Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Say "Cherry Cheese"!

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, July 6, 2016, by Sara Jewell. 

For my father-in-law’s 90th birthday party, I asked my friend Jane to make the sandwiches and squares.  She in turn asked me what kind of sandwiches I wanted. Not having been raised by a church lady who could make three loaves of sandwiches in a morning, I had no idea.
“Well, how does egg, tuna, chicken, and cherry cheese sound?” she said.
“Cherry cheese? Who on earth eats that?”
Jane looked shocked. “Everyone loves those.”
“They sound disgusting. Just do the regular ones.”
The expression Jane’s face told me I’d crossed a line. Apparently, tea sandwiches – those tiny, crustless bites of bread and filling cut into squares, rectangles or pinwheels which are the staple of every gathering from christenings to funerals, bridal showers to anniversaries – are sacred relics no one dares blaspheme. They are the one constant in our ever-changing, super-sized, smart-phone-controlled world.
And the more bizarre the filling, the better.
Ham pickle. Tuna olive. Pimiento cheese. Cherry and pineapple cheese.

The tradition of these tiny sandwiches began with the British aristocracy in the 19th century who generally ate only two meals a day: breakfast and dinner around 8 p.m. When the Duchess of Bedford found herself peckish in the late afternoon, she started having tea with a light snack of finger sandwiches and cakes. Once she invited friends to join her, afternoon tea began trending.
When Jane invited me to her daughter’s recent baby shower, she told me there would be cherry cheese sandwiches. I took this as a warning but she softened the threat by saying my favourite, her crab dip, would be on the table, too.
“You’d better take a picture now,” Jane advised me as guests were invited to help themselves to the lunch. “These sandwiches will go fast.”
The recipe belongs to the unborn baby’s paternal great-grandmother. The gaudy pink tinge of the cream cheese comes from the maraschino cherry juice. The big globs of red cherries look like...
“Here, try this,” Jane says, holding the silver plate piled with square sandwiches towards me.
My single taste test did not convert me. Cream cheese and cherries should taste like cheesecake, right? Now that’s a sandwich I could sink my teeth into.  

Even though she didn’t make tea sandwiches, I figured my mother had eaten lots of them so I asked her if she had a favourite filling.         
“Tuna Jello.”
Just when I thought there was nothing more gag-inducing than the combination of plain cream cheese and maraschino cherries between crustless squares of gummy whole wheat bread, my mother showed me a recipe that combines lime jelly, tuna, onion and Miracle Whip. She first tasted it in the mid-1980’s in Trenton, Ontario, when a woman whose husband was in the military brought Tuna Jello sandwiches to a church tea.
“It’s cool,” she told me. “In both ways. It’s cool – lime jelly! – but it’s also cool in your mouth.”
It didn’t surprise me in the least when I discovered through an internet search that this sandwich filling has a Maritime connection. It was church ladies and military wives in St. Andrew’s, New Brunswick, who first created the unique combination.
Now that’s cool.

Follow up! Who knew I'd need to update this column but apparently, people are passionate about tea sandwiches.
The Linden community hall held its summer luncheon today, July 12, and the first plate of triangle sandwiches on the table had green filling.
"That's tuna-jello," my mother said.
In fact, THREE other people sidled up to me in the mere minutes I stood there and said, "I thought of you when I saw those."
In the spirit of investigative journalism, I placed one triangle with its electric green filling on my plate with the promise to actually eat it.  I think I felt people staring at me as I sat down at our table.
After I posted this column on my Facebook page last week, a woman commented that tuna green Jello sandwiches "are to die for". I'm not sure I'd go that far BUT I liked it. I liked it enough that the next time I see that sandwich on offer, I'll take one. I liked it enough to ask ahead of time, "Will you be serving tuna-green jelly sandwiches?"
So that's me crossing off another item on the "Becoming a Nova Scotia Country Girl" list.

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