Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Sandwiches that give you that sinking filling... I mean, feeling.

In elementary school, I could be perfectly happy to take the same lunch every day: peanut butter and butter (I didn't like the main course to be too sweet, so I had a little salty butter instead of the stereotypical jelly with my p.b.), carrot sticks, raisins, and a homemade cookie. I didn't even like raisins, so they were literally the same raisins every day. My mom would dutifully pack them so I'd have fruit in my lunch and I'd bring them back home every afternoon like they were some kind of a sticky charm to be carried around for luck.

Most people like a bit more variety in their lunches, though, a fact The Lunch Box Cookbook (Melanie de Proft, 1955) capitalized on.

For some reason, it feels to me as if everything on the cover is set out to make it look as if they're getting ready for a picnic-- a carefree day of chicken, olive cups, deviled eggs, and cupcakes on the beach. Who has the time to lay it all out like party prep when it's more likely to be a rush to get everybody ready for days of construction work or repeating "One plus one is two. Two plus two is four..."  while trying not to get swatted with a ruler?

No, the book insists lunch prep is a joyous occasion. Just check out the dancing lunch boxes:

They are waaay too happy at the prospect of being schlepped back and forth between work or school and home every day. I would not be smiling at the thought of getting banged around on the school bus or stuffed into a stinky locker.

The lunch box on the middle left must have been easy to pack, though, since it's apparently for someone who eats nothing but a full loaf of bread every day.

The recipes are mostly pretty standard: navy bean soup, cornbread squares, brownies or molasses crinkles for the treat compartment. The real drama is in the sandwich fillings. As far as this book is concerned, a sandwich can be filled with any mix of random foodstuffs and a dressing to lubricate them. (Most ingredients for fillings are listed sans instructions. The note admonishing readers to "Assemble all ingredients and blend filling mixtures lightly but thoroughly" at the beginning of the chapter is as specific as it gets.)

Ever wished for some soggy bread stuffed with cottage cheese and pickle relish?

Voila! I know there are plenty of bacon aficionados out there, but I'm not sure any are devoted enough to argue that some crisp bacon crumbles would be enough to save this mess.

I was (and remain) a peanut butter fiend, but I suspect Hearty Peanut Butter Filling would have put me right off my beloved spread:

Deviled ham with green pepper, dressing, and onion is not my thing, but I understand some people think it's fine. I'm not sure anybody thinks peanut butter and deviled ham salad is the next hottest couple after peanut butter and chocolate, though.

It looks as if this recipe tries to tap into pop culture to draw in the kiddies, but I'm not buying it:

What makes this Superman's delight? The spinach makes me think this should have been Popeye's Delight, but someone in the editing department half-remembered that some cartoon character somewhere liked spinach and just assumed it must be Superman since that was the only name that came to mind. (I could be wrong on this, since I'm not a huge Superman fan. Correct me if there is some tip-off that this is actually Superman-themed and not the '50s cookbook equivalent of Marge Simpson declaring "I'm a Star Wars!" as she holds a vaguely Vader-esque paper plate mask to her face.)

Next we have a picture of bread being assaulted with one of the more-dubious fillings. Can you guess what this goop is based on a black-and-white photo that hides half of it behind the butter knife and the woman's hands anyway?

No? I imagine the spread was actually pinkish instead of gray, and know that the little crock of pickles on the side is not a clue. It's just an innocent bystander.

Give up?

It's Salami-Kidney Bean Filling! The perfect solution for when you have extra kidney beans and figure you might as well mash them up with salami, chili sauce, onion, and mustard.

I've saved what might be the worst for last. This one may not be the worst tasting (although I wouldn't be willing to bet on that, either)....

...but Prune-Raisin Filling might be the one that set the record for sending kids home in humiliation. Give a first grader a sandwich full of prunes and an afternoon with Miss Hooper's extreme skepticism about whether kids really need to go to the bathroom or just want an excuse to screw around in the hallway for five minutes, and that first grader is in for a very bad afternoon indeed.

I can think of one situation in which I'd endorse these recipes, though. Any kid who was regularly a victim of lunch-stealing would do well to pack some of these fillings for a week. A few days of peanut butter with deviled ham or prune-raisin madness, and no bully is going to try to finagle that kid's lunches again. 


  1. I'm Star Wars!

    My poor poor salami deserved better than that :(

    1. Yeah-- I can't imagine what it would taste like thinned out with mushed-up beans, but I'm sure it wouldn't be an improvement.