A grilled sandwich with cooked mushroom filling may not sound like a must-have lunch, but tradition always rules at the Chautauqua Institution, the arts and education center in western New York which started in 1874. These sandwiches, made by a group with the quaint-sounding name of Bird, Tree & Garden Club, have been made and sold as a fundraiser since 1965.
The Bird, Tree & Garden Club started in 1913 to study gardens, nature and the environment around Chautauqua. An early president was Mina Miller Edison, wife of inventor Thomas A. Edison and daughter of one of Chautauqua’s founders.
For the one-day sandwich sale, held every other summer, volunteers cook quarts of filling in advance. Wondra (a granulated form of flour that is lighter than regular all-purpose flour) holds the mushrooms together. On sale day, the crew toasts about 400 sandwiches in an hour. Never mind if the filling falls out the sides of the sandwich and butter drenches your fingers – continuing a tradition is most of the fun. The recipe comes from the Bird, Tree & Garden Club’s 2003 cookbook.
Chautauqua Bird, Tree and Garden Club Famous Mushroom Sandwiches 
Makes 4 sandwiches
Butter, as needed
16 ounces mushrooms
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2-3 tablespoons Wondra flour
8 slices sandwich bread
- Rinse the mushrooms in cold water and spread on towels to dry. Finely chop the mushrooms by hand or in a food processor.
- Melt 3-4 tablespoons butter in a skillet and add the mushrooms. Cook until they change color and liquid forms.
- Sprinkle in seasonings and stir. Add Wondra one tablespoon at a time until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat. [May be stored in a covered container and refrigerated until ready to make sandwiches].
- Preheat a skillet or griddle over medium heat. Lay a piece of wax paper on the counter and spread both sides of each bread slice with butter. Spread 2 rounded tablespoons of mushroom mixture on four of the buttered bread slices, then cover each with another slice of bread.
- Place on the griddle and cook until the side facing the griddle is golden brown, then turn with a spatula and cook the other side until golden brown. Slice on the diagonal and serve.