Think back to the first meal you ever made. I’m not talking about rolling and stamping out sugar cookies with your mom, craning your neck to watch your dad ladle pancakes into the shape of your initials, or “helping” lick cake batter off thin metal beaters. I’m not talking about sneaking candy bars or handfuls of E.L. Fudge cookies from the pantry. I’m talking about honest-to-god assembly of ingredients, and if your parents or relatives were involved, it doesn’t count.
Think hard. If you were left to your own devices in the kitchen without adult supervision, what did you make for yourself? Me, I used to slap together a Martian sandwich.
Lord knows how I came up with the name, since I was more of a Boxcar Children/Anne Of Green Gables/Ramona Quimby girl than a sci-fi reader. (My love for The X-Files came much later.) And there’s nothing about the sandwich that’s green. In fact, apart from strange conglomeration of ingredients, there’s really nothing to make it eerie or space-age. All the same, “Martian sandwiches” were the official title for the treat that my sister and I distinctly remember creating. There were very specific rules and, being children left to the purchasing habits of our parents, specific brands that were essential to the makeup of a Martian sandwich. Here’s how to assemble:
Slather a slice of untoasted Roman Meal bread with butter from a tub—probably Country Crock. Top that with a generous helping of creamy peanut butter. Skippy? Jif? I feel like we turned up our noses at Smucker’s Natural (that was Mom’s peanut butter), and besides, the sugar content of processed PB was crucial to the flavor profile that came with the addition of the next step—one that will make your teeth ache. The pièce de résistance of a Martian sandwich was a heavy sprinkling of chocolate or vanilla Shaklee shake powder. Apply a good, gritty helping of powdered shake, then simply fold the bread in half and eat.
My sister remembers a simpler version that layered either butter or peanut butter and only one shake flavor. I can’t recall if I doubled up on the chocolate and vanilla powders—my grandfather sold Shaklee products, so we had no shortage of the stuff in the house—but I would swear on my deathbed that I would never skimp and use peanut butter without a butter underlay. The two-fat combo was a Casey signature; to this day, I prime every piece of toast with a little butter before spreading my homemade nut butters on top.
Maybe my sister and I were switched at birth and are secretly Australian? A few years ago, I learned that Aussies and Kiwis of all ages love to chow down on fairy bread—buttered white bread covered in round sprinkles. Origin stories for fairy bread are a little more highbrow than Martian sandwiches, linking the treat to a Robert Louis Stevenson poem. And though the connection seems a tad spurious, the author did travel Down Under, so it’s not as apocryphal as you’d think.
Sadly, I have no overwhelmingly literary backstory for the Martian sandwich. I only have my mother’s word that I invented it behind her back, then would whip it up as a snack any chance I got. “You girls were always doing things in the kitchen I didn’t know about!” my mom squeaked when I asked her if she had a hand in the matter.
Today, I made my first Martian sandwich in more than 20 years for the photos to accompany this piece. Though a few substitutions were necessary—Vermont Bread Company wheat subbing in for the now-elusive Roman Meal, Carnation breakfast shake powder in place of Shaklee—the taste was exactly the same. Buttery, sweet, salty, crunchy, and honestly, not half bad, like a peanut butter shake in breakfast form. You win this round, Martian sandwich. You’ve aged well.