Sisters Tea Parlor Benedictine
Benedictine tea sandwiches were a staple on the tea trays we served in our tea parlor. We often found ourselves explaining this regionally popular creamy spread to our guests, especially those new to the Louisville area. Benedictine is a dreamy, creamy concoction that's as cool as the cucumbers and as creamy as the cream cheese it’s made with. England may have their delicate cucumber tea sandwiches, but tearooms in Kentucky have Benedictine tea sandwiches. Don’t think, though, that this amazing spread is just for tea time. Oh, no. Benedictine is light and refreshing and makes a great dip for chips and veggies. Plus, spread it thick on a BLT and you will enter another stratosphere of flavor! Benedictine has an interesting history. The origin of most recipes is based more on lore and tradition than actual facts. Not so for our favorite cucumber spread; it's even named for its creator. It is well documented that Jennie Carter Benedict, affectionately known as Miss Jennie, created Benedictine sometime between 1893 and 1901. Her story is at the end of this post and it's really quite impressive.It was during the time she operated a restaurant and tearoom in Louisville that Miss Jennie developed the recipe. The funny thing is, she never shared her recipe, not even in her popular cookbook, The Blue Ribbon Cookbook! Perhaps it was a secret she wanted to keep to herself. There were five editions of her cookbook and it’s not until the last edition printed in 2008 that a Benedictine recipe, researched to be close to the original, was finally included.Regardless of the hush around the original recipe, there are plenty of Benedictine recipes to be found. Our version at Sisters is rich and creamy with just the right balance of bright cucumber and sweet onion flavor. While the original recipe, and many other versions, use the juices of cucumbers and onions, our recipe calls for grated cucumber and onion powder. I find it gives the spread a manageable consistency for perfect Benedictine sandwiches.
- 1 large cucumber
- 16 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Lightly peel the thick skin of the cucumber leaving some of the green.
- Cut cucumber in half, length-wise.
- Using a spoon, scoop out the seeds and discard.
- Shred the cucumber using a sturdy box grater; set aside.
- Into a medium mixing bowl, add softened cream cheese, onion powder, salt and sugar. Mix together until smooth and creamy.
- Fold the cucumber pulp into the creamed mixture. It is important to do this by hand.
- Once well incorporated, cover and refrigerate at least one hour. Over night is recommended.
Benedictine is quite easy to make and doesn’t require any special tools besides a vegetable peeler and a good box grater. I recommend mixing this recipe by hand. A food processor or even a hand mixer will cause the cucumber to break down so much that the spread will become too thin. So, it’s best to allow the cream cheese to soften to room temperature. This will make mixing by hand much, much easier and ultimately produce that wonderful thick and creamy texture we desire. To start, use a vegetable peeler to peel the thick skin of the cucumber, but leave some of the green. I like to leave a little bit of that green under the skin to give natural color to the spread. Cut the cucumber in half long ways and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Next, shred the cucumber using a sturdy box grater. Set the cucumber pulp to the side. In a medium bowl, combine the softened cream cheese, onion powder, salt and sugar. Mix these together by hand. You can use a hand mixer for this step if needed, but this step only. Continue mixing until the spices and sugar are completely incorporated into the cream cheese. Next, fold the cucumber pulp into the creamed mixture. As I’ve mentioned previously, it’s critical to do this step by hand. Using a mixer, blender or food processor will cause the cucumber to release more liquid and the result will be a runny mess. (I know from experience, trust me, you’ll end up with a watery salad dressing.–tasty, but slightly disappointing.) A stout rubber spatula or wooden spoon will make fast work of incorporating the cucumber into the cream cheese mixture. Once the cucumber is completely mixed in, taste for seasoning and adjust as desired. There you have it! Benedictine. So simple and so delicious. I think it’s best to allow the Benedictine to set in the refrigerator overnight, but at the least, let it chill a couple of hours. This allows the cream cheese to set somewhat and it gives those lovely flavors a chance to mingle and enhance. Of course, waiting is optional and if you choose to dive right in with a buttery cracker who’s to say it’s wrong? Not me. Traditionally, Benedictine is spread on white bread, crust removed of course, and cut into finger sandwiches. This was how we served them on the tea trays in our tea room. For an extra burst of cucumber flavor, add thinly sliced cucumbers to the sandwiches before you cut them. This Benedictine can also be served as a rich dip for a little gluten-free indulgence. My favorite way to enjoy Benedictine is as a BBLT, a Benedictine, Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich that is. We served this sandwich at our tea bar at Sisters. This sandwich is spectacular! Spread a thick layer of Benedictine on your favorite bread and layer with crisp bacon, sliced tomato and lettuce leaves. It’s messy, but the extra napkins are so worth each and every bite. I hope you enjoy this recipe for many years and it becomes one to pass down. It’s easy, delicious and versatile. And, want to know a highly guarded secret? It freezes really well. Surprising, I know. Just be sure to pack it in a freezer-safe, airtight container no longer than a month. It’s a game changer to have freezer-friendly recipes that retain their bright, fresh flavor. Whether you make this Benedictine for now or for later, you are going to love it! __________________________________________________________________________________ We thank Miss Jennie for her massive contribution to the culinary world and especially for this unique, flavorful concoction. She has a fascinating and inspiring story that I believe needs to shared. In 1893, at the age of 33, Miss Jennie, who never married, stepped out in great faith and confidence to pursue her passion for cooking and her need to be self-sufficient. She contracted with a builder to have a small kitchen built behind her parents’ home in Louisville, Kentucky. She planned to start a business catering to well-to-do families in her circle. I should point out here that Miss Jennie was born into affluence, but as a single woman in those days she didn’t have her own money. She could have lived a life of leisure enjoying her parents’ wealth, but that’s not the road she chose. She paid the builder $320 for his work by selling fruitcakes and treats. This lady had moxie! Once the little kitchen was complete, Miss Jennie leaped into business–she was a great marketer by the way–and became a popular caterer for Louisville’s elite. She had so much success, that in 1900, with her 65 catering employees, she opened a restaurant and tea room in Downtown Louisville and named it Benedict’s. (I love that she named it after herself. ) The restaurant and tea room became local favorites among men, women and even teenagers. Miss Jennie had a keen understanding of business and built a mini empire that included a restaurant, tea room, confectionary and a soda fountain with an ice cream bar. Benedict’s was wildly successful and in 1925, she sold it for $50,000. That’s equivalent to over a million dollars today! Miss Jennie moved into a house beautifully situated on a bluff overlooking the Ohio River and named it “Dream Acre”. While living there, she wrote her auto-biography appropriately titled The Road to Dream Acre. It was published in 1928, sadly, the same year she died of pneumonia. Besides being a successful businesswoman with a culinary empire, Miss Jennie was a noted cookbook author, co-founder of Louisville’s Businesswoman’s Club, superintendent of the Training School for Nurses (for 27 years!) and editor of the household section of the Louisville Courier-Journal. She was also a committed philanthropist who diligently sought to improve the lives of those who lived in the community she loved. It’s said that she had a deep affection for children, although she never had any of her own. She found great joy in showing them love and attention and regularly hosted children’s costume parties in her home. I appreciate this quote about Miss Jennie and I think it speaks volumes to the type of person she was. “We who knew and loved her were proud of her business success; proud that she ranked with the highest in her profession, and consulted and was consulted by Oscar of New York, Jacques of Chicago, Harvey of Washington, and others almost as famous. Of all these things we were proud for her sake, but our greatest pride lay in just knowing the splendid courageous and noble little woman whom we called ‘Miss Jennie.’” (Reigler, 2008) What an incredible legacy!