The Club

My first exposure to a club sandwich was at the Rexall drug store next to the supermarket, where I worked after school and weekends. One Saturday the lunch counter waitress (yes, back then drug stores had lunch counters), a young hottie with whom I was totally infatuated suggested I buy the “daily special” to help her win the weekly sales contest. That, my friends, was the day I enjoyed my first Turkey Club Sandwich–four wedges of triple-decker sandwich, pinned together with fancy frilled toothpicks, and neatly arranged in a circle on my plate with potato chips piled high in the middle.

I’m not sure what, at the time, gave me the most pleasure: knowing my purchase scored points for me with the cute waitress, or the deliciousness of my first club sandwich. I like to think it was the sandwich because it is still one of my all-time favorites. But as much as I enjoyed eating them, my distain for making club sandwiches is equally strong. In fact it’s this love/hate relationship that has, in over thirty years as a professional chef, prevented me from adding this classic to any of my menus.

One of my first culinary assignments was “pantry chef” (formally called garde manger), the position responsible for salads and cold sandwiches. It was there that I learned to loath everything about making club sandwiches–spreading mayo edge-to-edge on three pieces of freshly toasted bread, slicing the turkey, slicing the tomatoes, making sure the iceberg lettuce was dry but crisp, and of course the bacon. OMG, the bacon! It had to be crisp, but not too crisp or customers complained, and my head chef at the time hated complaints. But I believe the worst part was assembling the sandwich. Not only was it the most time consuming sandwich on the menu (especially when there were ten or twelve other orders at the same time), but if not properly stacked, cutting it into four neat, equally sized quarters was all but impossible and led to ugly plate presentations. And ugly plate presentations brought–you guessed it–customer complaints! So after my fourth month as pantry chef, I guess the chef got tired of hearing complaints and told me to “pack my knives and go.”

“Too few people understand a really good sandwich.” – James Beard

As with many of our foods, there are generally several versions of who, how, and where the dish was created, and the club sandwich is no exception. According to one legend, the sandwich was created in 1894 at the famous Saratoga Club House, a gentlemen’s club in upstate Saratoga Springs, New York. It should be pointed out that the original version of the club sandwich consisted of two slices of buttered white toast, thin slices of chicken, bacon, tomato slices, leaves of iceberg lettuce, and mayonnaise. That’s right, it was not the triple-decker, turkey sandwich we think of today when someone mentions a club sandwich. Those versions came a few years later.

Another popular story about the origin of the club sandwich first appeared in the 1916 book Salads, Sandwiches, and Chafing Dish Recipes, by Marion H. Neil. It goes like this: One night a man arrived home very late after an evening of gambling at his club. Being very hungry, but with servants gone and his family tucked in for the night, he decided to prepare something himself. In checking the pantry and ice box he found some bread, butter, and mayonnaise. He also found a few strips of cold broiled bacon, some slices of leftover chicken, and a tomato. So he toasted the bread, added butter, mayonnaise, the bacon, chicken, a slice or two of tomato, topped it with another slice of buttered toast, ate his snack and went to bed. The next evening, he told friends at the club about his new sandwich, they in turn had the club’s cook prepare one for them. They enjoyed it so much it was added to the menu as the Club Sandwich.

The earliest published recipe I can find for “A Club Sandwich” appeared in 1903, on page 224 of the Good Housekeeping Everyday Cook Book originally compiled by the Good Housekeeping staff.

A Club Sandwich
Toast a slice of bread evenly and lightly and butter it. On one half put, first, a thin slice of bacon which has been broiled till dry and tender, next a slice of the white meat of either turkey or chicken. Over on half of this place a circle cut from a ripe tomato and over the other half a tender leaf of lettuce. Cover these with a generous layer of mayonnaise, and complete this delicious ‘whole meal’ sandwich with the remaining piece of toast. –A. W.

The initials A. W. at the end of the recipe suggests it was submitted to the magazine by one of their readers and helps explain the confusion it imparts to those who try to follow its origin. Still, it demonstrates accurately the components of the sandwich.

At the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, the club sandwich gained world-wide popularity with no less than four restaurants including it on their menus–Mrs. McCready’s Restaurant, American Inn, The Old Parliament House, and the Japanese Restaurant within Fair Japan.

While the classic triple-decker club sandwich still maintains a strong foothold within the world of sandwiches, it’s not without its distracters. Today, there are vegetarian clubs, California clubs with avocado, fish clubs with salmon or tuna, roast beef clubs, and even breakfast clubs with eggs. It seems though any sandwich that incorporates bacon qualifies as a club sandwich, even a PB&J.

As a culinarian, I’m totally into naming my sandwiches and other fare names that I feel will set them apart from similar dishes. But for me personally, a club sandwich is three slices of toasted white bread, lots of mayo, thinly sliced turkey breast, crisp bacon, iceberg lettuce leaves, and tomato slices, neatly stacked and cut into four equal pieces skewered with a frilly toothpick. Those other so called clubs are simply sandwiches with added bacon.

That’s the beauty of living in this great country of ours–you are free to make your sandwich any way you like it, and you can even call it a club if that’s what your into.

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Icons of Summer: Kool-Aid and Popsicles

While my childhood was one of humble existence, we were not without some of the middle-class niceties of the times, thanks to a an extremely hard working father and a mother with the uncanny ability to stretch a dollar further than anyone I’ve ever known.

Growing up, I loved just about everything that summer had to offer–fishing, baseball, camping, swimming, and get-togathers with friends and family. One of my favorite summertime pleasures was hearing the jingly notes of “Turkey in the Straw” cutting through the hot afternoon air. The ice cream truck was on its way. Occasionally my mom would slip me a nickel so I could join the pack of young thrashing arms to buy my favorite red Popsicle. I can still remember sitting on the front porch trying to suck down all of that icy, sweet popsicle goodness before it melted.

Popsicle

As the somewhat dubious story goes, one chilly evening in 1905 in the San Francisco Bay city of Oakland, 11-year-old Frank Epperson made himself a cup of powdered soda mix (it’s unclear where he got powdered soda, as I can find no evidence of its existence in 1905) and water and left it on his porch overnight. Temperatures dropped severely during the night and the next morning young Epperson found his concoction completely frozen with the wooden stirrer sticking out. Sampling his icy potion, Epperson realized he had accidently discovered a new delicacy and declared his frozen pop-on-a-stick the “Epsicle.”

While it is said that Epperson realized on that morning in 1905 that he had been blessed with a winning idea, it would be 18 years later before he decided to test market the frozen treat beyond friends in his own neighborhood. In the summer of 1923, Frank took daily batches of his Epsicle to Neptune Beach, an amusement part in nearby Alamada, where he sold all he could make.

Bolstered by this success, the next year Frank decided to patent his “frozen drink on a stick” and expand his fledgling business to a larger market area. By this time, Epperson had children of his own who always referred to the frozen treat as “pop’s sicle.” So at their urging, Frank filed and received his patent in the name of Popsicle instead of Epsicle.

In 1925 Epperson took on the Joe Lowe Company of New York as his business partner and together they began distributing Popsicle across the country. Unfortunately by the end of the decade Frank had fallen on hard times and was forced to sell them his rights to the brand. Epperson later said, “I was flat and had to liquidate all my assets,” adding, ” I haven’t been the same since.” Epperson died in 1983 and is buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland.

August 29th is National Cherry (America’s Favorite Flavor) Popsicle Day.

As it turned out, the Lowe Company’s superior marketing genius allowed Popsicle to quickly become a nationwide success. For example, during the height of the depression the company began producing a two-stick version, making it possible for two people to share one Popsicle for just a nickel. Rumor has it that this single move created sales of 8,000 units at New York’s Coney Island in only one day.

In 1989 the Lowe Company sold the Popsicle brand to Unilever who combined it with their already successful Good Humor brand and quickly expanded the lineup beyond its original seven fruity flavors. Today, Unilever sells more than two billion Popsicles a year in a wide array of flavors, ranging from grape and strawberry to mango and avocado, although cherry has always been the most popular. In 1986 the two-stick version was discontinued at the request of moms throughout America, declaring it too messy and difficult to eat.

I rarely ever eat popsicles any more, although my reasons why are not really clear, even to me. Perhaps it’s because one must rush through eating ice pops for fear of them melting and messing up one’s clothes. Perhaps it’s because they took away the iconic two sticks, making them no different than other ice pops. Or perhaps adulthood has simply taken away the thrill and excitement that once overcame me every time I heard the jingly sound of the ice cream truck slowly making its way through the neighborhood.

Kool-Aid

Another of my favorite summertime treats was enjoying an ice-cold “jelly glass” (how many of you remember jelly glasses?) of Kool-Aid. For just five cents a package, plus a cup of sugar, and some tap water, we were able to make two quarts of delicious fruit-flavored beverage–affordable even on my parents’ stringent budget. It seems there was always a pitcher of Kool-Aid goodness in our refrigerator. My favorite flavors were orange and strawberry, but since my father preferred the more grown-up taste of lemon-lime and pink lemonade, that’s what was usually available.

More than 563 million gallons of KOOL-AID are consumed each year, with more than 225 million gallons in the summer.

Edwin Elijah Perkins was born in Lewis, Iowa on January 8, 1889 to store owners David and Kizandra (Kizzie) Perkins. Four years after Edwin’s birth, the Perkinses sold their store in Lewis and moved to a farm some ten miles from Beaver City in Furnas County, Nebraska. There the family lived for seven years in a three-room sod house, surviving extreme heat, droughts, and pestilence through long hours of hard work in the fields, raising livestock, pigs, and chickens.

Then in January of 1900, David Perkins traded the farm for a general store in the small village of Hendley, so young Edwin and his eight brothers and sisters could go to better schools. In the afternoons after school, Edwin began helping his father clerk in the store. One day a family friend, upon returning from shopping in Hastings, brought his father some packages of a new dessert–Jell-O. Edwin was so enthralled with Jell-O that he persuaded his father to carry it in their store.

Bitten by the entrepreneurial bug early on, Edwin responded to a magazine advertisement on how to become a manufacturer. Soon he received the requested information, along with formulas and labels that read “Manufactured by Perkins Products Co.” It wasn’t long before he was in his mother’s kitchen experimenting with medicines, flavorings and other concoctions. By the time Edwin graduated from high school he had developed a line of products which were successfully sold door-to-door, through mail order, and eventually independent agents.

During these early years, Perkins, in his continuing quest to become successful, also bought a small hand printing press on which he printed his own labels and promotional materials, as well as small jobs for other businesses and neighbors. He even published a weekly newspaper he called the Hendley Delphic. And if his Perkins product line, a printing business, and newspaper publishing were not enough, Edwin also became the Hendley postmaster.

In September, 1918, Edwin Perkins married his childhood sweetheart Kathryn Shoemaker, the daughter of Hendley’s only doctor. Edwin and “Kitty,” as Kathryn preferred to be called, were totally devoted to each other in every facet of their lives, including Edwin’s business dealings.

Then in February of 1920, Edwin and Kitty moved eighty miles east to Hastings, where advanced highways and multiple railroads provided a better distribution point for their business. By August of that same year Edwin’s parents also moved to Hastings, where they helped in the couple’s growing business. Over the next two years Perkins Products Co., a true family business employing the entire Perkins family with the exception of sister Faye, moved twice more to accommodate its continued growth.

One of the most popular items in the Perkins lineup was a summertime soft drink called “Fruit-Smack.” Available in six flavors, a four-ounce bottle was so concentrated that a family could make a pitcher full of fruity drink for only a few cents. But Fruit-Smack wasn’t without problems–heavy glass bottles, breakage, and leaky corks. Edwin knew he had to find a solution.

Perkins, remembering his much admired Jell-O, felt that the solution to Fruit-Smack’s problems was to similarly turn it into a dry, concentrated powder, packaged in an envelope, that the consumer could easily rehydrate later. Edwin was also convinced that if he was successful in making Fruit-Smack the easy-to-ship, easy-to-use product he envisioned, it would attract national food brokers and allow him to get out of the mail order business. So by 1927 Perkins and his chemists had developed Kool-Aid’s six initial flavors–raspberry, cherry, grape, orange, root beer, and strawberry.

In his search for a catchy name and sticking to his penchant for hyphenated words (Onor-Maid, Nix-O-Time, Motor-Vigor, Glos-Comb, and Jel-Aid), he came up with the product’s original name, “Kool-Ade,” which was trademarked in 1928. There were however problems with the use of the word “Ade.” Some say government regulators contended that it could only be used with fruit juice products. Others say he was threatened with a lawsuit by another party if he continued to use the original name. For whatever the reason, in 1934 Perkins trademarked a new spelling for his powdered beverage–“Kool-Aid.”

Other major setbacks encountered in the development of Kool-Aid included packaging that would keep the product dry and fresh without coming apart, convincing both local and national food brokers to distribute it, and of course, growth capital. But Edwin’s tenacity, salesmanship, and marketing genius allowed him to overcome all obstacles, and Kool-Aid quickly became a true success.

By 1931, two years after the Great Depression began, demand for Kool-Aid continued to grow. So much in fact that the Perkins Products location in Hastings was bursting at its seams, making a search for new quarters a necessity. So Edwin and his sales manager and new partner Fred Schmitt relocated the Kool-Aid business to a 13,000-square-foot plant in Chicago. Business continued to be strong and three years later the company added 20,000-square-feet to the factory, followed by another expansion in 1939 that doubled capacity.

In June of 1949 the plant moved once more to a 135,000-square-foot facility, plus they added a night shift. The following year Perkins employed 300 factory workers (80% women), 50 office personnel, produced 323 million packets of Kool-Aid, and enjoyed sales of more than 10 million dollars.

On February 16, 1953 Edwin Perkins announced that he had sold Perkins Products to General Foods, who coincidently also owned the Jell-O brand. At the age of 64, after more than 50 years in business, Perkins retired. He and his wife Kitty set up philanthropic foundations and divided their time between homes in Chicago and Miami Beach, where their daughter Nancy lived.

Edwin E. Perkins died in 1961, following a long illness. Kitty Perkins followed sixteen years later. Both are buried in Parkview Cemetery in Hastings, Nebraska.

Kool-Aid drinkers are no longer restricted to just single envelopes of powder mix to which sugar is added to make 2 quarts of beverage. Today, Kool-Aid is available in various sized canisters with sugar included, concentrated sugar-free Kool-Aid liquid that will produce twenty-four 8-ounce glasses of the stuff, and more. Ironically, even Kool-Aid soft drinks have returned. But regardless which Kool-Aid product you choose, two-quarts will definitely cost you more than a nickel–or even the original price of ten-cents.

As for me, it’s probably been at least thirty-five years since I last purchased a package of Kool-Aid. During my sons upbringing, their mother insisted they drink water, tea, or fruit juice, rather than sugary beverages like soda and Kool-Aid. Now that she and I are empty nesters, we keep bottled water, cans of flavored seltzer, and the occasional beer in our frig–no fuss, no muss. But sometimes when I see a Kool-Aid display, or watch a TV commercial, my mind takes me back to the times when on a hot, sultry Texas day, I could hardly wait to suck down an icy cold jelly glass of sweet delicious Kool-Aid.