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During the 1930s the way people ate and cooked changed dramatically. Poverty, mass migrations, and streamlined food production and preservation brought inexpensive, on-the-go foods into daily life for most Americans. Roadside hamburger stands, diners selling “blue plate specials” for cheap, and prepared foods like boxed macaroni and cheese all became popular during the Great Depression. In particular, sandwiches of all kinds became the norm for worker’s lunches, for snacks, tea parties, lunches, and even for dinner.

late 1930s festival, Louisiana
Via: Russell Lee/ Library of Congress

Many families at the time were struggling financially and so made due with whatever they had on hand. The tastes of the day were also quite different to how we eat now and even when company came over some interesting finger sandwiches might be offered to guests. Florence Cowles, author of the 1936 book, 1001 Sandwiches, was no stranger to how to make a little bit of food stretch to feed a crowd.

Her cookbook offered an endless stream of ways to make sandwiches, both sweet and savory varieties. While some of these formulations have become standard today, like the ham and cheese or the club sandwich, other recipes from the book leave a lot to be desired. It was the era of such makeshift sandwiches as butter and sugar, onion, and ketchup so it’s not surprising that some of the sammies in Ms. Cowles’ book had some unusual contents by today’s standards.

Peanut and Carrot Open-face Sandwiches

peanuts in shells
Via: Tom Hermans/ Unsplash

She calls this one “Mysteries” which is not a bad name for it. Directions on how to make this open-face sandwich are as follows, “Chop coarsely equal parts of raw carrots and salted peanuts. Mix with mayonnaise and spread on rounds of bread, decorating with slices of stuffed olives or small pickles.”

I could envision a sandwich of peanut butter and carrot jelly, but not one made of raw carrots, peanuts, mayo, black olives and/or pickles. That’s a hard “no” from the peanut gallery.

Walnut Sandwiches

African American workers having a lunch break, 1930s
Via: Paul Carter/ Library of Congress

This simple sandwich is made from walnuts, mayo, and some lettuce on bread. It doesn’t sound disgusting, just extremely boring. It could be someone’s favorite sandwich, but it just seems highly unlikely that most people would enjoy something like this. It’s unclear if this one is simply a product of “make the best of it” cooking or if this was considered good food.

Checkerboard Sandwiches

slices of whole wheat bread
Via: Stacy Spensley/ Flickr

You have to hand it to Ms. Cowles for coming up with an innovation sandwich presentation scheme, but all in all it still seems really unappetizing.

The recipe goes like this, “Cut six slices of bread about half an inch thick, three of white and three of whole wheat. Spread one of the white slices with cream cheese or with one of the butters described in that division. Place a slice of whole wheat bread on this and spread with same or a different mixture, topping with another slice of white. Make another pile like this, except with two whole wheat slices and one white, weight both piles and set in the refrigerator. When firm and thoroughly cooled, trim and slice each pile in three slices. Spread these with same mixture as used before and combine slices crosswise, white and whole wheat squares alternating. Repeat weighting and cooling process for a few hours. When ready to serve, cut in thin slices.”

So if I’ve got this straight it will take you multiple steps over many hours to make these checkerboard sandwiches that only have some cream cheese or butter on them? I don’t think this one would end up being the show-stopping luncheon item that many housewives might have hoped it could be.

Pimento Aspic Heart Sandwiches

pimentos in a large measuring cup
Via: djprybyl/ Flickr

In the book this sandwich is called the “Open Valentines Sandwich”. To make this one you’ll need to make an aspic from gelatin, chili, mayonnaise, and pimento. Then both the aspic and the bread are cut into heart shapes. Nothing says “I love you” like a heart-shaped pimento-gelatin sandwich, amirite?

Ambrosia Salad Sandwich

ambrosia salad

This sandwich is called the “Four-Decker Sandwich” and sounds rather a lot like ambrosia salad (minus the coconut and marshmallows) shoved between slices of bread. The directions on how to make this one are as follows, “Chop cherries fine and mix with half the cream cheese and mayonnaise. Chop nuts fine and mix with half the remaining cheese. Blend pineapple and remaining cheese and mayonnaise. Slice bread in four layers. Spread first and fourth with cherry mixture, second with pineapple mixture and third with nut mixture. Slice downward. This is really a sandwich loaf, though slices are thicker than usual.”

Now there’s a phrase we don’t hear much these days: “sandwich loaf”. Despite the loaf moniker this recipe doesn’t sound like the worst, but it does seem a little confusing.

Bran and Evaporated Milk

sandwiches set out at a Labor Day picnic
Via: Russell Lee/ Library of Congress

Neither of those 2 ingredients sound like sandwich fixins to me. But, this is just one of the many baffling combinations Cowles advised her readers to make. But, it gets worse. The combination of bran and evaporated milk is mixed with an egg and a pinch of salt and then fried up. It seems like an all-in-one-breakfast sandwich, but it doesn’t sound all that great. I’d rather have just a plain egg sandwich any day of the week.

Hot Corn Sandwich

corn and tomato sauce in a pan
Via: Andy Melton/ Flickr

Corn is fried up in drippings along with onions and then tomato sauce is added. The whole thing is then thickened with flour and poured over slices of bread. It almost sounds more like a casserole than sandwiches, although it doesn’t get baked in the oven so that is a key difference.

Celery and Biscuit Sandwiches

fresh biscuits

This is another recipe that takes a long time, but for little reward. To start this one off Ms. Cowles says you need to make some thin baking powder biscuits, then cut each one in half and pour hot, creamed celery over them. Thank goodness creamed celery went out of fashion because it sounds very bland and unappetizing.

Cottage Cheese, Carrot, and Pickle Sandwiches

bowl of cottage cheese"
Via: Marco Verch/ Flickr

There are many people today who won’t even touch cottage cheese because of the consistency, let alone put it on a sandwich. This confusing creation has the cook combine shredded carrots with cottage cheese and mayo and then put the mixture on buttered bread and finish with pickles. This one sounds like the type of sandwich you might eat with a fork which is at least the 3rd strike against this abomination.

Egg, Walnut, and Vinegar Sandwich

egg salad sandwich
Via: rob_rob2001/ Flickr

Ms. Cowles calls this one the “Lenten Sandwich II” and it has no meat. To make this recipe you grind walnuts and mix this with the whites of hard-boiled eggs. Then take the yolks and mix with vinegar, mustard, butter, and salt, and pepper. This sounds like a more vinegar-y version of egg salad sandwiches, but with nuts. This sandwich, like the others noted here, just begs the question: why?