Extreme sandwiches not a staple of senior center menus

The menu for the Monday Munch at the Charlotte Senior Center 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on June 3 is lasagna, garlic bread, garden salad, cream cheese bars with fruit and whipped cream.

As Isabella Beeton observed in her famous 1861 book, “Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management,” cream cheese isn’t really cream. “It’s milk dried enough so that it can be cut with a knife.”

Today, cream cheese is often made from a mixture of cream and milk. Often, but not always. Read on.

Fresh bagel with tasty cream cheese on white background

Despite its name, Philadelphia Cream Cheese was invented, not in Philadelphia, but in Chester, New York. In 1872, William Lawrence, a Chester dairyman wanted to make Neufchâtel, a French cheese. He put in too much cream, and the result was a cheese more spreadable than Neufchâtel. It was called “cream cheese.”

Neufchâtel is spreadable but has a grainy texture. It’s similar to Italian ricotta cheese but not as extreme as cottage cheese curds. It contains no cream.

In 1880, the name “Philadelphia” was added to Mr. Lawrence’s creation because the Philadelphia area had the reputation for high-quality dairy farms.

Philadelphia Cream Cheese is manufactured by Kraft Heinz, and they provide a timeline for their product:

  • 1872 cream cheese invented in New York.
  • 1880 “Philadelphia” brand name adopted and foil wrapping begins.
  • 1939 Philadelphia brick introduced.
  • 1950 cheesecake introduced as a mainstream dessert in the U.S.
  • 2023 plant-based spread introduced in three varieties: original, strawberry and chive and onion.

Philadelphia plant-based spread contains no gluten, lactose or artificial dyes. Here are the plant-based spread ingredients: water, coconut oil, modified potato starch, faba bean protein, contains less than 2 percent of maltodextrin, salt, guar gum, lactic acid, sorbic acid as a preservative, natural favor and citric acid.

Philadelphia Cream Cheese ingredients: pasteurized milk and cream, salt, xanthan, carob bean gum and cheese culture.

From cucumber sandwiches to sushi bake, to pimento cheesecake, a “cream cheese” search in The New York Times yields 3,299 entries. In The Magazine, Judge John Hodgman (somewhat reluctantly) acknowledges the right of the pumpkin-spice cream cheese on a bagel to exist.

Judge Hodgman wasn’t in Boston when making this pronouncement. Leading up to Super Bowl XXXIX, a Boston baker, learning that a Philadelphia donut shop had banned Boston-cream-pie-themed treats, announced a retaliatory ban. No Philadelphia-brand cream cheese products in his shop.

That story ran in the Boston Globe, along with 1,745 other entries for cream cheese, including ultra mac-and-cheese, smoked bluefish pate and parsnip cake with orange cream cheese frosting.

In November 2023, The Guardian ran an article with this intriguing headline: “From compressed yeast to cream cheese and cornflakes: one man’s search for the world’s greatest sandwich.”

Barry Enderwick estimates that he’s recreated more than 700 sandwiches. With some recipes dating B.C., most are modern. One of the five sandwiches he rates worst is cheese sandwich No. 2 (1912) — pub cheese (a type of cream cheese), parmesan, salt, pepper, anchovy paste and tarragon vinegar. In Enderwick’s words, “The amount of salt made it taste like a salt lick. Just awful.”

Another sandwich Enderwick rates as vile is the 1946 goblin sandwich — Brazil nuts, deviled ham, Worcestershire sauce and avocado, served in a doughnut.

On a scale from 1-10, he gives the goblin sandwich a zero, noting that ham and avocado in a doughnut taste exactly as one might imagine.

One last word on unusual sandwiches: Joseph Mitchell, whose stories about ordinary people created extraordinary journalism in the pages of The New Yorker, described the sandwich favored by the proprietor of McSorley’s Old Ale House in New York City, “He liked to fit a whole onion into the hollowed-out heel of a loaf of French bread and eat it as if it were an apple.”

I mention these creations just so people partaking of Monday Munch at the Charlotte Senior Center can know once again how fortunate they are that the volunteer cooks there use a real food know-how to produce great-tasting meals.

Harvard Common Press is coming out with a book of Enderwick’s sandwiches in November, “Sandwiches of History: The Cookbook: All the Best (and Most Surprising) Things People Have Put Between Slices of Bread.” It promises to be the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly of the sandwich world.

Celebrate the emergence of June with “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” from “Carousel” by Rogers and Hammerstein. As is typical of musicals of that era, there is impressive acrobatic dancing along with the singing at youtube.com/watch?v=l3AVmPj24.
Monday Munch, June 10

The cooks are still planning.

Reminder: Invite a child you care about to choose a book from the great collection at the Little Free Library for Kids at The Grange, 2858 Spear Street. This reach-out to kids is sponsored by the Friends of the Charlotte Senior Center.