To Have Your Cheese Sandwich Loaf and To Hate It Too

Let’s face it. I’ve always (not so) secretly wanted to be a housewife. 

I know how to hem pants and sew curtains; I’ve had many prolific gardens; I’m neighborly; I can walk in heels without bent knees; I neatly fold my fitted sheets; and I feel better in a kitchen than I even felt in my mother’s womb. 

Although that last part may have more to do with the fact that I’m French-Canadian and when we party we’d rather be crammed in the smallest kitchen than to tread upon the greatest hall, you can only imagine my excitement when I got the confirmation I would be hosting the Historical Cooking Group's Betty Crocker’s 1950 Picture Book, a.k.a the Housewife Bible, meeting. 

Betty Crocker's cook book is filled with foolproof recipes that have been tested hundreds of times over. In it, you can also find valuable information on how to care for your family and yourself. Most importantly, it contains everything you need to know about hosting memorable dinner parties. Its content ranges from historical tidbits meant to serve as conversation starters, Q&A’s on table etiquette, recipes to catch or keep your beau, ridiculous imaginative play on words, and tips on how to save time and money. 

So, for the meeting, I tried.

I wondered what emblematic dish of the 1950s would wow my guests. Nothing less than a “glamorous but substantial party fare,” would do.  Thus late Saturday morning, I embarked on my journey to create the perfect cheese sandwich loaf (401).

Ah, the sandwhich loaf: five layers of buttered white bread filled with a red, yellow, white and green sandwich spread, finished off with a savory cream cheese icing... how could I resist?

Cue to me at the Jean-Talon market with a very short amount of time on my hands: A-- trying to explain to the baker why I need a horizontally sliced loaf of bread and B-- gathering nothing but organic, natural, and local products that are in no way required for cooking fare authentic to this cookbook's time period.

Back home, I immediately began to work on my sandwich fillings:
  • Red: A mixture of minced ham, bacon, and pimiento.
  • Yellow: Mashed egg yolks, salt, and pepper
  • White: Cream cheese and cucumber 
  • Green: Sweet pickles and parsley
I then proceeded to assemble my pièce de résistance by alternating layers of bread and filling. Apart from the cream cheese and cucumber layer, I ended up having to spread a thick coat of butter on every bread slice in order for my fillings to stay put. Icing the loaf with the cream cheese and sweet cream coating, without blending in too much of the ingredients, also proved to be quite the challenge. Unfortunately, the afternoon flew by and a crumb coat was out of the question. In fact, I just barely managed to garnish my loaf with the suggested sliced olives and toasted almonds when it was time to prepare the table.

I quickly dressed the table with a colourful tablecloth, because according to Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete book of Etiquette (1957) “white cloth and white napkins, matching fine china, clear matching crystal kept solely for company,” makes for monotony. Hostesses who fetish such things are said to hold deadly dull dinners. 

I vowed to not let that happen at my meal. To further ensure the evening's success, I put a bottle of sparkling wine on ice and arranged my wide coup glasses  on the table (even though they have since gone out of style because the champagne loses its bubbles faster in this style of glass than in a flute.)

I glanced at the clock and it was already fifteen to five. My guests were set to arrive at five and my house was still a mess, my borsht (coming soon to a blog near you) wasn't quite ready, the table wasn’t properly set, and I failed “to notice humorous and interesting incidents to relate at dinner-time ( Crocker, 431)."  Crap. 

I threw on a pair of heels, put on my party apron, fixed my hair, and that’s when the doorbell rang...

After the doorbell rang my failure to be the perfect housewife continued...

As the other ladies of the group arrived at my place, some cutting in pretty close to the respectable 10-15 minutes after the announced time, I realized that I didn’t need to be this clichéd version of a 1950s housewife to be a decent host. In fact, as it turned out, we were all worthy hostesses that evening. Everyone was greeted at the door by one another, we helped each other out with the last dinner preparations, we all took the conversational lead at some point, and everybody pitched in when it came time to do the dishes... And we all looked friggin’ amazing, might I add!

After everyone had left I kicked off my pumps, dropped the needle on a 1957 Art Pepper vinyl, and took on dear Betty’s advice to lie down on the floor to rest. 

As for my sandwich loaf, much like my perception of the perfect housewife, it ended up being pretty on the outside but a complete mess on the inside.

(written by Emili Bellefleur)