The Marveling Story Behind the Bread-and-Butter Pickle Sandwich



BY LAUREN SEPHTON

You may be familiar with the unusual peanut butter and pickle sandwich pregnancy craving, but how about the bread-and-butter pickle sandwich? Tracing back to the Depression Era, being first recorded in 1923 when a young couple went to trademark their homemade pickle company logo, there is a hidden story longing to be told.

The term “bread-and-butter pickles” is most often associated with those reliably crisp, sweet, and salty quartered pickles with hints of onion and mustard seed that are served alongside a juicy burger or chopped into an egg salad. But not in this case. During the Great Depression, many folks weren’t given the option of their choice meat, cheese, and spicy or mild aioli to go on the side of their sandwich. When the summer heat rose, and cucumbers were growing every day, life was good. It meant substance within two slices of bread. At the end of summer harvest, the excess cucumber crop was sliced, salted, and pickled in jars for the cold, harsh winter. It allegedly became a staple during the Depression Era due to the cheap and vast availability of each ingredient.

This sandwich is comprised of two slices of soft, chewy homemade white bread, each slathered with thick salted butter, and layered inside are paper-thin slices of fermented dill pickles that overlap. Simplicity to its finest, sort of. Who knew that the comforting combination of bread and butter, paired with crunchy pickles, was the food pairing of a lifetime?

Fun fact: The phrase “bread-and-butter pickles” was first recorded in 1923, when Cora and Omar Fanning from Illinois went to register for a trademark on their family pickles company logo. Later in 1996, the Feingold News released an article on how Mrs. Fanning worked out an agreement to receive groceries from a local grocer, which included the iconic salted butter and white bread, in exchange for her family pickles. Through the years, a multitude of individuals have trademarked their signature name with the “bread and butter pickles” phrase, but no one individual has yet to own the phrase itself.

If you have a little extra time on your hands, test out a batch of homemade dill pickles thinly sliced into “crunchy coins” in-between two richly buttered slices of chewy white bread to experience a small taste of American culinary history. If the three-ingredient sandwich seems a little questionable to your liking, maybe try out a more modernized version below.

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil on two slices of crusty sourdough bread. On one sourdough slice, add a thin layer of white cheddar cheese, then a few thin slices of pastrami or turkey meat, finishing with a final layer of cheese. Toast the layered bread slice until the cheese is melted, and the plain slice until golden brown.
  3. On the plain slice of toasted sourdough, add a spread of wholegrain brown mustard, 2-3 tablespoons sauerkraut (drained), and thinly sliced dill (or bread and butter pickles). Combine the two slices to finish the assembling of your sandwich and enjoy!

The Bread-and-Butter Pickle Sandwich combination may not have made it into the award-winning cookbooks of its generation, or on the newspaper headlines for the best recipe of the hour, but it lives to tell its story through the heart of numerous family kitchens. It was the snack grandma always had on hand for afternoon plays, it was the lunch that was easily affordable, and it was the sandwich that kept many Americans satisfied during the roughest times. Its legacy may not appear on paper but has made an imprint in many grateful Americans’ lives.

 


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