When I discovered this cucumber jelly recipe I knew I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t also try the cheese sandwich. The sandwich falls outside the parameters of my gelatin blog, for which the jelly was originally intended. So, after giving it some thought I decided both recipes should be posted together here.
These recipes come from a book called When You Entertain by Eleanor Lee Wright, published in 1932 by Wilson & Company. The entire digitized book is available on Archive.org. In addition to recipes, the book includes menus, table settings and tips for entertaining.
Some Historical Context
I am not an expert on American food in the 1930’s, but I do know that a housewife at that time would gravitate toward inexpensive yet attractive dishes. Table setting and food presentation were very important components of every meal. It was about this time that domestic electric refrigerators were becoming widely available due to the introduction of Freon in the 1920’s. Many homes without an actual refrigerator still had access to an updated ice box so any dishes that required cold temperatures to set, specifically moulded salads and jellies, were extremely popular.
Packaged, processed foods like cheese and meat were also still fairly new. Companies like Kraft and Hormel had been creating processed products since the 1910’s. Kraft’s strange, processed “American” cheese product was growing in popularity but wouldn’t be available in its now-familiar sliced form until the 1950’s.
Speaking of slices, packaged pre-sliced bread was still a brand-new and exciting product in 1932! It first appeared in 1928 thanks to a machine invented by Otto Rohwedder, and within two years Wonder Bread was selling sliced loaves of bread throughout the country.
Wilson & Company
For decades, Wilson & Company, Inc. was one of the nation’s leading manufacturers of processed foods, specifically meats. Note the sandwich recipe’s mention of Wilson’s Certified cheese and Certified link sausage.
Wilson & Co. was still thriving in the 1960s (see these Muppet commercials) but after some legal and financial troubles in the 70’s the company eventually declared bankruptcy in the early 1980s. In the following years the historic meat-packing plants were sold off, which ultimately led to the demise of any remnants of what was once a powerful food company.
Put 1 cucumber and 1/4 small onion through the food chopper. Then place in colander to drain. Add 1 tbsp. cold water to 1/2 tbsp. gelatin. Pour 1 cup boiling water and vinegar over this and add salt to taste. A bit of green fruit coloring adds much tot the attractiveness. When cool, add cucumber and onion, then set in moulds. Arrange sandwiches and salad on a bed of lettuce.
- 1 small to medium cucumber, sliced
- quarter of an onion, sliced
- 1 T. cold water
- 1 packet of plain gelatin
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 cup vinegar
- Salt to taste
- Green food coloring (optional)
Put cucumber and onion in a food processor and process until most pieces are quite small. After some consideration I decided not to puree because a 1930’s hand-powered food chopper probably would have ended up with a chunkier product. And I feel like the instructions would have said specifically to puree. Drain in a colander.
Meanwhile, combine the cold water and gelatin and let it soak until the gelatin is fully hydrated, about 5 minutes. Add boiling water and vinegar and mix until the gelatin has dissolved. Add salt to taste, but I found a few generous pinches did the trick. Let it cool to almost room temperature before adding the cucumber and onions. Pour into small moulds and let it set.
If you’re going to add color do that prior to filling the moulds. I found the natural unaltered color to be much more appetizing than the dye. Be aware, a little dye goes a very long way! I do also have to note the term “fruit coloring,” which I found to be strange. I can’t think of any fruit that would be used to naturally dye foods green. If food was dyed green it was usually done with either spinach or commercial food colorants, so I think this might be a typo.
Unmold the jelly onto a bed of lettuce. If you want the jelly to be level on the plate, one large piece of lettuce would probably be better than the small pieces that I used. This little mini jelly ring is so light and delicate that it will bend to the shape of anything beneath it.
Prepare a round of toast for each serving. On it place a thick slice of tomato. Fry Wilson’s Certified link sausage and cut crosswise. Place on the tomato. Slice Wilson’s Certified cheese over this and brown under the flame. The salad used with this is Cucumber Jelly.
- Bread, toasted
- Sliced tomato
- Fried sliced link sausage
- Sliced cheese
Toast the bread. Both homemade and sliced wheat or white would be historically accurate. Place a thick slice of tomato, followed by the fried sausage. Use as many sausage circles as you would like, but I used just enough to cover the tomato. Place a slice of cheese over the top. Use the cheese of your choice, but the most accurate type would be Cheddar or American.
Because I don’t cook over (or under) any kind of actual fire, I just put the sandwich in the oven set at around 250 (about 130 C or gas mark 1/2). Let it melt and bubble for a few minutes, and if it droops too much between the sausage and tomato go ahead and throw on another slice. Relish with the cucumber jelly.
Going in I wasn’t at all convinced that these recipes would be any good, but they really are. Combined, they make a nice little lunch and would be a fun meal or snack to serve to guests.
The cucumber jelly has a very strong vinegar flavor and really doesn’t taste great on its own. At first I wondered if I made a mistake interpreting the water/vinegar ratio but once I tried it with the sandwich it became clear that this jelly is more of a moulded condiment. Almost like a pickled relish.
As far as the sandwich, you can’t go too wrong with tomato, cheese and sausage. The best way I found to eat it was to cut the sandwich into squares, slice a bit of the cucumber jelly ring and place it on each bite. The lettuce could also just as easily be eaten along with the sandwich, if you’d rather use it for something other than plating and presentation.
Ideally, you’d make a number of sandwiches and place them on a platter of lettuce along with the cucumber jelly. For the purposes of this post I just plated them separately. Of note to anyone particularly interested in such details, the dinnerware used in my photos are genuine 1930’s Edwin Knowles Wheat.
Give these recipes a try, you might be surprised!
- Clark, David. A Brief History of American Cheese from Colonial Cheddar to Kraft Singles. Mental Floss. January 7, 2009.
- Mills, Melody. City’s Ties with Wilson End After 81 Years. The Oklahoman. Archived article. March 13, 1992.
- Wright, Eleanor Lee. When You Entertain. Wilson & Co. Chicago, IL. 1932. Digitized Print via Internet Archive.