by Tara Davis
Of all culinary histories, that of the sandwich is perhaps one of the most often told.
In the 1760s, John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich, loath to leave his gambling table, is said to have requested meat be placed between pieces of bread and brought to him in order to avoid interruption of a game. Several accounts verify this story, but Montagu did not invent the now beloved food item. He was said to have observed versions served by Greeks and Turks in his travels – all the more reason to appreciate their mezze. While it is difficult to say exactly how or why it went on to become a trend, it obviously and quickly did.
In England, the sandwich was originally considered mostly restaurant fare, while Colonial cooks were none too keen to copycat British food trends. Their hesitance left Americans pointedly not referencing their bread and protein concoctions as “sandwiches” until the 1830s.
The sandwich gained wide popularity in the late 1800s as late night fare for upper class ball attendees, then eased its way into teas and daily home menus as afternoon meals moved later into the days and the demand for nightly hot suppers declined in the middle and lower classes.
One of the earliest written recipes for a sandwich, from 1866, is as follows:
“Cold biscuits sliced thin and buttered, and a very thin slice of boiled ham or tongue or beef between each two slices… Sandwiches may be made with cheese sliced very thin…also cold boiled eggs, sliced…stewed fruit…any cold meat, generally spread with mustard.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? There we have it. With only bread, cheese, meat and mustard, the sandwich is solidified in our cultural vocabulary and on our shopping lists.
Before long, saloons and taverns began offering them with drinks as a marketing tactic, and these days bar food, from simple to elevated, still includes multitudes of evolved versions. A far cry from the simplicity that still stands the test of time, we now add all manner of fried, cured, pickled, sous vide and wildly seasoned and spiced ingredients, use inventive alternatives to bread, and revel in the results.
There is art in a well made sandwich, regardless of ingredients. Yes, a correct and an incorrect way of going about the process. It goes something like this: Every ingredient should be placed or spread side to side, corner to corner, covering every inch of the bread’s surface. Condiments, then cheese, lettuce or other vegetables as a protective layer to prevent meats from making the bread soggy, with meats or proteins in the center. Slice diagonally, because other shapes just don’t taste as good, and voila!
Here on the Gulf Coast, we are famed for our poboys, but I would like to briefly mention another famous sandwich. The peanut butter and jelly kind. So simple, unassuming and comforting. Still, everyone has a favorite method of making it. Peanut butter on both slices with jelly in the middle. One even layer each of peanut butter and jelly. Nutella instead of peanut butter. Strawberry preserves or blackberry jam. Buttered toast, or squishy Bunny bread. The possibilities are as wide and vast as your own imagination.
It won’t be for everyone, but here’s my ultimate – Mix 2-3 tbsp each Jif creamy peanut butter (all other peanut butters are blasphemy) and your favorite grape jelly, thoroughly. Spread a slice whole wheat bread with a very thick layer of the mixture, top with another slice of whole wheat bread, cut -diagonally, of course – and enjoy.
My version of another classic- grilled cheese –
Butter both sides of 2 slices sourdough bread. Toast one side of both slices in a dry pan until golden. Flip the slices, so the toasted side is on the inside. Fill with your favorite 2 flavors of shredded cheese, assemble as a sandwich, and toast both outsides until golden and cheese is melted.
Thanks for reading!