Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: The Violet Mersereau Sandwich

Welcome back! I’m cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook but today, we’re taking a little detour to 1915. Lillian Blackstone carved out a curious niche for herself inventing recipes inspired by various stars of the period. Today, we’ll be trying the Violet Mersereau Sandwich.

(You can catch up on all my past taste tests here.)

You can be forgiven for responding to the name “Violet Mersereau” with a “Who now?” Aside from some appearances in Biograph films, her career has all but disappeared. Her big hits were under the Universal banner and between fires and the junking of prints, that studio has one of the worst survival rates of the silent era.

IMDB currently describes Mersereau as “the archetypal helpless heroine of silent cinema.” Oh yeah?

And because the poster is so great, here’s an synopsis from the AFI Catalog:

When millionaire John Saunders threatens to disinherit his son Wallace if he marries Queen Tina, a circus rider, Wallace elopes with Tina and becomes a trapeze performer. They lead a happy life until Tina dies giving birth to their daughter Alice. Years later, when the circus passes through Wallace’s hometown, John, regretting his action, attends and witnesses Wallace’s death due to a trapeze accident. Alice, now a circus rider herself, goes to live with John, who, despite Alice’s antics involving her pet pig Rudolph, sliding down the stairs on a tray and vaulting over the furniture, grows fond of her. When John tries to marry Alice to his sister’s sissified son, she uses Rudolph to frighten him and his mother. After Alice and George Reynolds, whom she knew from the circus, fall in love and elope, John, thinking that George is after her fortune, is furious, but George proves his ability as a cartoonist and earns $1,000 a week to win John’s admiration.

Pet pigs? Cartoonists? A vaulting heroine? Sign me up! Alas, the film is missing and presumed lost. Check those attics!

(By the way, I put in a correction request to IMDB, we’ll see if they accept it.)

From what I can tell, the only Mersereau feature film available to the general public is Luck from 1923, well past her height of fame. If you have seen another Violet Mersereau feature at a special screening or festival, please be sure to share your impressions!

She may be forgotten today but Blackstone placed Mersereau alongside Mary Pickford, Alice Joyce and Lillian Gish in the sandwich article.

This sounded like a fairly acidic combination. I tried to ascertain whether Americans ate more green or black olives in 1915 and found this article stating that the east coast was obliged to eat green while California enjoyed black. The reason for this? The east coast imported their olives from Europe and unripe green olives traveled better. (At least according to the article, I have no clue how to transport an olive further than from the grocery store to my home.) California was an olive-growing region even back then and the shorter transport time meant that ripe olives were easy to obtain.

With that in mind, I decided to be historically accurate and as I live in California, I opted to use black olives. (But do read the olive article, which puts the existence green olives down to a conspiracy by Latin nations.)

Fortunately, the pickles were no mystery: sour. I wasn’t sure whether the “minced” ham was ham that was minced or some tinned meat product, so I went with the fresher option. The mustard was French’s (est. 1904), which should please even the pickiest food historian. Finally, I opted for swirled rye bread because I strongly dislike caraway seeds and they are ubiquitous in lighter ryes in my neck of the woods.

The sandwich went together easily, as sandwiches are wont to do.

Step One: Buttered bread
Step Two: Ham and olives
Step Three: Mustard (I love mustard)
Step Four: Pickles (sour dills from the market)
Step Five: Put the lid on

Score: 2 out of 5. Yeah, this is pretty bad. All of the acid from the pickles and mustard and the salt from the ham and olives just combines into this mass of salt and vinegar and the butter helps not one bit. I like to have some relief from a strong flavor and this sandwich does not provide it. If the olives had been swapped out for some light, fresh cheese or tomato (or both) I think this would have been classic. Uninspired, perhaps, but classic. Or, instead of pickles and olives, some of that red sauerkraut with apples. Nummy!

Feh.

A pity as Violet Mersereau deserves better.

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11 Replies to “Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: The Violet Mersereau Sandwich”

  1. Sadly, I’ve only seen photos of Violet Mersereau. Always brings me down a bit to find yet another victim of Universal’s awful history of bad luck, neglect, and indifference to its own product and importance in early Hollywood 🙁

    On to the sandwich: both olives and pickles inside of the sandwich (prefer mine on a relish tray) is an odd combo to be sure. I do love your idea of red kraut and apples with the minced ham- now THAT has “mischievous circus waif” flavors to it!

    Another fun idea for Mersereau might be an open faced Danish sandwich- there’s one with finely cubed ham (let’s call it minced) topped with a creamy salad made of peas, asparagus, and other veggies on buttered rye. Fun and tasty!

    1. I’ve only seen Violet at a distance is pretty early Griffith Biographs but I was curious enough to order Luck, the film she made with Johnny Hines. So we shall see.

      Your open-face sandwich sounds great! Kind of a chicken pot pie variation. Nom nom nom

  2. so i found the photoplay article with these sandwich recipes for free in google books (i’m an academic but only a casual one so i am not too picky about how i read/view material…also i am just grateful to even have the access tbh)…you had already reviewed a few of them obviously but looking at all the recipes side by side i noticed that the ingredients were like the same in each one with only minor variations. eggs, pickles, ham, mayonnaise…maybe i am too urban and sophisticated but these are really the sandwich ingredients they used to characterize celebrities???

    i still do want to try the theda sandwich because theda bara

  3. Danish rye is pretty nifty, too. Hearty and dark like a pumpernickel, plenty of seeds, but not a caraway in sight! The ham sandwich salad topping is called “Italian Salad” (not joking). It’s creamy, colorful, and really delicious.

    Re: Universal- in my long time living in the L.A. area I crawled all over the Universal lot with friends who worked there. It always fried me that their “secure” film vaults were in one of the driest, remotest areas of the lot behind the Large Greenery Dept. That would be big potted plants and trees, even pines. Combustable much?

    Very much looking forward to an eventual MS post/review of Mersereau’s Luck!

  4. Yuukk! Guaranteed to give you ulcers! But did any stars ever make their own sandwiches – they had houses full of domestic staff! The Carnation Milk people were adamant that Mabel Normand (sorry Mabel again) ate Carnation Milk sandwiches. ‘Just blend some cream cheese with lots of Carnation Milk, spread the delicious mixture on bread,then add jam or lettuce leaf to taste’. No wonder she was always shedding weight. I think olives were probably a big thing in 1910s California, as Keystone made a split reel film about canning the things

    1. I highly doubt that the stars ever tasted these sandwiches except as a novelty. (I doubt 3/4 of them wrote the recipes attributed to them but I’m willing to play along unless there’s blatant plagiarism.) Did the alleged Normand recipe say condensed milk or evaporated milk? I do eat condensed milk on my bread a la Winnie the Pooh. But with lettuce? Oh dear.

      Per the article, there were 25,000 acres of olives in California as opposed to over a million acres in Europe and the Europeans were using their monopoly to foist green olives off on New Yorkers. :mrgreen: Me? I say foist away, I love green olives.

      1. The advert definitely says Carnation Milk, as opposed to the more usual condensed milk. You might like to try the rest of Mabel’s diet: a half-gallon of ice cream for breakfast, said CM sandwich for lunch (or nothing) and a huge chocolate cake for dinner. In respect of her diet, she once told a reporter, ”I am not like other girls, you understand. Please go now as I’m having a chocolate cake delivered, and in times of great joy or sorrow I crave solitude”. Strange stuff, but the diet of a genius, nonetheless.

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