Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Very Special Sandwich

A Very Special Sandwich

Okay so it’s all coming together.

Mark Bittman writes an article about peanut butter, and then I have a nice visit with my grandmother (who will turn 97 in December) and we talk about family recipes, and then someone posts a comment about peanut butter and bacon sandwiches. It’s the collective unconscious!

It’s time for the post I’ve been thinking about since writing blog posts was but a gleam in my eye.

It’s time for the post about … the Special.

The weekend before I started my project, I worked at a trade show for The Scrap Exchange in Greenville, South Carolina. On the drive down, I was discussing my project with my co-worker Rowan. Rowan had an idea for something I could eat on the project, something really good and really cheap, something that no one had probably ever heard of or would even think of eating.

Rowan went to prep school in Vermont at the Putney School. She told me that once in a blue moon they would have a very special meal — so special that it was called the Putney Special. She said it was an old recipe, from the Depression or World War II, when everyone was poor and life was hard. She said that it sounds weird, but it’s really good: toast with peanut butter and stewed tomatoes. (And sure enough, someone has actually written about it and put up a picture, so we know she wasn’t making it up just to get me to eat something gross.)

I said that’s so funny, because my family has a special meal too, an old recipe from the Depression or World War II, when everyone was poor and life was hard and it’s called … a Special sandwich, or just a Special. (As in, “Mom, would you make me a Special for lunch?”)

My housemates from college, some of whom will probably read this post, may actually remember me talking about this — though I can’t remember if I made it or not. All I remember is that I talked about it and everyone thought it was the most disgusting thing they’d ever heard of, so disgusting that no one would even consider trying it. I think I pretty much stopped talking about it after that, the same way I stopped calling soft drinks “pop” after about three days at school, during which I was mercilessly abused every time I said the word. Enough already, I’ll call it soda.

But emboldened by the appearance of of bacon in everything, and Mark Bittman’s article, and Rowan’s Putney Special, and my commenter talking about peanut butter and bacon sandwiches, I decided … it’s time.

This recipe is from my grandmother, who got it from her friend Florence Field, who was one of the first friends she and my grandfather made when they moved to Seattle in the late 1930s. She said she doesn’t remember when she got the recipe and doesn’t know where Florence got it originally, but it was something they would eat when they would get together for bridge. She and my grandfather liked the sandwich so much they started fixing it for themselves and passed the recipe down through the family. My father said he remembers eating it his whole life, he doesn’t remember the first time he had it, it was just something they always had. And then my mom started making it too.

The original recipe called for chili sauce, but when my brother and I were little, we didn’t like chili sauce so my mom would make it for us using ketchup. I don’t eat this often, but when I do make it, I mix ketchup and with Asian Chili Paste with Garlic to make my own chili sauce.

Like the peanut butter ritz cracker cookies, it isn’t much of a recipe, it’s mostly just putting things together.

Special Sandwich

Take one or two slices of white bread and put them under the broiler to toast one side. (You could lightly toast them instead, but it’s not good when the bread gets too crispy, so it’s better to do just one side so it’s partly crispy and partly soft.)

Take one or two pieces of uncooked bacon and cut it up into very small pieces. (You need it to be small so it cooks quickly, before the edges of the sandwich burn. How much bacon you need depends on how big your pieces of bread are, how thick your bacon is, and how much bacon you want on. This is a very flexible recipe.)

Spread peanut butter on the untoasted side of the bread, then spread chili sauce or ketchup over the peanut butter.

Place as many pieces of bacon as you want (and/or can fit) on the bread and then put it under the broiler and broil until the bacon is cooked. (Keep an eye on it while it cooks, so the peanut butter doesn’t burn.)

Cut each piece of bread into quarters.


It is the bomb.

I haven’t tried the Putney Special but Rowan says it’s good, and I’m inclined to take her word for it.

And if anyone finds anything like this on the internet anywhere, let me know. I looked a while ago and all I could find were recipes for peanut butter and bacon sandwiches (peanut butter with fried bacon) and links about Elvis and fried peanut butter sandwiches. Nothing with peanut butter and ketchup or chili sauce.

8 Responses to “Specialness”

  1. megan Says:

    You and Rowan can have your sandwiches together b/c those both sound pretty disgusting!

    My mom used to make a casserole that still makes me gag just thinking about it….one layer of hot dogs, a layer of spinach, a layer of ketchup and a layer of boxed mashed potatoes. Uggghh.

  2. Amy Says:

    Enjoyed the story! Ketchup on top of peanut butter…sounds like something my family would eat. (My brother used to “build” sandwiches out of whatever he found in the fridge, like Spam, Velvetta and Miracle Whip.)

  3. Chard Lady Says:

    A while ago, I purchased an African-style simmer sauce which contained spices similar to Moroccan stew. The sauce was a tomato base, which at first I thought was a bit weird, but it worked well over vegetables, beans and rice. After becoming bored with Mexican-style beans and rice, I attempted to try to duplicate the African sauce. I recall using stewed tomatoes, chili, ginger, garam masala, coriander (and other Moroccan stew spices), raisins, crushed pineapple for some reason decided to add peanut butter to it. I don’t know, was I having a Pad Thai moment? I mixed this sauce in with sauted onion and carrot, with cooked garbanzo beans and brown rice. I took it to a potluck and the people who tried it thought it was tasty, but not much was eaten because it was too healthy.

  4. lessisenough Says:

    The casserole recipe with hot dogs and mashed potatoes sounds like something from Economical Recipes for Small Families, the little sprial bound cookbook I got from my Aunt Blanche’s suff. There was something called “Hobo Stew” that involved a can of Dinty Moore stew and (I think) mashed potatoes. Also some other “all-in-one” type meals, and things like spiced tea with Tang. I should cook some recipes from that and see how they turn out.

    The only thing my mom cooked regularly when I was growing up that I really didn’t like was pork chops, because they were always dry. My mom’s a really good cook, and she must have tried dozens of different ways, and they were never good. So as far as I’m concerned it’s not possible to cook good pork chops.

  5. Elizabeth Says:

    What a funny post. I can’t resist adding my own family’s peanut butter recipe. Actually, it’s one only my dad eats; he claims to get cravings for it. It was a meal served at his summer camp in New Hampshire on the cook’s night off, and it was called “Mush” (I seem to recall the Little Rascals eating something called Mush too, and I always wondered it if it was the same dish.)

    Here’s how my father makes his Mush:
    Take a bowl, and put in the bottom some broken Saltines. On top of that add a glob of peanut butter, a glob of jam (something with seeds, like raspberry preserves works best), and some milk.
    How do you know you’ve made it right? It looks disgusting. But tastes great (I guess).

    If anyone tries it, let me know how it is.

  6. Jill Says:

    I have eaten peanutbutter and bacon sandwiches all my life…I just toast the bread, spread the pntbutter and put on a couple of slices of already cooked bacon. Very tasty!! I added a twist to it during my college years that makes it even better…cheese whiz!! Love this site!! Glad I found it!!

  7. Peanut Butter Toast with Stewed Tomatoes! I love this dish. My first memory of cooking is preparing it for myself at 5 when my sister was newly born. I’m pretty sure my mom opened the can & she was watching from the next room while nursing the baby. It was a dish I was already familiar with. Fast forward about 30 years and I found among my mom’s mom’s recipes the clipped newspaper recipe for this dish.

    All my housemates have thought this dish was too weird for words, although often eating it… The way I make it is to heat a can of stewed tomatoes in a saucepan while I toast whole wheat bread, then break it into bite size chunks and dab these with PB (smooth or chunky) and lay into a bowl. Pour over hot tomatoes & indulge!

    It’s a good thing to be able to prepare a hot meal with only closet staples & bread.

  8. Leanna Says:

    Somehow I happened upon this site, and have enjoyed reading about the PB items and the “special” sandwiches. Regarding the peanut butter…my very favorite rendition is to make the sandwich with mayo, pb, lean crisp bacon (be generous), and crisp lettuce. Yum. Another way is to add bacon to your pb&j. Good old white bread is preferred.

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