Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Nancy Carroll’s Sweetbread and Mushroom Patties

I’m cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook and you’re invited to come along. This time, we’ll be trying a recipe with an unusual ingredient from a performer on the stage and screen.

Catch up on all my taste tests here.

Nancy Carroll appeared in motion pictures at the tail end of the silent era but she won prize roles in films like Abie’s Irish Rose and The Wolf of Wall Street. Alas, her silent roles are fairly difficult to see for the layperson so be sure to grab the chance if you get an opportunity to see one.

But how does Nancy cook her sweetbreads? That is the question we will be considering today.

Sweetbreads are neither sweet nor bread, they are the thymus or pancreas of an animal, usually a calf, cow or lamb. They’re a bit of work to prepare but are incredibly delicious. (I am a great believer in whole-animal eating. If you’re gonna kill it, be prepared to eat all of it.)

If you’re curious about prepping sweetbreads, I cover it in my previous post on the topic.

First confession: I didn’t peel the mushrooms. (Modern farmed mushrooms are not grown in manure, so there aren’t really any nasties to cut away.) I washed mine and cut them up. The cooking time may sound long but mushrooms are impossible to overcook.

Next, we make a simple cream sauce with butter, flour and stock. (I used Better Than Bouillon in chicken flavor.) I used frozen puff pastry cases because I would be crazy not to.

I spooned the stuff into the cases and here it is:


Score: 4 out of 5. Ooo, nom nom nom! Sweetbreads taste like a combination of chicken breast and clams, very mild and tasty, but the best part of the dish is the sauce. That lemon juice really makes it. It adds a nice zip to a sauce that might have been dull and over-rich otherwise. Delicious!

If you can’t find sweetbreads, you can use clams, chicken, more mushrooms are some tofu. You can make this vegan with by using a bit of coconut cream, vegetarian stock and non-dairy butter. There are vegan puff pastries available as well.

All in all, this is an extremely old-fashioned Ladies Who Lunch recipe that is surprisingly delicious to modern palates. Definitely a good vehicle for first-time sweetbread eaters.


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  1. Keith S.

    It’s a popular misconception here in England (encouraged by butchers) that sweetbreads are pigs testicles! Is it the same elsewhere, I wonder?

  2. Shari Polikoff

    I’m from New England, and I thought they were animals’ brains. Never cared to pursue the subject any further!

  3. Marie Roget

    (I am a great believer in whole-animal eating. If you’re gonna kill it, be prepared to eat all of it.)

    Coming from hunting families on both sides, couldn’t agree more.
    I remember every part of any deer, elk, even squirrel being put to use in some stew, soup, or you name it. My mother and aunts had a phrase for it: whatever lands on the back porch table at the end of the day gets used up, period!

    As an experiment I tried calling to find sweetbreads at two of the local markets. One didn’t carry them, the other had never heard of them and recommended their (I might add excellent) tripe.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Yum! There are a couple of tripe recipes in the cookbook so I’ll be getting to those eventually. My go-to offal supplier is one of the Mexican supermarket chains (Vallarta or Cardenas). They keep heart, liver, kidney, tripe, tongue and other variety meats on hand. That’s good as there are also some kidney recipes in the book too! But I’m waiting for summer because we both know how kidneys stink to high heaven. Outdoor cooking is a good call here, I think.

      My grandparents supplemented their income during the Great Depression by fishing and hunting. I never tasted it but I understand that my grandmother could work magic with a campfire and offal.

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