Ground Bologna Spread with Pickles & Onions
If you’re from the Midwest, you’re most likely familiar with the regional lunchtime and picnic favorite known as a ground sandwich spread. Available by the pound in just about every deli and Mid-Western butcher shop, it’s an easy recipe to make with four basic ingredients.
As a kid, making the spread was one of my all-time favorite things to do in the kitchen. An old-fashioned hand-crank meat grinder was attached to the edge of the table, where I’d get to push chunks of ring bologna, pickles, and onions into the throat of the grinder turning the handle to make the delectable spread.
Through the magic of the grinder, each ingredient was ground, pushed, and then extruded through the tiny holes at the front into a bowl where the bits and their juices collected then mixed with creamy, rich mayonnaise.
The whole process was a taste-as-you-go interactive experience to create just the right flavor combination – and what an experience it was. I think it may have been experiences like that one that taught me that some ingredient combinations are naturally just meant to go together.
We most times always had a ring of beef bologna in the refrigerator when I was growing up, pickles and onions too. And even though they are relatively simple ingredients, they never stopped Mom from mixing them up into this delicious spread. Served as a quick lunch, a snack, or even to satisfy hungry guests that unexpectantly stopped in for a visit.
The meat spread with many names...
From Michigan to Wisconsin, Indiana to Pennsylvania, I’ve seen this spread sold in deli and butcher shops by a handful of different names. You might have seen or bought it as:
- Bologna & Pickle Spread: But of course.
- Pickle Wrap Spread: I’m guessing made popular in more recent years since wraps have become popular.
- Ham Spread or Ham Salad: Where contrary to its name, upon querying the staff, there is no ham used in the recipe
- PM Sandwiches: I ran across this name used in Central Pennsylvania, where according to the deli staff, the meaning is anything made with pickles and meat.
- Funeral Spread: Given its name because sandwiches made with the spread often show up at the meal served during wakes.
- Monkey Meat Spread: Before you run away, please know that no monkeys were harmed in making this spread. The endearing name is given to this version because kids go bananas over it! (On a side note, the term ‘Monkey Meat’ reminds me of the “Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts” song that my grandpa taught me over 50 years ago when I was a little girl. You may recall it too. The song dates to the mid-20th century and sung to the tune of “The Old Grey Mare.” The actual words to the song are pretty gross, including the phrase ‘Mutilated Monkey Meat,’ although I’d have to admit that the words to it never grossed me out, and they were quite easy to remember for a kid having fun with her grandpa.)
In case you’re not familiar with the words and the tune to the song, you can find them HERE.
Regional versions of the recipe may also include other ingredients such as American cheese, cheddar cheese, or chopped hard-boiled eggs.
During WW II, Armour and Company, the largest producer of canned meat in America, supplied millions of tins of canned meat and meat spread for Army rations. The Armour brand of Star Canned Meats as part of the 5-in-1 Ration carried by U.S. Armored Forces operation in enemy territory; provided soldiers even during active fighting with three balanced meals each day – mainly composed of canned and dehydrated foods.
Ads supporting the war effort encouraged loyal Americans to get along on less meat and “to seek only his fair share” and, – “For finest quality and flavor ask for Armour’s Branded Products. Star Canned Meats – Star Ham and Bacon, Star Beef, Veal and Lamb – Star Sausage – Coverbloom Poultry and Dairy Products.”
Thankful for the Greatest Generation and all they sacrificed for our freedom and our American way of life, I can only imagine from what I’ve been told about life then; what it was like growing up during the Great Depression, the people who came of age during World War II, those who fought in it, or whose labor helped win it.
My parents, in-laws, and grandparents were part of that time when the world’s economy was intensely declined – during a time when war shaped the lives and hearts of America’s young men and women through the hardships, conflicts, and devastation they experienced. It’s hard to imagine, in my life of plenty, what they not only lived through but survived.
I remember hearing stories about how this simple bologna, pickle, and onion spread was considered a treat and a fancy extravagance to those in our family during those days.
The sandwich spread that consists of mayonnaise, pickles, bologna, and onion (ingredients that I’ve always considered to be nothing remotely fancy) yet when combined, present an extraordinary mix of taste and flavor that leaves you wanting to keep eating more. I’m sure that my parents and grandparents believed the same since it was immediately devoured upon serving.
With the sandwich spreads German culinary roots and a great deal of German heritage in my family background, it doesn’t surprise me that this recipe would be a favorite meal made and loved for generations.
In Germany, the sandwich spread is called Fleischsalat, made from German ring bologna (aka “ringwurst”), I’m told that it’s nearly as common as peanut butter. Readily available in every German grocery store, the traditional version of Fleischsalat is simple with the bologna and pickles sliced thin (like julienne) in pieces about 1-inch in length and about ¼-inch wide. To serve the German bologna and pickles are mixed with a German mayonnaise, a little salt, and pepper to taste, then piled onto crusty rolls, baguettes, or artisan bread.
Another German variation is Wurstsalat, a tart sausage salad prepared with distilled white vinegar, oil, and onions. Normally made from a sort of boiled sausage like Lyoner, Stadtwurst, Regensburger (two types of cooked sausage) or Fleischwurst, the salad is a traditional snack enjoyed in southern Germany.
To make the Wurstsalat
1 pound German tart sausage, sliced
1 medium-sized onion
6 small pickled gherkins, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tbsp liquid from the pickled gherkins
1 tablespoon cold water
2-3 tablespoons sunflower oil
salt, coarsely grounded pepper, mild paprika powder
Cut the sausage slices into small stripes.
Halve the onion and slice thinly.
Add sausage, onions, and gherkins into a bowl and stir to combine.
In a small bowl, combine the salt, pepper, paprika, oil, and the other liquids and whisk thoroughly.
Pour the vinaigrette over the sausage mixture and stir.
Let the salad rest in the refrigerator for at least two hours, remove it from the fridge 30 minutes before you serve it with fried potatoes or fresh German bread.
An extraordinary mix of taste and flavor...
Here in the American Midwest, our family enjoys using my recipe as a cracker or sandwich spread, a dip, a filling for cherry tomatoes as hors-d’oeuvres, or just sitting down and eating it straight from the bowl – It’s really that good!
If you’ve made a bologna or meat spread, I’m curious where you’re from and what do you call it at your house? Let me know in the comments below.
Ground Bologna Spread with Pickles & Onions
- Meat Grinder or Food Processor
- mixing bowl
- Spoon or Rubber Spatula
- 1 - 14 ounce gluten-free Beef Bologna 1 ring, casing removed
- 4 Dill Pickles approx. 4-inches long
- 1 medium Yellow Onion Skin removed. White onions can be used, but yellow onions are much more mild for this recipe.
- 1/2 cup gluten-free Mayonnaise Real Mayo, unsweetened
- Grind bologna, pickles, and onion in a meat grinder or food processor into a medium-size bowl.
- After grinding, combine the ingredients adding enough real mayo to moisten and make a spreadable consistency.
- Serve immediately or refrigerate until needed.
- Serve as a sandwich on your favorite gluten-free bread.
- Spread on your favorite gluten-free crackers for a quick snack.
- Dip with your favorite gluten-free chips or vegetables.
- Fill cored and seeded cherry tomatoes for an easy appetizer.
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(Nutritional values are an approximation. Actual nutritional values may vary due to preparation techniques, variations related to suppliers, regional and seasonal differences, or rounding.)