After reading a Rick Bragg short story in Southern Living magazine in which he describes in salivating detail the assembly and devouring of fresh garden tomato sandwiches, my memory returned to lazy summer days eating fried bologna sandwiches with my brothers. My mother worked as a county social worker so when we were home alone on summer vacation, she left lunches up to us to prepare.
Sandwiches were our specialty including: tuna melts, peanut butter and jelly, and margarine, brown sugar and cinnamon — all slathered on soft Wonder white classic bread. Later, mom learned about the importance of fiber and switched us to whole wheat.
One of my favorite combos in those days was a fried bologna sandwich with mustard and catsup (my mom always spelled it catsup, not ketchup). We didn’t toast the bread, it was better soft so it could absorb the grease. We took pre-sliced bologna, usually Oscar Meyer (those ads even got to our frugal Mom), melted margarine (no real butter existed in our home in those days) in a frying pan, placed the bologna slices carefully in the grease to fry gently on both sides. We made tiny slits on the edges of the bologna with a knife so it would lay flat in the pan and not curl. I liked my bologna very crispy (SPAM too but that is for another blog). We put one or two slices of fried bologna between slices of bread, spread liberally with mustard and catsup, and enjoy. I liked mine with a side of baked beans or fruit cocktail (always wanted the single cherry in the can) if we had any in the pantry and always a dill pickle spear. It is not a prize sandwich without a pickle on the plate.
I don’t eat bologna sandwiches anymore in fact I don’t remember the last time I ate one. Most likely, I last consumed one in my youth or maybe in desperation during my college days when I lived off bad dorm food and free happy hour tacos.
I doubt if I made a fried bologna sandwich today it would taste as good as I remember. Like in Rick’s experience, when he described his tomato sandwiches to kids today, they say “yuck”. They would rather slather avocado on multi-grain toast, top it with flaxseed and microgreens and call it a meal or go by Starbucks and order a latte with a tomato basil panini. We couldn’t even purchase avocados in Kansas in those days, they were not part of the produce section, neither was kale, flax seeds or microgreens. And we made our own coffee, on the stove, in a percolator. What the hell is a panini?
Back in the day, bologna was so cheap, lasted forever in the fridge, and filled the bottomless pit of my brothers’ tummies with salty, fatty, cured meat parts. The catsup added sweetness and mustard that spicy, tart compliment. It was all we had at the time. Which explains why we learned to love bologna sandwiches
If you want to read more by Rick Bragg, check out some of his stories and books at Rick Bragg Southern Stories