Mother Courage’s Fatback and Swiss Cheese Grilled Sandwich

In the opening scene of Mother Courage and Her Children, Bertolt Brecht’s famous anti-war play, the character of The Sergeant makes the following observation, here excerpted from Michael Hofmann’s translation:

You can tell, it’s been too long since the last war. Where else are you going to get morality from, is what I say? Peace is just piggishness, it takes war to establish order. People go to seed in peacetime. Management of man and beast is non-existent. Everyone eats as much as he feels like, you lay a hunk of cheese on your bread, and then a slice of ham on top of the cheese.

In Tony Kushner’s 2006 adaptation, the food of the masses is described as fatback and cheese sandwiches on white bread. So, for this script-inspired recipe, we’ll start with his version of ingredients. Since Courage has a son named “Swiss Cheese”, I knew that should be included, as well.

Mother Courage’s Fatback and Swiss Cheese Sandwich


  • 1/2 pound sliced fatback pork or very thick bacon
  • 1/4 pound sliced Swiss cheese
  • 1/2 loaf Italian white bread
  • spicy brown mustard
  • ground black pepper
  • olive oil

Remove presliced fatback from the refrigerator and rinse with cold water. Pat dry. Brush on a very thin layer of olive oil and sprinkle with ground black pepper. Place in a tightly covered bowl for about 30 minutes.

Preheat a skillet or grill pan over high heat. Cut the Italian white bread into slices just under an inch thick. Brush with olive oil on one side, and spicy brown mustard on the other side of each slice. Set aside. Add fatback to skillet and grill for four full minutes on each side. Remove meat from skillet. Lower the temperature to medium-high.

Toast each sandwich in the skillet, one to two minutes per side until golden brown. Assemble the sandwiches, adding a slice or two of Swiss cheese to each. Yields two to three sandwiches.