The popularity of some foods has no expiration date. Step back into the 1950s, when lavish buffets and garnishes were commonplace. Entertaining was jazzed up with sculpted mounds of comfort food that soothed all of our worries.
The sandwich loaf is a proud heirloom of mid-20th century entertaining. In Edina, the sandwich loaf takes center stage at many club meetings, bridal showers, birthdays and holiday festivities. Count on the sandwich loaf to appear at silent auctions, teas and other luncheon events. Why stop there? A sandwich loaf as centerpiece would surely enliven your upcoming Mother’s Day celebration.
The sandwich loaf’s retro appeal makes a multi-generational statement. It packs generations of nostalgia into one tidy package. Picture three layers of sandwich fillings stacked uniformly together and slathered in cream cheese. Myth and legend ooze between it all.
Call it a sandwich loaf, party loaf or smörgåstårta—the effect is the same. This sandwich-styled concoction combines wedding-cake looks with old-fashioned practicality. As a savory dish decorated with all the fancy of a sweet, its unique presentation sparks conversation.
As a recent transplant to Edina, Rebecca Bell-Sorensen was initially puzzled by the popularity of the “very strange loaf.” But she soon became
a proponent and now regards the sandwich loaf as a “fun idea for a party.” It’s a Midwestern tradition in the mode of homespun hot dish or State Fair food on a stick. Its charm ensnares unlikely fans.
A sandwich loaf is a throwback to another era, “like I’d walked into an old Betty Crocker ad,” says Bell-Sorensen. The charm is contagious, representative of a time when neighbors took the time to know their neighbors. The sandwich loaf is a “very sacred dish in the Morningside Women’s Club” served at every tea for 50 years. The MWC even had “Got Loaf?” aprons made.
This is not finger food. You eat it like a slice of cake. “The ritual of serving the loaf is almost as good as the loaf itself,” says Bell-Sorensen. But try cutting into one. How can something so fanciful be so cumbersome to cut apart? Serving a sandwich loaf requires technique. “Marilynn Krekelberg does the honors of serving with her electric knife,” says Bell-Sorenson. “That’s really something to behold.”
Picture an 80-year-old woman “chiseling away at this thing and making perfect slices. Garnishes complicate cutting, but Krekelberg works around them, perched atop a stool to get just the right angle. “I don’t know why people think they can’t cut a sandwich loaf,” says Krekelberg, a club member and aficionado known to start silent auction bidding wars for a sandwich loaf prize.
“The sandwich loaf has gotten to be kind of a joke because some people don’t like it, but most people do,” she says. “I think they are wonderful, and I could eat them every day, but they are caloric. One thing I noticed: a lot of the gals don’t want the end slice. I love the end slices because of all the cream cheese.”
Not everyone is completely enamored. “The sandwich loaf is an acquired taste in the same way as lutefisk,” says Nicki Williams, club member. “It’s a tradition. You have to live here to believe it.”
Fussy food makes no apologies for content. A variety of deli fillings, a thick cream cheese coating and tender expanses of bread as a base make the sandwich loaf a chore to assemble. “I thought I was being so smart to make the sandwich loaf because I thought I could save a lot of money. I think I figured I saved $5 by making them after all that time it took,” says Krekelberg. “So that’s why I quit making them. It’s too much work for what you save.”
When it’s time for a sandwich loaf, call in the pros. Jerry’s Foods and Chow Girls Killer Catering are purveyors of this sentimental wonderment.
The sandwich loaf goes back a long way at Jerry’s Foods, but no one really knows how many years they’ve been making them at the Edina store.
Jerry’s proclaims itself the go-to place for sandwich loaves, and that they’re making a comeback. “It’s become a thing now, not just a ladies’ thing,” says Carol Jackson, former corporate manager at Jerry’s Foods.
“The comfort food and nostalgia is still an attraction,” says Mary Jo Stromberg, food service operations. “We have younger millennials coming in and ordering for their nostalgic baby showers and bridal showers—things like that.”
While sandwich loaves are popular year-round, spring parties and Mother’s Day celebrations are especially appropriate occasions for the signature dish. “It’s not unusual to see two or three in the cooler at one time.” says Stromberg. The signature loaf takes two days to prepare, and the fillings are housemade. “It’s the real deal,” she says. Each is custom-made with a choice of egg salad, ham salad, chicken salad, tuna salad or olive and cream cheese spread.
Special-request fillings have made their way into sandwich loaves, too—everything from peanut butter and cucumber to strawberry cream cheese. After the deli stuffings and bread get cold, they’re generously frosted with cream cheese and garnished with sliced radishes, parsley or other savories. For a sweeter look, the bakery department can decorate with piped icing. “Our people are good at it and really fast,” says Stromberg.
The all-in-one presentation simplifies entertaining. Only last-minute cutting is required; Jerry’s recommends an electric knife. “It’s hearty. One slice is definitely enough,” explains Stromberg. “We always suggest that people serve something light on the side like a salad or fruit.”
Medium $59.99 (serves 8-10), large $69.99 (serves 10-15), piped icing additional charge.
Chowgirls Killer Catering
The smörgåstårta (sandwich cake) is kin to the sandwich loaf. It’s no surprise that a dish enjoyed in Minnesota has roots from the Old World. In Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, savory party cakes showcase fresh-made fillings, typically seafood. A festive top garnish gives a sneak peek of the fillings.
Chowgirls Killer Catering offers a European-style smörgåstårta with all the trimmings. The “frosting” steers clear of cream cheese. Instead, a sour cream-mayonnaise mix is used to encase layers of bread and housemade fillings such as salmon spread and thinly sliced cucumbers.
The smörgåstårta is a “light ladies-who-lunch kind of fare in a beautiful package,” says Amy Brown, co-owner.
It’s “basically a blank palette to work with your own ideas.” Sliced cucumbers, dill sprigs, radish slices and cocktail shrimp band over swirls of lemon-infused frosting. Chives, parsley, shrimp and other healthy add-ons make an eye-popping finish to rich components.
“My chefs are very excited to take on the smörgåstårta on a special-order basis,” says Brown. “Chowgirls Killer Catering will customize one for you.” Call two weeks ahead to make arrangements and for pricing.
Party Sandwich Loaf Recipe
This luncheon fare is perfect for showers.
Trim crust from a 1½-pound loaf of unsliced sandwich bread. With a sharp knife, cut loaf into 4 equal horizontal slices. Use a ruler or wooden picks to keep the slices even. Spread 3 slices with soft butter. Place one slice of bread on serving platter; spread evenly with a filling (see below). Top with second slice of bread; spread evenly with a different filling. Top with third slice of bread; spread evenly with a different filling. Top with remaining slice. Gently shape loaf to make sides even. Remove any oozing fillings.
Beat two 8-ounce packages of cream cheese with ½ cup milk or cream until fluffy. Add a few drops of food coloring (optional). Frost top and sides of loaf with cream cheese mixture. Refrigerate loaf until frosting has set (about 30 minutes). Cover loosely with plastic wrap, using wooden picks to keep wrap from touching frosting. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.
To serve: Garnish with olive slices, parsley and radish roses. Cut into 1-inch slices
Egg Salad Filling:
Combine 4 hard-cooked eggs (finely chopped), 2 tablespoons minced ripe olives, ¼ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon prepared mustard, dash pepper and 3 tablespoons mayonnaise.
Ham Salad Filling:
Combine ¾ cup ground cooked ham or luncheon meat, 2 tablespoons minced green bell pepper, 1 tablespoon minced onion, 1 teaspoon prepared mustard and ¼ cup mayonnaise.
Seafood Salad Filling:
Combine one (6½ to 7½ ounce can pf seafood (drained and flaked or chopped), 1 tablespoon snipped parsley, 1 tablespoon snipped chives, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, dash of pepper and ¼ cup mayonnaise.
Chicken Salad Filling:
Combine ¾ cup ground cooked chicken (¼ pound), ¼ cup minced celery, 2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish, ¼ teaspoon salt, dash of pepper and 3 tablespoons mayonnaise.
*Recipes created for given quantity. Changes to quantities are for planning purposes only and have not been tested.
Recipe courtesy of Lunds & Byerlys