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 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.
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!
A pity as Violet Mersereau deserves better.
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