Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: The Edna Payne Sandwich

I’ve been cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay Cookbook but sometimes I take a little detour. This time, I’ll be preparing a dish that was designed to capture the essence of a popular western star of the 1910s.

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

In the mid-1910s, a movie writer named Lillian Blackstone took to creating “echoes” of screen personalities in food form. Wallace Reid, Antonio Moreno and Charlie Chaplin had salads, William S. Hart had ice cream and several major leading ladies had sandwiches. (So far Theda Bara’s is the best.)

Today’s sandwich belongs to a fairly forgotten leading lady. Edna Payne’s film career lasted from 1911 to 1917, when she retired from the screen at the ripe old age of twenty-five. An experienced stage performer, Payne boasted that she was the “greatest sport in the world” as a rider and that certainly came in handy. She was with the American division of Eclair when it set up a studio in Arizona for the purpose of shooting westerns in an authentic setting.

You can see Payne in action in The Girl Stage Driver (1914), which is available for free streaming courtesy of the National Film Preservation Foundation.

A fan submitted an ode to Edna in a 1915 issue of Motion Picture Magazine asking for some Payne in his life:

So, our western heroine had quite a following at the movies but how would she be interpreted in sandwich form?

A few words about Neufchâtel. As with many cheeses, the American version is pretty different from the original French cheese of the same name. It’s more similar to cream cheese and is pasteurized. It’s almost certain that this is the cheese used by Blackstone to create the recipe and if you can’t find it then just use cream cheese. Cream cheese is a little fattier but it shouldn’t make too much of a difference in this sandwich.

The ground almonds were a bit more of a problem. I just ground mine in a nut grinder, which, ironically, probably wasn’t what they meant by “ground.” I suspect that the texture was supposed to be finer but what can be done?

The pimentos are from a can. I had taken charge of the vegan options at a wedding and was making absolute tons of cashew-based nacho cheese. (It’s absolutely delicious, by the way. I actually prefer it to the real thing.) One of the major components is canned pimentos and I had a fair amount left over. However, canned or jarred would have probably been the best option in the 1910s as well if peppers were not in season.

Now for sandwich assembly!

Step One: Bread (be sure to slice as unevenly as me)
Step Two: Cheese! Step two is always cheese. Or should be.
Step Three: Aww, nuts!

Score: 2 out of 5. It’s… not very good. Nothing really goes together and the textures don’t seem particularly happy. If we wanted an Arizona theme, I think a wineburger would have been more appropriate. (Speaking as a Californian with Arizonian relatives, so take that as you will.)

This sandwich is screaming for something with a bit of chew to balance the soft and crunchy. Some chicken breast or some sauteed mushrooms or a thick slice of eggplant, perhaps. And while I like nuts in egg salads and chicken salads, I think they are out of place here. It just doesn’t work at all. “Bits of other stuffs” should have been something else.

Sorry, Edna!

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4 Replies to “Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: The Edna Payne Sandwich”

  1. Lovely blue plate you snapped the Edna Payne on! Great plating and a faithful rendition of what looks to be a sandwich I’ll never develop the desire to bite into. Cream cheese and crushed almonds on white bread with some unfortunate pimento trapped atop. Just no. And I can eat and cook with pimento all day long, but in this instance, umm, still no 🙁

    Cashew-based nacho cheese recipe on the other hand looks to be the real winner here!

    1. Thanks! I’ll be showcasing some new crockery in a few weeks, lord willing and the creek don’t rise. 😉

      The vegan cheese is so good! I had hardcore dairy lovers scarfing it down. I do recommend pulsing with an immersion blender in addition to the regular blender (unless your stand blender is one of those spiffy, high powered affairs) because it adds to the creaminess. Yum!

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