Everyone loves a sandwich. There are so many choices, so many breads, and so many fillings. It’s a finger food made in heaven.
Sandwiches have been with us for a long time. The first recorded sandwich was by Hillel the Elder, the ancient Jewish sage. He lived in the first century, during the time of King Herod and the Roman Emperor Augustus. Known for his intellect and love of humanity, Hillel wrapped meat from the Paschal lamb with bitter herbs, apples, spices, and wine in a soft matzoh, symbolizing the suffering and enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt.
Today, thousands of years later, Hillel’s sandwich is still eaten every year at the Passover Seder.
During the Middle Ages, sandwiches took on a new look. Thick blocks of stale bread, called trenchers, were piled with meats and other foods. They were eaten with the fingers like our open-faced sandwiches. When the meal was finished, the gravy-and-fat-soaked bread was eaten, tossed to the dogs, or given to the poor.
The sandwich revolution (as we know them today) was in the 1700s, led by John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich. Legend says that Lord Sandwich was an obsessive gambler, playing cards for hours without stopping to eat. He ordered his valet to bring him salt beef tucked between two pieces of toasted bread so he could dine without getting the cards greasy.
The name stuck. The Earl’s sandwich spread to his peers, industrial workers, and everyone else. It was cheap, fast, and portable.
That hasn’t changed today. Sandwiches have gone global.
How about grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly? Head to Hong Kong for Boh Loh Yau, India for a Bombay Sandwich, or Turkey for Doner Kebab. Sip tea with crustless cucumber sandwiches in England. Try sliced white or whole wheat, baguettes, bagels, rolls . . . any “bread” works.
You can get modern and traditional sandwiches; sweet and savory; hot or cold; ethnic; even ice cream. There’s no end to the variety – whether you make it at home, buy it from a food truck, pick it up at a deli, or dine in a restaurant. There are so many choices that many have their own history.
For example, Fools Gold Loaf is made by the Colorado Mine Company, a restaurant in Denver. A warm, hollowed-out loaf of bread is filled with a jar of creamy peanut butter, a jar of grape jelly, and a pound of bacon. On Feb 1, 1976. Elvis Presley was hosting friends at Graceland, his mansion in Memphis. They discussed the delicious, 8000-calorie sandwich. In a legendary excursion, they went to Elvis’ private jet, flew to Denver, and spent two hours in the hangar downing Fool’s Gold sandwiches with Perrier and champagne.
The media joyfully spread the word.
The Reuben, an iconic New York sandwich, is made from corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian Dressing. In 1956, the National Restaurant Association named it the “national sandwich winner” in a contest of 600 entries. Today it’s one of the top sandwiches served in U.S. hotels and restaurants.
Governments have tried (unsuccessfully) to control sandwiches. In 2006, Massachusetts State Senator Jarett Barrios proposed that the fluffernutter be banned from school lunches. Made from two slices of bread, peanut butter, Marshmallow Fluff, and an optional banana, Barrios said that he wanted his kid to eat healthy, “not to go to school and get . . . fluffernutter every day.” The legislature battled for a week over the proposal.
The Senator lost.
Today you can choose among stories and sandwiches, from astronaut John Young smuggling a corned beef sandwich into space to the infamous $28,000 sandwich that seemed to have the image of the Virgin Mary burned into the bread. You can go by names like Dagwood, Po’ Boy, Beef on Weck, and Subway.
The Guinness World record for the largest sandwich was made by Wild Woody’s Chill and Grill in Michigan. It contained 150 pounds of mustard, 1,032 pounds of corned beef, 260 pounds of cheese, 530 pounds of lettuce, and 3,568 pounds of bread. The sandwich weighed 5,440 pounds and was 12 feet long.
A few years later the Iranians tried to beat the record. They failed when a hungry, impatient crowd ate the sandwich before it was measured.
Each day Americans eat 300 million sandwiches while 56% of Brits down a sandwich every day. Kids munch on 1,500 peanut and jelly sandwiches by the time they graduate high school. Hawaii was originally called The Sandwich Islands and every year there’s a National Sandwich Day in November and a National Sandwich Month in August. Some of the most popular sandwiches in the world are club, French Dip, Muffuletta, grilled cheese, Cuban, turkey . . .
Are you in?