The sandwich is said to have originated over two thousand years ago with various combinations of meats and cheeses placed on bread or in pastry. This concoction didn’t get its name until 1762 when the 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, a British statesman, got hungry during a marathon poker game. He asked his cook to get him something to eat that wouldn’t interfere with the game. The cook took slices of roast beef and put them between two pieces of toast. It was the perfect solution. He could eat a hearty meal with one hand and still be able to hold his cards in the other hand.
It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that the term sandwich was used widely in the United States. But there was a big difference between our early sandwich and those eaten by John Montagu and his contemporaries. In England, sandwiches were almost always made with beef, and in America they were made with ham.
In general, sandwiches are easy to make and easily portable. Today they have become a quintessential American lunch or snack item. According to industry experts, the average American eats 193 sandwiches a year, the all-time favorite being ham. There are many fascinating facts surrounding this important food staple. Let’s take a look at a few favorites:
John Harvey Kellogg (yes, the cereal king) was the first person to patent the process for making peanut butter. In the beginning, peanut butter was marketed as a health food. By the 1920’s the price had dropped and was affordable by most families. About this same time the process for slicing and wrapping bread was invented and kids could make sandwiches without the dangers of having to slice the bread with a sharp knife. With high nutrition and low cost, peanut butter sandwiches with sweet jam or jelly were wildly popular during the Depression.
The average American student will have consumed approximately 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches upon graduation from high school.
One sandwich, the “club” has a debatable creation. Some claim the idea was conceived in the kitchen of the Saratoga Club in Saratoga Springs, NY. Others say it was created in the club car of a US passenger train. The sandwich consists of mayonnaise, lettuce, thin slices of turkey breast, bacon and tomato slices on toasted white bread and is one of the most popular sandwiches today.
The Sloppy Joe was created in 1939 in a Sioux City, Iowa, café. Supposedly the cook named Joe mixed up ground beef, minced onions and green pepper and catsup and served it on a hamburger bun.
There are several stories floating around about the origin of the Reuben. The most widely accepted story talks about a group of gentlemen in the 1920’s that liked to play poker late into the evenings at the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha, Neb. One of the regulars was Reuben Kulakofsky. When the group got hungry, they would request fixings and make their own sandwiches. Everyone’s favorite was the sandwich created by Rueben. The owner of the Blackstone Hotel liked Rueben’s sandwich so much that he added it to his menu and named it after his customer.
Traditionally, a Rueben sandwich consists of sour dough pumpernickel bread, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and thinly sliced kosher-style corned beef. It is topped with Thousand Island Dressing and the bread is buttered and grilled.
The Monte Cristo is made with three slices of buttered white bread. The first slice is covered with lean baked ham and chicken. The second slice is placed on the meat and covered with thinly sliced Swiss cheese. The third slice is placed on top of the cheese. The crusts are trimmed and cut in half before being dipped in light egg batter and fried on all sides until golden brown. A true Monte Cristo sandwich is served with currant jelly, strawberry jam or cranberry sauce.
Disneyland is credited for introducing the Monte Cristo to thousands of visitors from its Tahitian Terrace restaurant as well as from the Blue Bayou in Disneyland’s New Orleans’ Square.
Food historians believe that the modern grilled cheese sandwich got its start in the 1920’s around the time that commercially sliced bread and inexpensive American cheese hit the market. At first the sandwiches were served open faced and mainly broiled instead of grilled. The top bread didn’t become a standard until the 1960’s.
The bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich was probably nicknamed the BLT by waitresses serving at busy lunch counters. They needed to offer a sort of verbal shorthand in order to get their orders quickly filled.
BLTs almost always come with mayonnaise and are served on toasted bread.
Early BLT recipes printed in cookbooks during the 1930’s to the 1950’s included cheese.
This New Orleans’ delicacy was created at the Central Grocery in 1906. The grocery was owned by Italian immigrants, who made the Muffuletta with a ten-inch round loaf of Italian bread that was split and filled with Genoa salami, Cappicola ham, Provolone cheese and a spread made of olives, pimientos, celery, garlic, onions, capers and spices.
Locals now call the sandwich a “muff.”
The Dagwood is named after Dagwood Bumstead, Blondie’s husband from the popular comic strip called, “Blondie.” In the comic strip Dagwood often went to the refrigerator and made a tall sandwich with all kinds of fillings between two slices of bread.
A traditional Dagwood sandwich is made with white bread filled with dill pickles, lettuce, tomato, bologna, turkey breast, salami, ham, American and Swiss cheese, red onion and Italian dressing.
Hero sandwiches have been called many other names including, hoagie, grinder, and sub. A traditional hero is made with an oblong roll. The bottom half of the roll is covered with layers of various thinly sliced meats, cheeses, tomatoes, pickles, and lettuce.
The Po’Boy is New Orleans’ version of the hero sandwich. It is said to have been invented by Benny and Clovis Martin in the late 1920’s.
Like many specialty sandwiches, it is the bread that makes the Po’Boy. Only good quality, fresh miniature loaves of French bread are used. Roast beef and shrimp are the two most common types of filling for a Po’Boy, but actually any meat can be used. It is then covered with gravy and dressed. Dressings include lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayo.
The French dip sandwich was invented by a French immigrant, Philippe Mathieu, living in Los Angeles, Calif. The story goes that one day a police officer stopped by Mathieu’s delicatessen and ordered a beef sandwich prepared on a long white French roll. Supposedly, Mathieus accidentally dropped the sandwich into the pan where the beef had been cooked and became somewhat soggy with the beef juice. The policeman, being short of time, said he’d eat the sandwich anyway. He liked it so much that he returned often, sometimes with friends to try to sandwich dipped in juice.
This warm sandwich was invented in the 1930’s by Pat and Harry Olivieri, an Italian immigrant couple living in South Philadelphia. They first made the thinly sliced beef sandwiches and sold them from Pat’s Restaurant at the corner of 9th and Wharton Street. The restaurant still stands there today.
For years people had to go to Philadelphia to get a true Philadelphia cheese steak sandwich because that was the only place to find the firm Italian rolls and thinly sliced beef.
The cheese on a Philadelphia cheese steak sandwich is Cheez Whiz®, and it is topped with slices of Spanish onion. Optional additional ingredients include mushrooms, garlic, and green or red peppers.
During World War II the Benedetto Capaldo’s Italian deli in New London, Conn., got a call from the nearby US Navy’s submarine base. They placed an order for 500 hero sandwiches. From that day forward any time a customer ordered a hero sandwich the employees at the deli called it a sub. The nickname spread and the term “sub” is used around the country.
These are just a few of the sandwiches that we can see day in and day out on menus and in homes across our nation. Perhaps the best part side of sandwiches is that everyone has his or her own personal view of what makes a great sandwich. There’s no exact recipe. James Beard once said, “Too few people understand a really good sandwich.” The sandwich just may be the perfect culinary vehicle to demonstrate your own creativity. Why not build one today?