Before there was a name, ingenious eaters around the world were making their own versions. Imagine, being so engrossed in your card game you haven’t wanted to leave the table, even though your meal is ready and you are starving. Forever after, your name will be associated with your solution.
S is for sandwich. The above scenario is said to have taken place in 1762, when John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich, told his servant to place his roast beef between two pieces of bread. Others at the table (reportedly) said “I’ll have the same as Sandwich!” Soon enough, the name and the food item came together and made its first appearance in a 1773 cookbook. It then crossed the ocean, and recipes for sandwiches debut in an 1816 American cookbook.
Sandwich is defined as “two slices of bread with a layer of food in between.” (There is a debate whether a sandwich can be open-faced, or without the second piece of bread, but I’ll leave that for now.) Hungry people have been sandwiching food between two edibles for millennia.
A Passover custom from the 1st Century BC, introduced by Hillel the Elder, qualifies as a sandwich based on the above definition. This sandwich consisted of a filling of nuts, apples, spices and bitter herbs sandwiched between two matzoh. Fast forward centuries, to see rural farm labourers in France eating meat between two pieces of bread.
One more trip in the time-machine, brings us to more recent history. In the 1920s sliced and packaged bread became readily available. Suddenly, anyone could reach into a bag and pull out a slice of bread, no knife required, so children could now make their own sandwiches. Lunch pails everywhere were filled with sandwiches.
Today, sandwiches are still popular choices for work lunches, fancy teas (with the crusts cut off), in school lunch bags and for bedtime snacks. One can’t avoid the sandwich, it is on every menu, but when you have a diagnosis of Celiac disease the sandwich’s ubiquity can be a “tough sandwich to swallow.” Gluten-free eating requires a rethinking of the humble sandwich, this convenience food isn’t always convenient.
Finding a gluten-free bread can be a challenge. Commercial gluten-free loaves are small, one sandwich just doesn’t satisfy a teen’s hunger. Generally we bake our own, but even having a loaf in the freezer doesn’t always make a sandwich a quick option.
We have redefined the sandwich at our home. Waffle-wiches are substantial and the holes really hold onto the filling. Focaccia has become a staple and it is relatively quick and easy to make. We eat far fewer peanut butter and honey sandwiches now, but we do eat more paninis with various aioli, roasted vegetables and different cheeses.
In our home, the status of the sandwich has gone from being common, to its more elevated aristocratic beginnings – but never with cards.