Woah Nellie! These ham sammies are heart stoppers

by Mary Jo David

Welcome to the trailerhood! This month, the 100-year-old recipe redoux is even more challenging because it’s being prepared in a travel trailer.

While perusing old Stockbridge Sun-Times papers from February 1923 for potential recipes to make in a 2023 kitchen, I came up with three choices for this month—puree of pea soup, brown bread, and hot ham sandwiches. Pea soup would have been a tasting challenge since no one in our house eats peas. Brown bread was a real contender, until two stores I went to didn’t have graham flour. So this month, I’ve landed on hot ham sandwiches, a simple concept that actually called for a surprising number of ingredients.

These sandwiches are a throwback to the Monte Cristo sandwich, also introduced in the early 1900s, in that they are dipped in an egg wash and fried—much like French toast. But the Nellie version does not call for cheese.

Speaking of Nellie, can I just say that after months of remaking her old recipes, I’ve decided she was quite a tease. One month she provides you with most all of the ingredient measurements, and other months—like this one—there are almost no measurements mentioned. That had to be as frustrating to early 20th century cooks as it is to this cook.

In the case of this month’s hot ham sandwiches, the two measurements Nellie did provide were one egg and one-half cup of milk, which were combined for making an egg wash. From there, I determined that the recipe was likely to make two sandwiches, so four slices of bread.

I adjusted the other ingredients accordingly. I finely diced 1/4 pound of boiled ham, creamed two tablespoons of butter to mix with the ham, added about one teaspoon of prepared mustard and less than 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne. I used about a half tablespoon of butter to spread on one side of the bread slices—guessing that Nellie meant for me to butter the insides of the bread. I then assembled the ham mixture onto the bread slices to make two sandwiches.

To the egg and milk wash, I added two pinches of salt. Then I melted another tablespoon of butter in a frying pan. I very carefully laid the sandwiches into the egg wash, drenching both sides of each sandwich, and then placed them in the frying pan. I fried the sandwiches for five minutes on each side, over medium heat, until they were golden brown.

The finished recipe got an unenthusiastic “It’s nothing special,” from my husband. But upon testing it myself, I have to say, even though the sandwich had no cheese, it tasted better than a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. And while I’m sure it was not Nellie’s intention, I can say it was a simple, filling sandwich well suited for serving in our house on wheels.

If you think I called this recipe a “heart stopper” in the headline just because it’s Valentine’s month—you’re wrong. I chose to dub it a heart stopper because of all the butter the recipe calls for!

Current photos by Mary Jo David.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email