In Colorado, this holiday season was snow-white and the fireplace blazed night and day. There were deer and elk on the hillside, daily hikes into the National Park, a miniature snow-woman laboriously constructed from barely packable “dry” snow, and, of course, there were egg sandwiches.
A multi-layered, made-to-order egg sandwich is staple breakfast fare when we are at home in the mountains. It is nourishment spiced with geography and longstanding tradition. The ritual evolved, as things often do, from something I read.
When we lived in Singapore I was immersed in the writings of M.F.K. [Mary Frances Kennedy] Fisher. She weaves autobiographical stories of people, places, and food into descriptive prose. The mythology of her story about “Aunt Gwen’s” fried egg sandwiches caught my imagination. It is the tale of a child’s realization that food and life lessons can be inseparable from a strong adult mentor.
When Fisher was a young girl, several influential summers were spent with Aunt Gwen in Laguna Beach, California. As Mary Frances explained,
“…she taught us a thousand things too intangible to report, as well as how to roast kelp leaves, steam mussels, tease a rattlesnake away from a frightened horse, skin an eel after sundown, and stay quiet while a night-blooming cereus [cactus flower] unfolds…”
With Aunt Gwen leading the way, Mary Frances and her younger sister Anne hiked the hills and cliffs above the beach singing hymns and marching songs at the top of their lungs. There was always an egg sandwich or two carefully tucked into their pockets.
In the good Laguna days, it was an exciting promise, to warm up the pan, ready the ingredients, and make fried-egg sandwiches. Aunt Gwen insisted that we have at least two pockets somewhere on us, one for shells, stones, small fish, or lizards, and one big enough to hold these greasily wrapped, limp, steamy monsters. Then we would race the sunset to a high hill. The sandwiches stayed warm against our bodies, and when we panted to a stop, and fell against a good rock or an old eucalyptus trunk, the packets sent out damp insistent invitations… We each had two sandwiches. The first we gnashed at like fairly well mannered puppies. The second was for contemplation, as we watched all of the quiet empty slopes down to the cliff edge, and the great ocean with the sun sliding into it. —MFK Fisher, Among Friends, Alfred A. Knopf Inc. 1970
What I love about this story is that it is about satisfaction beyond physical hunger. Fisher was learning, as a child, that the right combination of food, company, and spiritual nourishment was a metaphor for living well. The ingredients of those egg sandwiches included “equal parts of hunger and happiness”, a hillside sunset, and companions she loved.
There are no cliffs overlooking an ocean where our cabin is located, but cool summer mornings and cold winter ones stimulate good appetites. Mountain views, towering ponderosa pines and native wildlife are our spiritual geography. When home in Colorado, family and friends are often with us. A tradition was born around the kitchen table in winter and the front porch in summer—our mountain version of the fried egg sandwich.
Aunt Gwen’s recipe was well documented by Fisher. It started by heating the grease from whatever was cooked the day before in a large flat-bottomed skillet. When the fragrant drippings reached a smoking hot temperature, an egg was dropped in, the yolk broken, and quickly fried so that the edges were crisply brown and barely digestible. Next, two slices of good bread were added to the pan and browned on one side only. The cooked egg was slapped into the middle of the bread slices and pressed together. Finally, the whole thing was wrapped in wax paper that partially melted into the sandwich, small pieces of which were consumed when bit into with hunger and a happy heart.
As an aid to digestion and modern taste preferences, this is our version.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN EGG SANDWICH
- Thick sliced smoked bacon, cooked crisply
- Eggs, preferably brown and free range
- Jalapeño jack cheese or cheese of choice
- Toasted English muffins or good brown bread
- Salsa or fresh tomato slices
- Fresh spinach or some kind of leafy green
- Avocado slices or guacamole, optional
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Additional red pepper flakes as desired
Family and/or friends gathered on a sun-warmed front porch in summer, around the kitchen table or fireplace in winter. Laughter and conversation flowing easily with a cooked-to-order egg sandwich in hand. Appetites satisfied. Camaraderie shared. A new day begins.
Assemble ingredients. Cook bacon in well-seasoned cast iron skillet. Using the bacon drippings, crack an egg into round metal form and break the yolk. Season with S&P or red pepper flakes. When egg is set, remove the form and gently turn the egg over for just a few seconds. On toasted English muffin, layer a thin slice of cheese, tomato, bacon and optional ingredients [avocado, salsa, etc.]. Add cooked egg and fresh spinach leaves or other greens. Press the whole thing down to a manageable biting size. Eat immediately while hot, using both hands. A mug of strong coffee or tea is good accompaniment.
All I could now say about Aunt Gwen will never be said, but it is sure that much of my enjoyment of the art of living, as well as of eating, comes from her…as well as my certainty that the two are, or can be, synonymous. —M.F.K. Fisher, Among Friends
20 thoughts on “More Than Just an Egg Sandwich”
I really enjoyed this story. Your cottage in the mountains seems so cozy. The photos were lovely. The entire time my mouth was watering. Loved learning about new variations. Looking forward to my next egg-sandwich.
Thanks for the reminder of all the great memories attached to this simple dish. It is still a go-to when we need a little comfort, and this is the one dish that Rick actually prepares, but he isn’t allowed to do the white on white on white thing anymore.
Sally, I believe it is more your influence on Rick [that he upgrades his egg sandwich “ingredients”] than anything I could say or write on the subject…
I smiled as I added egg sandwiches to this week’s menu.
There are warm memories wrapped inside of your depiction of this delicious, yet soggy, package. Growing up in Davenport, Iowa, we did not have delicious bread; Wonder Bread – white, of course – was our only option. And ours always included a healthy swipe of Miracle Whip. White on white on white. Delicious.
I really enjoyed this post, as I have the others. I grew up with bacon and.egg sandwiches, also, but I like the additions of the greens, tomato and avocado. Sounds like a perfect supper in front of the fire. We have held you and Mark close during this turbulent time in Paris.