Pastrami on rye
Pastrami is an American version of the salted, wind-dried beef known as pastrama or basturma in Armenia and the Balkans. It’s smoked and cured, with spices that typically include garlic, pepper, paprika, and allspice, among others. The first pastrami in America seems to have been served in New York City in the late 19th century by a Lower East Side deli owner from Lithuania named Sussman Volk — and he was apparently the first to heap slices of it onto rye bread. The delis of Manhattan’s theater district are said to have popularized it in the 1920s and ’30s, and today it is as much a deli essential as the Reuben (see below).
Peanut butter and jelly
Peanut butter as we know it today dates from the late 19th century (one pioneer in its production was John Harvey Kellogg of cereal fame), and the first recipe for the sandwich popularly known as the PB&J was published in 1901. With the advent of sliced bread in the late 1920s and the proliferation of commercial peanut butter brands, it became popular nationwide. The fact that it was easy and cheap made it a favorite during the Depression, and it was included on military menus during World War II before becoming the ultimate school lunch and after-school snack for millions of American kids.
According to Philadelphia’s official tourist site, VisitPhilly, this now ubiquitous sandwich was invented in 1930 by a Philadelphia hot dog vendor named Pat Olivieri — namesake of Pat’s King of Steaks, one of the city’s most famous purveyors of cheesesteaks today. In its simplest form, the sandwich is thinly sliced beef and melted cheese on a submarine-style roll, with or without fried onions, mushrooms, and/or sweet or spicy peppers. The cheese is often the processed cheese sauce called Cheez Whiz, but may also be American or provolone.
Pimento cheese — the so-called “pâté of the South” — is a cheese spread flecked with bits of red pimento (or pimiento) pepper. What kind of cheese and what else goes into the mix is the subject of much discussion. Some say it’s nothing but cheddar, pimentos, and mayonnaise. Others might add some combination of cream cheese, Monterey jack, garlic, Tabasco sauce, lemon juice, and/or plain cream. Like other sandwich spreads, pimento cheese became popular during World War I as an easy, expensive ingredient to feed troops in the field and their supporters at home. The sandwiches, usually just pimento cheese spread thickly on white bread, are still popular picnic (and funeral) fare in the South.
Legend has it that the po’boy was invented by a couple of charitable brothers in New Orleans in 1929 to feed striking streetcar workers (“poor boys”) for free. The po’boy is yet another variation on the submarine (see below), but traditionally made with French bread loaves with a firm crust rather than the soft-crust Italian-style rolls most of its counterparts employ. The name “po’boy” refers to the form, not the contents. The sandwich may be made with anything from roast beef to fried shrimp (the most common fillings), but fried oysters, crawfish, soft shell crabs, or catfish; sausage, ham and various other luncheon meats; even hamburgers can go into the sandwich. Condiments might include some combination of lettuce, tomato, pickles, mustard, ketchup, butter, and mayonnaise.