1917 Wartime cookery – sandwich pie

This recipe for sandwich pie dates from 1917 when Australia was at war. Patriotism required those on the home front to demonstrate their moral fibre by adopting a temperate, frugal lifestyle. The newspapers were full of exhortations to avoid the sin of waste:

“Extravagance merits condemnation in periods of peace, and in a time of war like the present it becomes a crime as dangerous as that of high treason,” thundered the Adelaide Advertiser.

While Australians were spared actual food rationing, the export of food to beleaguered Britain did mean shortages and high prices at home. In the Melbourne Argus, ‘Vesta’ bemoaned the fact that ‘Meat has become so expensive that most people find themselves compelled to eat it only once a day.”

Although the sandwich pie does contain meat, it’s ‘left-over’ meat, so it qualifies as being economical. In fact, it’s not just left-over meat, it’s left-over meat sandwiches (although it’s difficult to envisage when you’d have left-over sandwiches – perhaps when someone didn’t eat their lunch).

I made a sandwich pie so Fred could photograph it for my food history book, A Timeline of Australian Food: from mutton to MasterChef. As it happened, we didn’t have any left-over meat sandwiches hanging around, so we had to buy some rather left-over-looking roast beef from the Coles deli counter. We also bought some pickles, mainly for cosmetic effect.

The first step was to make the sandwiches. Chunky ones, with the crusts left on, as I imagined you’d find in a working man’s lunchbox.

Next, I minced them. Well, actually, I whizzed them in the food processor since we don’t have one of those old fashioned mincers that you clamp to the bench and turn the handle. I had a venerable pie dish that had served for many years in my mother’s kitchen. The minced sandwiches were packed in, then doused in gravy. I used an authentically left-over ingredient for this – rather tasty meat juices saved from the weekend’s roast lamb.

The minced bread mixture was then topped with mashed potato. I cheated a bit by smearing the top with non-austerity butter to help it brown.

The result looked like a shepherd’s pie. And it tasted…well, it didn’t taste nearly as bad as I expected.  Perhaps that nice lamb gravy was the secret ingredient, adding a savoury and slightly garlicky flavour.  Yes, it was stodgy. Yes, it was starchy. No, it wouldn’t go down well in a low-carb diet and I hate to think what its glycaemic index was.

But as a way of filling up hungry kids when money was short – well, you could do a lot worse.


Pass any meat sandwiches through the mincing machine, add some gravy, cover with cold mashed potatoes. Bake till brown and serve hot.

(Adelaide Chronicle, 10 November 1917)

Photos: Fred Harden

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