Pheasant Salad Sandwich - Gastro Obscura
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Pheasant Salad Sandwich

South Dakota's unique contribution to World War II soldiers.

South Dakota’s Game, Fish, and Parks website claims the state is known for two things: pheasants and Mount Rushmore—in that order.

Americans introduced the birds, native to China, to the United States in 1908. By the 1940s, the creature’s population had boomed in South Dakota to help turn the east-central city of Aberdeen into the self-proclaimed “World’s Standout for a Handout.” And what, exactly, was Aberdeen handing out? Pheasant salad sandwiches, by the thousand.

Throughout World War II, soldiers traveling toward training or deployment on the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad all passed through Aberdeen, where the local canteen quickly developed a reputation for its free pheasant salad sandwiches. Volunteers, most of whom were housewives, operated the facility from 8 a.m. to midnight every day, even on holidays.

Besides the poultry, the sandwich contained the standard simple ingredients that became popular during wartime rationing: chopped carrots, onions, celery, relish, hardboiled eggs, and mayonnaise. But the pheasant was what made the sandwich a standout. Because industrialized farming had yet to mass-produce chicken, Americans still considered poultry a more expensive, luxurious choice than red meat.

Though the Aberdeen canteen closed in 1946, the pheasant salad sandwich remains a South Dakota specialty. In the eastern city of Brookings, the aptly named Pheasant Restaurant still serves the dish. However, their rendition reflects peacetime’s freedom from rationing: pheasant salad made with apple, dried cranberries, and roasted pecans, served with melted Swiss on grilled marbled rye.

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