Continue Reading…