The word that the general public uses to describe an item that has withstood the test of time and remains popular throughout years and years of trends that come and go is classic. The 1957 Chevy, an original episode of I Love Lucy in black and white and the original Stars Wars trilogy all represent iconic Americana.
The food world has long list of American classics as well. While trends and the latest hot items need attention from supermarkets to hold consumer attention, American classics are called such for a reason. Making sure your store has items with appeal across all generations and shopper demographics provides solid sales numbers as the trendy items come and go.
Some of the dishes that fall into the American classics category may not have originated in the US, but they’ve been adopted by American consumers and become what they are over time.
One of the best qualities of American classics is that you can make changes to them, experiment with them, make unusual pairings, and as long as you don’t go too far, they will retain their classic appeal.
The sandwich itself is a classic dish in the US, but within the sandwich category exist specific examples of classic American fare. Many variations of these sandwiches already exist and the possibilities are endless. Keep the base name of the sandwich, but experiment with additions, condiments, even the proteins and cheeses used, and you’re sure to see movement and sales.
The Rueben - The Reuben sandwich is a hot sandwich composed of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing, grilled between slices of rye bread. Several variants exist. One account holds that Reuben Kulakofsky (sometimes spelled Reubin, or the last name shortened to Kay), a Lithuanian-born grocer residing in Omaha, Nebraska, was the inventor perhaps as part of a group effort by members of Kulakofsky's weekly poker game held in the Blackstone Hotel from around 1920 through 1935. Another account holds that the Reuben's creator was Arnold Reuben, the German owner of the famed yet defunct Reuben's Delicatessen in New York City who according to an interview with Craig Claiborne invented the "Reuben special" around 1914.
The Cheesesteak - A cheesesteak, also known as a Philadelphia cheesesteak, Philly cheesesteak, cheesesteak sandwich, cheese steak, or steak and cheese, is a sandwich made from thinly-sliced pieces of steak and melted cheese in a long roll. A popular regional fast food it has its roots in Philadelphia. The cheesesteak was developed in the early 20th century "by combining frizzled beef, onions, and cheese in a small loaf of bread," according to a 1987 exhibition catalog published by the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The identity of the inventor and exact process are the subject of spirited debate.
The BLT - The standard BLT is made up of five ingredients: bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and bread. The BLT evolved from the tea sandwiches served before 1900 at a similar time to the club sandwich, although it is unclear when the name BLT became the norm. Although the ingredients of the BLT have existed for many years, there is little evidence of BLT sandwich recipes prior to 1900. The BLT became popular after World War II because of the rapid expansion of supermarkets, which allowed ingredients to be available year-round.
The “American” Bakery
Boston Cream Pie - One of America's most-recognized classic desserts, a vanilla sponge cake filled with vanilla cream and topped with a shiny chocolate glaze, hails from Boston. The origins of Boston cream pie — which has always been a cake, not a pie — are murky. The most famous tale is the one told by Boston's Parker House Hotel (now the Omni Parker House), which claims that the hotel's Armenian-French chef M. Sanzian created the dessert in honor of the hotel's opening in 1856. In the 19th century, the terms "cake" and "pie" were interchangeable, hence the cake's original name, "chocolate cream pie.” It wasn't until 1918 that the first recipe was published for a cream cake topped with satiny chocolate icing. And today, Boston cream pie remains the official dessert of Massachusetts.
Key Lime Pie - Key lime pie has captured the heart of America and remains a standard pie at bakeries from coast to coast. According to the Food History Almanac by Janet Clarkson, the first recipe for Key lime pie appeared in a cookbook in the 1930s. But culinary historian Andrew F. Smith writes that trees producing tiny limes were introduced to the islands by the Spanish in the late 1700s, and probably resulted in a pie-like dessert by the 1850s. Either way, the dessert didn't become popular until after World War II, and by then, most of the Florida Keys' lime trees had been destroyed by hurricanes. Today, much of the key lime pie produced in the Florida Keys is made from the sweeter Persian lime.
New York Cheesecake - It wasn't until 1912 that James Kraft, founder of Kraft Foods, created what we know now as cream cheese, and it was sometime afterward when people started putting cream cheese in New York-style cheesecake. By 1929, New York-style cheesecake began popping up at places like Turf Restaurant at 49th and Broadway. In 1950, Junior's opened its deli cases in downtown Brooklyn, and 65 years later, it still serves what many call "the city's best cheesecake."
Classic American Cheeses
Colby cheese - Colby is similar to Cheddar, but does not undergo the cheddaring process. Considered a semi-hard (Sans-kendrall) cheese, Colby is softer, moister, and milder than cheddar because it is produced through a washed-curd process. The washed-curd process means that during the cooking time, the whey is replaced by water; this reduces the curd's acidity, resulting in Colby's characteristically mild flavor. Joseph F. Steinwand in 1874 developed a new type of cheese at his father's cheese factory near Colby, Wisconsin. The cheese was named after the village, which had been founded three years earlier.
Brick cheese - Brick cheese is a cheese from Wisconsin, US, made in brick-shaped form. The color ranges from pale yellow to white, and the cheese has a sweet and mild flavor when young, and matures into a strong ripe cheese with age. It is a medium-soft cheese. Brick cheese is made in the form of a large rectangular or brick shape, but may also be named "brick" because the cheese curds are pressed with clay-fired bricks. Widmer's Cheese Cellars in Theresa, Wisconsin, use red clay brick in order to produce the consistent texture and even temperament that has made brick cheese popular across the Mid-west and the Northeastern United States.