Church-basement sandwiches: is there anything better?

Church-basement sandwiches

This is what I’m talking about! A brilliant photo of church-basement sandwiches in a post from the excellent food blog Eaten Up (, where they are given the perfect description: “triangles of goodness.” (Photo courtesy of Eaten Up)

Remember how I was going on about old-time school lunches (baloney sandwiches, Heinz Sandwich Spread) and the glories of wieners and beans in a couple of recent posts? Well, tonight I’d like to return to the food theme. Because tonight I am thinking about church-basement sandwiches.

Do you know what I mean by that phrase, church-basement sandwiches? I suspect that if, like me, you grew up in a small community in the middle part of the 20th century, and had any connection whatsoever with any church whatsoever, you will. Instantly. (Even if, as at St. Andrew’s United Church here in Queensborough, the church had a ground-floor hall, and not a basement, where people gathered after special services and funerals and the like.)

Church-basement sandwiches are those small triangular ones (the full-size slices of bread are cut into three), often with the crusts removed, white and brown bread, buttered and filled with tuna salad and salmon salad and chicken salad and ooooohh, very best of all, egg salad. There are also, of course, the round pinwheel ones, with the bread rolled up around a usually-cream-cheese-related filling. Also delicious, but nothing beats those triangular egg-salad ones.

And the really remarkable thing about those sandwiches is that you can eat them by the dozen (which you are inclined to do, because they are so very good) and – this is the crazy part – you never get full! You just want to eat more! How does that happen? Do they magically lose the ability to fill you up because they are crustless? Or because they are served in a church basement? Or because you are washing them down with that super-strong church-basement tea?

(When I was much younger I used to like to joke that you knew you were in a church basement when the only way you could tell whether the hot dark liquid you were being served was coffee or tea was to taste it. Man, it was tea that would put hair on your chest! But in recent years I have noticed that the church-basement tea tends to be a little more moderate.)

Anyway, those sandwiches are the best thing ever. And the very best part is that they are not (like, alas, so many things) a lost relic of my long-ago childhood. No, you still come across them fairly often – if, that is, you go to events in church basements.

If you ask me, they are one very fine reason (if you needed one) to “darken the church door” (as people used to say) every once in a while.

16 thoughts on “Church-basement sandwiches: is there anything better?

  1. And don’t forget the minced ham & dill pickle with mayo! I’ve always loved these delicious sandwiches, and egg salad is likely my favourite, but I love ’em all. I think the reason we could eat so many is because the bread (typically the sandwich loaf type available anywhere) is soft and does not have the body that a home-made loaf would have. Those sandwiches do seem to slip down, don’t they? As for the tea, I can well remember at the Madoc Fair when a woman at the United Church Women’s booth dumped an entire box of tea bags in the big kettle. So, imagine the strength of that tea.

    • Hoo boy. Yup, that was the way they made the tea back in those days, Sash. And I am proud to say that the UCW booth you’re remembering was almost certainly the St. Andrew’s, Queensborough, booth – our UCW had that booth forever and ever, and only gave it up about three years ago. (Happily, another church group has moved in, and they sell amazing pie during the fair.)

      • I say “booth”, but I think it was an actual building, come to think of it. I can remember, too, people always having nothing but very good comments about the food there. There was also a building where people entered contests (such as pie baking, home canning, etc.) Do they still have these contests? And students used to be able to enter art, penmanship, etc. Do you know if these are still part of the fair? There’s nothing like an old-fashioned fair. And what about the taffy? Nothing like it anywhere else!!

        The sandwiches in that photo look so good! I’ll likely see them this weekend, but not on such happy conditions, as I’ll be attending a funeral and there will be a reception following.

      • Oh, you can be very sure there are still competitions for the best pie, best bread, best pickles, best cookies, best beets, etc. And yes, there are also competitions for artwork, crafts, photography, etc. Not sure about penmanship, though. You have got to come back to the Madoc Fair, Sash! It’s Sept. 19, 20 and 21 this year. And yes, they still have Grandpa Ellis taffy! (Which you can see a picture of, among many other things, at my post here from the 2012 fair.) It’s a wonderful way to spend a fall day!

      • Thanks for posting the link to the 2012 Madoc Fair. I’d forgotten that I had posted on that page, and it was nice to re-visit it, and to see the photos again. Those big horses are HUGE! I saw some like that at the Royal Winter Fair — gigantic, compared to most others in the barn. I’m glad to hear that they still have competitions for the various categories. Really, that makes the fair so interesting, to see what the community brings to it. Sad, though, that there might not be a category for penmanship, but it’s not surprising considering computers, texting, etc. It’s not a dying art, though — several younger people are discovering fountain pens and ink (and there are dozens of colours from which to choose), although most prefer texting to cursive handwriting. I’m glad that I was taught to write with fountain pen, as I prefer to use that when writing letters that are sent via regular mail service. As a matter of fact, I’ve just finished one, using Ebony Purple ink (Private Reserve ink company).

      • Ebony Purple ink! How elegant! I’m with you on fountain pens, Sash – I love them. I have a few, though I am sure I don’t use them as frequently as you do.

  2. We had a tea last summer in Coe Hill and made those sandwiches as you described. Also the slight variant on the pinwheel using either a centre of olive, gerkin or asparagus. Yum. Great memories of days gone bye.

  3. Consider the Mother’s Day Tea at Glanmore NHS – very special sandwich makers among the Friends of Glanmore. How about watercress and cucumber to add to egg salad, ham and pickle and all the other triangle sarnies? (as our South London niece calls them)

  4. In my youth my sister, mom and I made many of these sandwiches for all occasions, weddings, funerals, church socials. I remember cutting off the crust and dipping the bread in the coloured dyes. Such time consuming procedure to make the event a success. The bread ends were then stuffed in a chicken for a yummy family dinner or fed to our dads hunting hound dog Sam. He got the best supper made of bread ends and kibble all warm and mixed up in his doggy dish. Now that I think about it I had good times with my mom on those days just making lady fingers. Too bad I didn’t realize it at that time!

    • That is a lovely memory, mk. It is so true that the simple things we spend time doing with loved ones, like our mum or dad – and possibly complaining about at the time – turn out to be among our happiest memories in retrospect. Because really, what’s better than spending quality time doing something simple like making fancy sandwiches with your mum?

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