Sandwich

A Salty-Sweet Biscuit Sandwich Inspired by Church Potlucks & Ripe Figs

May 12, 2017

We're asking chefs, cookbook authors, and restaurateurs for the recipes that've defined their careers or their food philosophies. Today, George Weld tells the personal history behind his restaurant Egg's country ham biscuit.

Once or twice a summer, my mother would announce that she was off to steal figs. She’d head out the door barefoot with a plastic colander or a paper bag in hand, leaving us to play with the hermit crabs we’d kidnapped from the North Carolina beach. I never understood why she was so cavalier about risking her otherwise well-guarded virtue for the sake of a fruit I couldn’t even stand to eat.

But years later when I was putting together the pieces of what would become Egg’s country ham biscuit, and I was looking for something darkly sweet to balance the sharp funk of country ham and aged cheddar, my memories of my mother’s raids on the Sprunts’ and Noells’ fig bushes came rushing back to me in a kind of inverted Proustian revelation. I’d hated the figs then, but now… figs would be perfect.

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“Every morning I ordered a fried egg with ham and cheese on a hard roll. It was griddled perfectly with the yolk just runny enough. It cost about 50 cents back then (1970) and that was a splurge but it was the bright spot in a tough day.”
— Annie S.
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The sandwich was already densely layered with nostalgia—overdetermined, if that can be said of a sandwich. The biscuits aimed at a flavor I hadn’t tasted in decades but that felt as present to me as today’s lunch. I had a flavor in mind I’d tasted in my Grandmother’s kitchen, the taste of a scrap of dough that had fallen to me to play with, and which I worked and worked and ate proudly when it came out of the oven later, hard as zwieback but tasting of toasted flour, salt, and butter in a way that haunted me into adulthood.

Country ham was the flavor of childhood church potlucks, where my impossibly timid palate steered me past everything but fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and the ham—in slices, wedged into Parker House rolls, cut up and skewered with toothpicks. The chicken and macaroni and cheese I would eat sitting down, as I was supposed to do. But even after we'd been excused to go chase fireflies in the church yard or we’d snuck into the basement to tell ghost stories or practice card tricks, I'd keep running back to the parish hall to stuff country ham rolls in my mouth.

Grafton cheddar was the one gratuitous layer in my sandwich, added only because I loved the flavor of it. Like the ham, it had been developing flavors for many months in a dark room somewhere far from the city and, also like the ham, its flavors unfolded over time in your mouth as you ate it. It seemed a natural pairing. But eaten with the ham, it made for an exhaustingly salty meal.

Photo by James Ransom

And that’s where the fig came in. It softened the sandwich’s edges, saving the sandwich from itself—a fitting role for a mother to play in a recipe.

If you had to choose one nostalgia-inducing sandwich, which would it be? Tell us in the comments below!

6 Comments

Rachelwrites May 13, 2017
I can't believe someone would call this a "waste" and then go on to suggest nearly the same thing.
 
Gordan May 13, 2017
As a Virginia I would never waste country ham on something like this. But try this, any type of roll you like, several thin slices of that salty country ham with some good quality orange marmalade on the biscuit. Salty savory, wonderful. Or a very traditional recipe is to take butter, some onions, poppy seeds and some dijon style mustard, melt. Then use many biscuit again place several slices of country ham on it and then a slice of swiss cheese. Bake or heat up in oven and enjoy.
 
Annie S. May 12, 2017
This is a great memory to share with us!<br />My sandwich memory is of eggs and early mornings.<br />I was just 20 and living on my own for the first time. I had eloped with my HS sweetheart I had to work and go to school. <br />I was working as an Operating Room technician in Hoboken at a very old Catholic hospital. There was this beautiful old soda fountain grill in lobby. Every morning I ordered a fried egg with ham and cheese on a hard roll. It was griddled perfectly with the yolk just runny enough. It cost about 50 cents back then (1970) and that was a splurge but it was the bright spot in a tough day.
 
Jackson F. May 12, 2017
This sounds so good! Reminds me of the egg sandwich they served at Tilda All Day in Brooklyn—they included tomato jam there, which added a tangy sweet kick. I've tried riffing on it at home by adding hot pepper jelly to my egg & cheese biscuits. Definitely worth a try!
 
Author Comment
George W. May 12, 2017
My mother will be thrilled at being outed as a fruit thief for mother's day....
 
Zoe P. May 12, 2017
I will never tire of egg sandwich content.