It was the year 1916. Over fifteen countries were in the midst of fighting World War I, and though the United States hadn’t entered the war yet, times were tough. Eighty-five percent of men over the age of fourteen were in the workforce, and most of the work they did was in manufacturing – that means they worked in factories. The work was hot, monotonous, and dangerous, and the new addition of time clocks kept them going for around fifty-five hours per week. And, though goods of all sorts were beginning to be produced in mass, the newness of the mass-production culture inflated prices for those goods. Americans began to eat boxed cereals, as well as meats processed with lard, but they spent an entire third of their incomes putting that food on their tables.
Times were tough, and they were only about to get tougher (the United States entered World War I in 1917), but it wasn’t all bad. By 1916, people enjoyed silent films for around $0.07 per ticket. Going out to the theatre was incredibly popular, too, as was going out dancing. Many families had phonographs, which brought music like Billy Murray’s wildly popular “Pretty Baby” into the home. And, cars began populating the streets – Ford Model Ts rolled off the assembly every ninety minutes! Cars would come to have a huge impact on life in every way, but what they really shook up was dating. Before the car, dates followed protocol in the home: the young man arrived, he was seated next to his date in the sitting room, the family talked with him, and he and the family ate dinner together. With the advent of the car, though, suddenly couples went out – and with them, parentally-chaperoned protocol went out, too!
This would have been served for lunch or supper outside on a hot day, or as a picnic meal, though sandwich bags and plastic wrap didn’t exist. The sandwiches would have been wrapped in either paper or a damp cloth to keep them fresh.
So let’s go! Put on Billy Murray, and turn her up – we’re going into the kitchen to make history!
Here are our ingredients: Chicken, eggs, onion, celery, parsley, lemon, mayonnaise, salt, and pepper. For assembly: Bread, leaf lettuce, tomato.
Step 1: Cook your chicken. If you have leftover chicken, that would be perfect! But, I didn’t, so I cooked some fresh. I used my crockpot, but feel free to bake, grill, roast, pan fry, or cook your chicken over an open flame. Anything you want! I put a pound of chicken breast into my crockpot, added about a half cup of water, a teaspoon of salt (you really want to add flavor!), and a sprinkle of black pepper. Then, I left it alone for seven hours on low and went and enjoyed my day!
Step 2: Once I had cooked chicken (if you’re using leftover chicken, you don’t have to wait seven hours to move on to this step!), I prepared my eggs. It took me a while to figure out the best way to hard boil eggs, but this method leaves me with perfect eggs every time. Fill a pot with cold water, bring it to a boil, add your eggs (carefully!), and let them boil for fifteen minutes.
Then, shock them immediately in a bowl of ice water and wait until they’re cool enough to handle.
Step 3: In the meantime, cut an onion in half and rub it all over the mixing bowl you’ll be using. Well, not all over – stay inside the lines!
Step 4: And, chop up or pull apart your chicken and put it in the bowl. Don’t just put it in whole.
Step 5: Peel your perfectly hard-boiled eggs, and chop them up. I’m using both the whites and the yolks, even though the recipe only calls for yolks. And, I’m also using this handy egg cutter. My grandma used to make the best potato salad ever, and she always let me help her out and use the egg cutter on the eggs. We’re getting off topic, but that’s what this is about – history and food go hand in hand. I told you! Think, remember, share your memories, make new memories. I’m just chopping eggs and look what I came up with!
Throw your memory-inducing eggs in with your chicken.
Step 6: Okay, onion juice? Sounds weird, but you’re the boss, recipe! I put down some cheesecloth on a cutting board and grated about a quarter of an onion.
Then, I wrapped the grated onion up in the cheesecloth and squeezed out the onion juice. I got about two tablespoons of juice, which I added to my bowl, and wow (spoiler!), this added so much flavor!
Step 7: Squeeze the juice of a lemon in (about two tablespoons), chop up a stalk or two of celery, and throw in about a teaspoon of parsley. Ideally, you should use fresh, but I was out and so was my local grocery story! What the heck?! But, dry worked just fine in a pinch!
Step 8: Now, bring it all together with mayonnaise. I know the recipe says you can also moisten it with melted butter or olive oil, but the onion juice was daring enough for me, so I went with old reliable – mayonnaise. I used about 2/3 cup. Use as much or as little as you like – it’s your chicken salad!
Step 9: And, finally, mix it all together and season to your taste with salt and pepper. I didn’t add any extra salt, but I did add a sprinkle of pepper. I never can taste the difference, but it makes me feel a bit more accomplished!
Final step: Assemble your sandwiches. I toasted up some bread, spooned on a healthy portion of my chicken salad – ahem, my chicken and egg mixture – and topped it with lettuce and tomato. And, finally, the big reveal. Not only does it look lovely, but this 100 year old chicken salad recipe was divine. Like I said, the onion juice (and the lemon juice, too!) really puts the flavor over the top. Chicken salad is usually… fine. Not much more to say. But, this chicken salad was pretty perfect.
Take a moment. Think about the average American family 100 years ago. Think about a wife in a long dress mixing up a batch of these sandwiches with leftovers from last night’s chicken dinner, vegetables from her garden, and bread that cost $0.08 a loaf. Think about her setting the table on the porch – because it’s too hot to eat inside – while her husband stumbles up the walk, tired from a ten-hour day at the factory. They sit down together as the sky darkens, the phonograph plays music through the open windows, and the husband reads up on the faraway-for-now war in the newspaper. He takes a bite of his sandwich, savoring what he worked so hard to put on the table. It’s the same sandwich we just made. 100 years later, it’s the same sandwich.
From 1916: Chicken and Egg Sandwiches
- 1 pound chicken breast (or leftover chicken)
- 2 eggs
- 1 onion
- 1 lemon
- 1-2 stalks celery
- 1 tsp. parsley, fresh or dry
- 1/2-2/3 cup mayonnaise
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Prepare chicken. Rinse chicken breasts and place in crockpot. Add 1/2 cup water. Evenly sprinkle 1 tsp. salt over chicken, and a pinch of black pepper. Cook on low 7 hours. Cool.
- Hard-boil eggs. Add water to a small pot. Heat over high heat to boiling. Carefully add eggs. Boil 15 minutes. Immediately shock eggs in ice bath, cool, and peel.
- Cut onion in half and rub inside of mixing bowl.
- Chop up or shred cooled chicken, place in bowl.
- Chop peeled eggs, add to bowl.
- Juice onion: Grate quarter to half of onion on top of cheese cloth or clean dish towel. Squeeze out juice. Add 2 Tbs. juice to mixing bowl.
- Juice lemon, add 2 Tbs. juice to mixing bowl.
- Chop 1-2 stalks of celery, add to mixing bowl with 1 tsp. parsley.
- Add mayonnaise until desired moistness is reached. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Assemble sandwiches on toasted bread with desired toppings.