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 The jellied chicken, minced tongue and sardine and egg mixtures that were considered delectable snacks then have been replaced by sunchoke bundles grilled in ash, or spoons of gruyere-slaked pumpkin on tasting menus today.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. And to put them on? I’ve included a recipe for tiny cream-puff shells to be filled with shrimp salad, an orange-apricot bread baked in soup cans, and nippy cheese cracker rounds. Plus, I’ve provided the basics on trimming and shaping breads for finger sandwiches, and how to make a pinwheel sandwich.
To make the sandwiches, you can use your choice of thin sliced wheat, white or rye breads in whatever shapes you like. (If you want to make the bread or mayonnaise from scratch, here’s the link to my egg salad sandwich, which includes recipes for both.) Here are tips to help you along the way:
*For finger sandwich consistency and workability, I recommend using purchased breads (thin sliced rye, white and wheat bread, and white sandwich loaf bread.)
*For cutting bread: I use an X-Acto Self-Healing Cutting Mat on my workspace to make trimming the crusts really easy.
*For bread squares: Just line small stacks of the breads up on the gridlines of the self-healing mat and use a super-sharp bread knife to gently cut through the bread along the lines, trimming away the crusts. Freeze the crusts to make bread pudding later!
*For bread circles: Working with one piece of bread at a time. Use sharp-bottom-edged biscuit, cake or pastry cutters. Press straight down and then twist a bit to ensure you have cut all the way through the bread. Trim away crusts and freeze to make bread pudding later.
*For best presentation: I prefer to trim crusts and shape breads before filling them: The breads and fillings are delicate and squish easily.
*For mini cream puff shells: These taste best right after you make them—please serve the same day you prepare them; fill them right before service.
*Taste and textural variation: I have shaped these recipes to my taste. There is a lot of leeway for variation: The grind of the meat, for example, can be made more coarse, or more smooth, depending on your preference, by pulsing in the food processor more or less. I prefer a smoother grind for the meats to make them easier to fit on finger-sized sandwiches. I’ve added ample amounts of very-finely chopped celery to provide texture. For flavoring to suit taste: Simply adjust seasonings, adding a bit more pepper, or a bit less mayonnaise.
*My recipe for shrimp salad includes preserved lemon. You can purchase this, or, make it from scratch from my delicious preserved meyer lemon recipe.
*I’ve included in my lead photo a few simple veggie options: Radish slices on parsley-buttered baguette slices (my favorite!) and watercress on parsley-buttered bread cut into half-moons. To make parsley butter: Using the paddle attachment of your stand mixer, whip 1 stick of softened butter with 2 Tbsp of minced parsley.
If there are extras after your party, fillings will keep well tightly covered in the fridge. (They’re also great for snacking on crackers and toast.) Or, you can put these fillings together in a many-splendored rendition of the ‘50s frosted sandwich loaf. Enjoy, and Happy Mother’s Day!
- For the Ham Salad
- 1 lb. ham, cubed (Choose one from the deli case that’s not too salty)
- 1 tsp Coleman’s mustard powder
- ¾ cup Duke’s or Hellman’s mayonnaise
- ½ cup finely-chopped dill pickle
- ¾ cup sweet pickle relish
- 3 Tbsp. very-finely-minced onion
- ½ cup finely minced celery (Note: Cut three ribs of celery into three long strips each; finely mince strips)
- 1 Tbsp. diced pimiento or preserved red pepper strips
- For the Egg Salad
- 1 dozen hard-cooked eggs (You will use all of the yolks and only four of the whites)
- ½ cup Duke’s or Hellman’s mayonnaise
- ½ tsp Coleman’s mustard powder
- ½ cup finely minced celery (Cut three ribs of celery into three long strips each; finely mince strips)
- ¼ cup finely-chopped dill pickle
- 2 tsp Asian sweet chili sauce
- 1 Tbsp very finely minced chives
- 1 Tbsp very finely minced parsley
- 2 tsp finely snipped dill
- Salt and finely ground black pepper to taste
- For the Chicken Salad
- 1 pound low-sodium chicken breast (from the deli counter)
- ½ cup finely-chopped cucumber
- 1/2 cup finely-chopped celery
- ¼ cup finely-chopped dill pickles
- ¼ cup sweet pickle relish
- ¾ cup mayonnaise
- salt and finely-ground pepper to taste
- 1 Tbsp finely snipped fresh tarragon (optional)
- For the Shrimp Salad in Mini Cream-Puff Shells
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
- 5 large eggs (four for the shells; one for the egg wash)
- 2 Tbsp water
- 1 lb. cooked large shrimp, tails removed
- ¼ cup Duke’s or Hellman’s mayonnaise
- 1 to 2 Tbsp finely minced preserved Meyer Lemon
- 1 Tbsp finely snipped fresh dill
- 3 celery ribs, each cut lengthwise into three strips and finely diced to make ½ cup
- ¼ cup minced chives
- 2 Tbsp finely-diced pimiento pepper or jarred red pepper strips
- Salt and finely-ground black pepper
- For the Pimiento Cheese Spread
- 8 ounce block of sharp cheddar cheese
- ½ cup cream cheese
- ½ cup minced pimiento peppers or minced jarred red peppers
- ½ cup Duke’s or Hellman’s mayonnaise
- 2 tsp Crystal hot sauce (optional, but I always include)
- 2 tsp Asian sweet chili sauce
- For the Smoked Salmon Cream Cheese, Dill & Cucumber Pinwheels
- 1 loaf trimmed white bread
- 2 small cucumbers (cut one lengthwise into long thin 1/8-inch spears; slice the other one into very thin rounds)
- ½ small, sweet onion, sliced into rings
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- ¼ cup cider vinegar
- ¼ cup water
- 1 Tbsp snipped fresh dill
- ¾ cup smoked salmon
- 1 package cream cheese
- For the Nippy Cheese Crackers with Orange Mascarpone
- ½ cup cheddar pub cheese spread
- ½ cup butter (1 stick)
- 1 cup sifted flour
- ½ cup mascarpone cheese
- 1 to 2 Tbsp good-quality orange marmalade
- For the Apricot Orange Bread with Mascarpone Honey
- ¾ cup dried apricots
- 2 ½ cups flour
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 3 ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 large egg
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
- ½ cup whole milk
- ½ cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
- 1 Tbsp orange zest
- ½ cup mascarpone cheese
- 1 to 2 Tbsp good quality honey, OR, good quality apricot jam
- Pulse ham in food processor until finely ground, but retaining some texture. In a large mixing bowl, whisk mustard powder into mayonnaise. Add ham. Stir to combine. Add remaining ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to fill sandwiches.
- Peel eggs; discard shells. Remove hard boiled yolks to a large mixing bowl. Set whites aside. Mash yolks. Whisk mayonnaise with mustard powder. Stir into yolks to make a smooth paste.
- Grate four of the egg whites into the yolk mixture. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Refrigerate until ready to fill sandwiches.
- Make Chicken Salad: Cube the chicken breast and place in a food processor. Pulse until finely ground. Mix with remaining ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to fill sandwiches.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the water, butter and salt. Heat to a low boil. Whisk in flour and then stir with a wooden spoon until it gathers up into a smooth mass. Remove from pan and set aside to cool. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk four of the eggs with the dough on high speed until a glossy, sticky smooth batter results. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using two tablespoons—one to scoop and the other to scoot the dough out of the scooper spoon—drop rounded tablespoon-sized dollops of dough onto the parchment in rows. Irregularity of shape is fine. Combine the water with the remaining egg in a small bowl, whisk. Brush cream-puff shells with egg wash. Bake for 15 minutes in preheated 400 degree oven until golden and puffed. Remove from oven and slice puffs open immediately or they will cave in. Set aside until ready to fill with the shrimp salad.
- Cut each shrimp into tiny pieces. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk mayonnaise with preserved lemon and dill. Stir in shrimp pieces, diced celery and onion. Carefully fold in pimiento. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to fill into the cream puff shells.
- Using a box grater, select the medium-sized holes and grate cheddar cheese. Using a fork, whip cream cheese until smooth with mayonnaise. Fold into cheese. Stir in remaining ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to spread on sandwiches.
- Trim crusts from white bread. Using a heavy rolling pin, roll each piece of bread flat. Set bread aside in a plastic bag. Combine the cucumber that you sliced into thin rounds with the onion rings, sugar, vinegar, water and dill in a bowl to marinate. Refrigerate for ½ hour. Chop the smoked salmon into small pieces. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, blend salmon with cream cheese until smooth. Drain the liquid from the cucumber and onion rings. Using a clean cotton towel, press any remaining liquid out of the cucumber and onion. On a clean work surface, spread a flattened, trimmed bread slice with salmon cream cheese. On one end of the bread, shingle a few slices of the pickled cucumber with a few threads of the pickled onion. Over this, place two of the 1/8 inch spears. Rolling up like sushi, carefully roll the bread slice up until you have a roll. Using a sharp knife, trim the ends of the roll and discard. Slice the rest of the roll into five pieces. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Allow cheese and butter to stand at room temperature until soft. Cream cheese with butter until smooth. Stir in flour and mix until incorporated. Wrap dough in plastic and flatten into a disk; refrigerate. Preheat oven to 350 with rack at center level. Remove dough from fridge; roll out on lightly floured board and cut into rounds with small cookie or biscuit cutter. Place rounds on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Prick each round with the tines of a fork to make three rows of perforations. Bake at 350 for 10 to 15 minutes until golden. Remove to a cooling rack. Whip mascarpone with a fork until smooth; stir in marmalade. Once crackers have cooled, spread orange mascarpone between crackers to make savory-sweet “sandwich cookies.”
- Place dried apricots in small pan. Cover with water. Simmer apricots over medium low heat until plumped. Discard water. Chop apricots. Set aside.
- Combine dry ingredients in a sifter. Sift into large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together egg with oil, milk, orange juice, and orange zest. Mix—but do not beat—wet ingredients into the dry ones. Using the handle of a spoon or spatula, generously coat the inside bottom and sides of each can with solid vegetable shortening. Preheat oven to 350. Divide the batter between the four greased cans; it should fill each can about ½ way. Coat a piece of foil with vegetable shortening. Place the four cans in a 9-inch cake pan. Place the cake pan in the oven; invert the shortening-coated foil over the tops of the cans and loosely crimp. Bake for 45 minutes to one hour. Remove breads from oven. Cool well. Invert cans to release breads from cans. Mix mascarpone cheese with honey OR apricot jam; spread on slices of the bread and combine slices to make sandwich rounds.