A New Reality
Thursday, October 21, 2021
It’s funny. Your RovingRaconteurs have done little traveling since Covid hit; but we do seem to spend an inordinate amount of time planning for travel!!! We get together with our “Sea Friends” and talk future cruise plans; we meet with neighbors and plan for car trips (our latest involves the Auto Train which we have not yet experienced); or we get together with friends and plot road trips and weekend visits (we’ll tell you soon about being snowed-in in Wyoming last week!!!) But never, ever, did we think a simple sandwich at a local seaside eatery would send us on a trip to our past!!! And yet, it takes so little!!!
Do tell; what’s the set up here?
Recently, we joined friends for lunch. One ordered a Shrimp Salad; another ordered the Crab Cake Sandwich; and two of us had Fried Bologna Sandwiches. That’s when the trip down memory lane commenced!!!
We remembered that Mom made the best sandwiches—no doubt, your mom did too!!! And a favorite was the Bologna Sandwich. Today, Bologna (or Baloney if you prefer) Sandwiches are considered a Southern treat. But in our day, they were prevalent in the Chicago area, and we grew up with the Oscar Mayer “cold cuts” served on white Wonder Bread. With the addition of a handful of Jays potato chips on the side, it was a heavenly, tasty, happiness-inducing, perfect lunch for a hungry 10-year-old!! And not bad for a septuagenarian’s mid-day foray down memory lane.
So, what’s with this sandwich?
Ahh, it’s all about the ingredients. Now a cold sandwich—the kind that went to school with you in the lunchbox—was always a couple slices of Oscar Mayer bologna on white Wonder Bread with a little mustard and accompanied with a pickle spear. But, when made on a weekend, or a “home-from school-sick day,” Mom would very often fry the bologna in butter ‘til the center bubbled up. She would put it atop a slice of Augusta Rye bread generously spread with Land-of-Lakes butter. And if the lunch were especially festive, she would add lettuce, tomato, cheese, and a pickle!!! Oh, those were the days!!!
And what does this have to do with a trip down memory lane???
Well, we discovered taste buds can trigger memories!!! Now it is true, your RovingRaconteurs grew up in the Chicago area suburbs. But our grandparents lived in the city. And we spent a lot of time with them!!! We can remember going to the Augusta Bakery on Milwaukee Ave to pick-up the swoon-worthy Augusta Rye Bread. Grandma would often shop the A&P for staples like coffee, flour, canned goods, vegetables, and condiments; but the butcher, with the sawdust-covered floor, was where she bought meats and sausages. Dairy products were delivered by the milkman. Mom, on the other hand, shopped the bright, modern, supermarket and bought mass-produced bread, sandwich meat in factory-wrapped packages, and lots of pre-packaged stuff that my grandmother totally disdained!!!
While doing the research on Fried Bologna Sandwiches, we learned some interesting facts on food history, for example:
What, exactly, is Bologna?
It’s a sausage that originated in Bologna, Italy. Derived from the popular Italian sausage, Mortadella, it is made from ground pork, beef, chicken, turkey, or any combination of those ingredients. It is believed that German immigrants brought this inexpensive meat to parts of Pennsylvania, Appalachia, the Midwest, and the South. It became immensely popular during the Great Depression.
Oscar F. Mayer and his brother, Gottfreid, founded the Oscar-Mayer Company on Chicago’s near-north side in 1883. They specialized in luncheon meats (aka cold cuts), hot dogs, and bacon, sold to the retail trade. In 1936, the company introduced the Wienermobile—that iconic car shaped like a hot dog that cruised the streets of Chicago!!! What fun that was!!! And then, in 1948, they created the first “self-service meat package.” Encased in transparent packages, sliced cold cuts were now available in supermarkets!!!
But why does the bread matter?
Well, because…… as septuagenarians, we remember the phrase, “the greatest thing since sliced bread.” It is momentous because, until 1930, bread was always sold as a solid loaf, to be sliced post-purchase. The Wonder Bread brand, begun in Canada in the 1920s, was one of the first to sell PRE-SLICED loaves of bread in supermarkets continent-wide!!! Perfect, consistent slices that did not dry out!!! Oh,my!!! And then, in the 1940s, Wonder Bread started adding vitamins and minerals to the recipe. Their tagline resonated with mothers, “Wonder Bread builds strong bodies 8 ways.”
Wonder Bread was popular; but in Chicago, Augusta Rye was a treat. It started early in the 20th century as the Imperial Baking Company with “…one oven, one horse, and one buggy.” Eventually, it grew to a large bakery with a small retail outlet on Damen Avenue and Augusta Boulevard. Eventually, it grew to 23 truck routes serving all the major grocery chains!!! Does anyone know if the bakery is still in business??? They made a rye bread worth travelling for!!!
And what about the condiments?
Ah, this where the creativity came into play!!! All these products were introduced in the early 1900s in the Midwest, most notably in or around the Chicago area. The entrepreneurial spirit was in high gear and new, wonderful products were in the marketplace for discovery and wonderment. James Kraft with his processed cheese slices; Leonard Japp with his super tasty Jays potato chips; Claus Claussen with his crunchy pickles; Richard Hellmann is an outlier. He began his mayonnaise factory in New York, but its popularity spread rapidly across the country. Likewise, Land O’ Lakes began in Minnesota as a co-operative of 320 creameries. Nearly all these companies wound up related: Claussen was eventually sold to Oscar Mayer which was later acquired by General Foods and then merged with Kraft, Inc. and then merged again with Heinz.
So, what’s the bottom line here???
You need to run to the supermarket!!! National Bologna Day is October 24th!!! You’ve gotta get ready!!! Serve it cold; fry it up; use the panini press if you want.
Any way you slice it, a bologna sandwich will take you back to your childhood.
And that is a trip of total enjoyment!!!