Thursday is National Bologna Day. It’s a celebration of this sausage and sandwich meat, a chance to enjoy some bologna and, perhaps, reminisce about your experiences eating it.
Bologna, sometimes spelled “baloney” — which is how it’s pronounced — is named after the Italian city of Bologna, where a somewhat similar-looking, more refined style of sausage called mortadella has been made and enjoyed for centuries.
According to the Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink, mortadella is an often large pork sausage made of finely ground meat flavoured with spices such as peppercorns and coriander. When it’s cooked, cooled and sliced, you can see bits of lard in the meat, which gives it a sublime richness.
When European immigrants came to this continent, some started making the styles of sausages they enjoyed back home. It’s unclear when the style of mortadella they would call bologna was first made in North America, but in the U.S., it was made in places where German immigrants settled, such as Pennsylvania, the Midwest and Appalachia.
It was also enjoyed in the southern U.S. and in Canada, especially Atlantic Canada — Newfoundland and Labrador, in particular.
Bologna eventually became widely available. Today, it’s made with various types of meat, such as pork, chicken and/or beef, which is finely ground and blended with flavourings and other ingredients into a smooth, homogenized mixture.
Some call bologna “mystery meat” because you’re not exactly sure what’s in it. It’s not exactly glamorous. But it has always been budget-friendly and folks for many decades have bought it when they needed something economical for lunch or dinner.
Some also consider bologna a comfort food that, as a bonus, can be prepared in a variety of ways.
Slabs of bologna can be barbecued, and cubes of it can be added to such dishes as potato salad, omelettes, macaroni and cheese and fried rice. A friend told me that when he was a kid, his mother used to stuff a chub — a large chunk — of bologna and roast it, as you would chicken.
But for many, the most popular way to enjoy bologna is in a sandwich, whether it’s a thick slice of fried bologna or cold, thin slices.
In North America in recent years, it has been quite trendy for diners and other restaurants to offer kicked-up versions of bologna sandwiches.
To give you just two examples, a bustling eatery in New Orleans called The Turkey and the Wolf makes a sandwich with fried bologna stuffed between slices of white bread with English mustard, potato chips, shredded lettuce, mayonnaise and processed cheese.
A place called Nation Bar and Grill in Pendleton, Ohio, serves up a challah bun filled with fried bologna, cheddar, onion straws and spicy mustard.
Inspired by those and other bologna sandwiches I’ve seen on menus, I decided to come up with my own recipe to celebrate Bologna Day.
For my sandwich, a thick slice of bologna is fried, topped with barbecue sauce and cheese, then set in a toasted bun with sliced tomatoes, creamy coleslaw and pickles.
Serve the sandwich “diner-style,” with potato chips and a frosty mug of root beer, or lager beer.
Deluxe Fried Bologna Bunwiches
These hearty sandwiches are made by filling toasted buns with sizzling fried bologna, topped with barbecue sauce, cheese, coleslaw and pickles.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: About six minutes
Makes: Two servings
For the coleslaw
3/4 cup thinly shredded cabbage
3 Tbsp grated carrot
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp cider or white vinegar
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Place ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine. Refrigerate coleslaw until needed.
For the sandwiches
2 thick (about 1/4 inch) slices of bologna
2 tsp butter
2 tsp barbecue sauce, or to taste
1/3 cup grated white or orange cheddar cheese, or taste
2 hamburger buns, split and toasted (see Note)
• yellow mustard, to taste
2 to 4 ripe tomato slices
• sliced dill pickles, to taste
Melt butter in a large skillet set over medium, medium-high heat. Add the bologna and cook until richly golden brown on the bottom, about two minutes. Flip each piece over and cook two minutes on the other side.
Turn the heat to low. Spread bologna with barbecue sauce. Set some grated cheese on each slice of bologna. Cover pan and cook until cheese is melted, about one to two minutes. Remove pan from the heat. Spread cut sides of each bun with mustard. Set one or two slices of tomato and a slice of fried bologna on each bottom bun. Top the bologna with coleslaw and pickles. Set on top buns and serve.
Note: To toast buns, once split, set them, cut side down, in a large, non-stick skillet set over medium-high heat. Heat the buns until lightly toasted on the cut side, and they are ready to use. For added richness, you could lightly butter the cut side of each before toasting them.
Celebrate Bologna Day with baloney
On Thursday, from 1 to 3:30 p.m., the second annual celebration of Bologna Day will take place in the community room of the Central Branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library, 735 Broughton St.
An organizer of the event, Lee Porteous, president of Victoria Storytellers’ Guild, says guest speakers will tell stories on the theme “Baloney on Bologna Day — balderdash, blarney and celebrating the birth of a luncheon meat.”
Porteous says he grew up on bologna in various forms, and is looking forward to spending time with such an old friend.
The event is open to the public and admission is by donation, with proceeds going to the Mustard Seed Food Bank. (Porteous quipped that bologna goes great with mustard.)
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.