While you’re waiting to see what makes the list for Restaurant Hospitality’s Best Sandwiches in America Contest in June, consider our sandwich culture in the past. In the summer of 1956, American Restaurant Magazine (Restaurant Hospitality’s forerunner) presented 30 sandwich ideas. Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, the year’s number one song was Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel, movie audiences were watching The Ten Commandments and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I Love Lucy was the most popular TV show, and Americans were eating sandwiches made with sardines and braunschweiger.
If nothing else, the following vintage recipe ideas demonstrate how our sandwiches reflect the popular ingredients and culinary influences of the day. In the Fifties, canned sardines were a prevalent lunch item, convenient and with a healthy halo. American cheese slices also emerged as a convenient new product in the 1950s, while canned soups inspired casseroles and other specialties. It’s probably no coincidence that Poppy Cannon’s first Can-Opener Cookbook was published in the early 1950s. Many customers expected fish on Fridays. Meaty sandwiches included braunschweiger, and triple-decker combos like club sandwiches with three slices of bread. Although you wouldn’t know it from the names of these Fifties sandwiches, bacon was as popular then as it is now, and is featured in four of the nine menu suggestions below.
1. B&B rolls: These had nothing to do with Benedictine and Brandy. The B&B stood for braunschweiger and bacon—specifically, mashed braunschweiger liver sausage and chopped bacon. The meats were combined with chili sauce, then spread on the lower portion of Kaiser rolls cut into thirds horizontally. The center slice of the rolls was spread with mayonnaise, lettuce, a tomato slice, a raw onion slice or a slice of cucumber, then topped with the upper slice of the Kaiser roll. The sandwiches were held together with toothpicks.
2. Braunschweiburgers: Braunschweiger smoked liver sausage shows up again, and also in the company of bacon slices. This time, slices of braunschweiger were spread with mustard and wrapped with bacon slices, topped with an onion slice, seasoned with paprika and garnished with a tomato slice and a mushroom cap. The bacon and vegetables were secured with toothpicks, then baked. The burgers were served open-faced on toasted hamburger buns.
3. Souper burgers: Think of these as mini meatloaf patties. They were made with condensed cream of mushroom soup, ground beef, dry bread crumbs, minced onion and parsley, an egg, salt, water and shortening.
4. Friday burgers: Today, these might be called Tuna Melts. The burgers were a combination of flaked tuna, Miracle Whip salad dressing, dry bread crumbs, onion, chopped dill pickle, celery salt, salt and pepper. The burgers were baked, then topped with a slice of American cheese and served on toasted hamburger buns.
5. Maine sardine burgers: This seafood sandwich spotlights canned sardines. The burgers were shaped into patties with corn flakes, parsley, lemon juice, salt and grated onion, then fried in butter. Sardine burgers were served on toasted hamburger buns.
6. Oyster club sandwiches: This combo is a variation on the club sandwich and the BLT. It featured slices of fried bacon with oysters dredged in seasoned flour and fried in bacon fat. Other ingredients included lettuce, tomato slices, and mayonnaise. The sandwich was served on buttered toast.
7. Apple and cheese sandwiches: American cheese was the starting point for this grilled cheese sandwich variation. A slice of white toast (trimmed of crust) was spread with mayonnaise, covered with a slice of cheese, then an apple slice brushed with melted margarine and sprinkled with brown sugar. Finally, two slices of broiled bacon were added before the toast slices were placed under a broiler until the cheese was melted and the bacon crisped.
8. French-fried cheese sandwich with smoked sausage and apple sauce: This hybrid sandwich was part grilled cheese, part deep-fried croque monsieur and it seemed to demand a glass of beer as the beverage of choice. Sharp Cheddar cheese was ground and mixed with chili sauce, using a beater. For each sandwich, a scoop of cheese was placed on a bread slice and topped with a second slice of bread. The sandwiches were then dipped in an egg and milk mixture and deep-fat fried. Each sandwich was served with three split smoked sausage lengths on top, accompanied by apple sauce.
9. Chicken asparagus rolls: For this sandwich served in hot dog rolls, asparagus and cooked chicken slices were mixed with French dressing and topped with curry mayonnaise.