An imaginary lineage of a real summer treat.
by Harold Chambliss
I've been living in Atlanta too long. I hardly ever hear of anyone having a pineapple sandwich anymore. Growing up in Alabama, the pineapple sandwich was a staple in school lunch sacks and church picnics. Your mama could use sliced pineapple or crushed. I usually opted for crushed if I wasn't concerned about soggy bread or pineapple juice cascading down my elbows. The sooner you ate your crushed pineapple sandwich the safer. However, if you were going to start a food fight, it had better be soggy.
When cuisine is being discussed, I hardly ever fail to ask people if they've had a pineapple sandwich. And usually I hear "What? Are you out of your mind? I never heard of a pineapple sandwich. You can't be serious." I've learned to expect this reaction from non-Southerners, but I'm always amazed how many Southerners themselves were deprived of this regional delicacy. I'm beginning to think it was an Alabama thing, maybe even South Alabama.
Some say the pineapple sandwich originated in the town of Pine Apple (two words), Alabama, in 1898 but wasn't popular until the early 1900s when Lucille Studley successfully preserved pineapple (not in cans but in glass jars), which eliminated the need to buy fresh pineapple for quick consumption. It's believed that canneries on the West Coast put pineapple in cans before that time, but because of the high cost of shipping, and a total misunderstanding of the Southern market, didn't export to the American South until they realized that Lucille was on to something.
Now rumor has it that mayonnaise, the second of three ingredients in the pineapple sandwich, was invented in 1756 by the chef of Duc de Richelieu, a French nobleman. Mayonnaise was allegedly first known as "Duck Deaux" but the name was changed to mayonnaise in 1844 in honor of Frédéric Chopin's Polonaise in A flat, which was, of course, No. 1 on the European Hit Parade for 101 straight weeks. It seems the French ad agency behind the change thought the eventual shortened version "mayo" would have more appeal to the masses than "polo." (Incidentally, I'm told the next most popular song at the time was Amadeus Mozart's Sweet Home Baden-Württemberg.)
Curiously enough, the first successful commercial brand of mayonnaise in America was created by George and Geauda Hellman. Their grandson, Givm Hellman, was suspected to be the inventor of the Hellcat, a carrier-based fighter plane used by the US Navy in World War II.
The third ingredient of the pineapple sandwich is light bread (yes, light bread—ask your granddaddy). It does happen to be white, and you don't ever want to mess with this by substituting whole wheat, rye, etc. It's just not right.
So, here's the recipe.
A can of crushed pineapple (for boys, mind you). Sliced for girls who don't want to get yucky. Two slices of light bread. Your favorite mayonnaise.
1. Slather the light bread with as much mayonnaise as you can get on each side.
2. Sling crushed, or arrange sliced pineapple between the two pieces of bread.
3. Serve with Golden Flake potato chips or any chips endorsed by a college-football coach.
4. Best enjoyed with a glass of sweet milk (yes, sweet...again, you should just go ask your granddaddy).
For people with a really sophisticated palate, sprinkle cheese on the pineapple, but don't tell anybody.
(Editor's note: For the mayonnaise-phobic, cream cheese is a delicious alternative.)
Photographs by Nicholas Pippins.