Rosa’s Musings: There is more to a sandwich than two slices of bread, a brief history of the sandwich

Published by Sunday, September 22, 2013 Permalink 0
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by Rosa Mayland

A Brief History of the Sandwich
















In this brief history of the sandwich, you’ll learn that a sandwich is an extremely versatile and universal food item consisting of two slices of bread in the middle of which is encased a filling, or of a single slice of bread garnished with a topping (tartines/bruschetta, smørrebrød, canapés, etc.). In both cases they come in an infinite number of varieties that differ in flavour, style, texture and size.

The origin of the term dates back to 1762 and saw the light of day in East Kent, England. According to legend, John Montagu aka the Fourth Earl of Sandwich was so busy gambling that he did not want to stop his activities in order to dine, so he ordered the waiter to bring him slices of roast beef enclosed in two wedges of bread. In this way, he could continue playing while eating and would in no manner dirty his fingers. That is how this quick and improvised snack became known as “sandwich”.

Even if the Earl gave his name to this popular “speciality,” it is to be said that bread has been served with meat and/or vegetables for centuries before this “invention” and that its forefather probably already existed in Neolithic times with the advent of the domestication of wheat. The first form of sandwich is attributed to the ancient Jewish wise man Hillel the Elder (~1st century B.C.) from Babylon who apparently put meat from the lamb sacrificed for Passover and bitter herbs (horseradish, chicory, sow thistle, eryngo, and lettuce) between pieces of matzo (kosher cracker-like, unleavened bread). Another genre of sandwich was common during the Middle Ages: thick slabs of stale bread called “trenchers” were used as plates and can be regarded as the precursors to the open-faced sandwich.

At the beginning, sandwiches represented a humble and simple lower-class meal, but by the middle of the 18th century, the aristocracy started serving them as a late-night collation, and they were considered very chic. Then with the breakthrough of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century and its hordes of restless workers slaving away in factories, sandwiches became a working-class luncheon, since they were practical, easily accessible, nourishing (calorific), inexpensive, portable and could be eaten in a rush.

After having first appeared in England as well as Spain, the sandwich rapidly spread through the rest of Europe and the United States, where it was first promoted as an elaborate main dish. The 20th century saw the rise of the sandwich in the U.S. and the Mediterranean when bread became an indispensable component of people’s diet and started being consumed in much larger quantities than in the past.

Memorable And Forgettable Sandwiches

“Too few people understand a really good sandwich.”–James Beard

In today’s world, sandwiches are an essential part of our busy life whether we are wealthy or poor. It is most often a rather crude, tasteless, unsatisfying grub gobbled down in great haste, and is unfortunately very seldom truly enjoyed. Its main and only aim is to fill the hungry stomachs of people in no time flat. Albeit this convenient staple having its utility if you are an active person who cannot go back home for lunch or dinner, let’s not forget that the majority of us has a preference for its leisurely alter ego, as no picnic or party would be complete without it.

Although it is difficult to imagine our existence without sandwiches, most of us entertain a love/hate relationship with them, as not all sandwiches are created equal. The quality of the ingredients used and the pleasure they bring can vary greatly from one sandwich to another. As a matter of fact, there are two distinct categories of sandwiches: the luscious ones which leave everlasting memories and the horrid ones which are immediately forgotten or stay marked in our mind because they were so disgusting that they traumatized us to the highest degree.

Certain sandwiches are pure culinary gems; others are pure culinary disasters. The first kind glorifies all things gourmet whilst the second represents the decadence of modern food habits and is an insult to the art of cooking.

Just like us humans, sandwiches come in all shapes, colours and sizes:

  • downright “dirty “doorstops” such as hoagies (submarine sandwich), chip butty/French fry sandwich, meatball sandwich, rich boy, pulled pork sandwich, bierock, hot dog, muffuletta, sloppy Joe, etc.
  • dainty (finger sandwiches)
  • historically rich (bagel sandwich, po’boy, Reuben, pastrami sandwich, hamburger, croque monsieur, pan bagnat, lobster sandwich, kebab, panini, smørrebrød, etc.),
  • exotic (bàhn mi, tortilla wraps, Barros Luco, Swedish polar bread sandwich, Cuban sandwich, falafel sandwich, pita sandwich, gyro sandwich, etc.)
  • cheap (any low-quality sandwich found in most chain-bakeries or supermarkets)
  • posh (club sandwich, English teatime sandwiches)
  • healthy or special diet (vegetarian, organic, gluten-free, etc.)
  • gastronomic (the new generation of sandwiches made with artisan bread, seasonal and local produce)
  • and childhood-related (P & J, Nutella sandwich, banana sandwich, chips/crisp sandwich, grilled cheese sandwich, etc.).

As a general rule, it is wise to avoid industrially prepared sandwiches. Those tired-looking, soggy or shockingly dry, repulsive and bland, calorie-laden specimens are composed of cheap, unhealthy and unexciting ingredients (fake bread that is often made abroad and imported, tasteless margarine, tired salad leaves, plastic cheese, meat chock-a-block full of monosodium glutamate and additives, disgusting mayonnaise bought by the ton, canned food, out-of-season vegetables that have lost all their nutrients, etc.) and give the sandwich a bad name.

Thankfully the good news is that “the real thing” is far from dying out, and one can observe a global sandwich revival/revolution that is closely linked to the awakening of consumers’ food consciousness. In our time, it is constantly being reinvented, modernized; it is evolving day by day. Nowadays many talented chefs and bakers around the world are showing their creativity by pimping up that scrumptious nosh, hence bringing back its former glory and making it gain back its once honourable reputation. Their marvellous creations are influenced by the culinary traditions of faraway lands (Asia, Mediterranean, South America, etc.), contain seasonal, regional and sustainable produce, are made with quality ingredients, have a lot of flavour and offer a myriad of variations.

Sandwiches are not only eaten, for the sake of efficiency, while walking down the street or sitting in front of the computer anymore, but are now savoured calmly while sitting at the table of luminous, trendy and avant-garde cafés and bars, or chic restaurants, artisan bakeries and self-service restaurants.

Goodbye to the old sad, nefarious and mediocre sandwich and welcome to the epicurean sammie!

Childhood Memories and Adult Life

Considering the fact that sandwiches are a constituent of our identity, and that food connects us with memories, touches our hearts deeply and stays forever marked in our minds, many of us have precious anecdotes attached to that bready chow. We all can fondly remember a particular childhood sandwich and recall the events or stories surrounding its conception and consumption.

As far as I can recall, store-bought sandwiches have always left me cold, as I have never come across one that was not plain and uninteresting, poor quality, characterless, stingy and vile. By no means am I a big fan of those shamefully mean ham sandwiches made with processed meat and margarine, sickeningly mayonnaise-laden tuna sandwiches, icky chicken curry sandwiches containing frozen poultry from Brazil, faceless processed cheese sandwiches and yucky vegetarian sandwiches with mealy tomatoes. Just the thought of them makes me feel nauseous!

On the contrary, the family sandwiches I devoured as a child were incredibly peachy and mouth-watering, as they were prepared with fragrant homemade bread and the best ingredients available on the market. My mother used to prepare a wide range of homemade sandwiches depending on what she found in the fridge or pantry. It is impossible to forget her chips and Swiss Tomme Vaudoise cheese sandwiches that I ate at school during the 9 a.m. break; Appenzeller and lettuce sandwiches, which I gobbled at in the afternoon while doing my homework; leftover corned beef, horseradish and radish sandwiches, upon which we grazed when hiking in the Jura mountains, and her mayonnaise, onion jam and Tabasco hamburgers that we stuffed ourselves with when my father could not come back home for lunch. My English grandmother’s cucumber, onion and tuna sandwiches as well as toasted (grilled cheese) sandwiches were also epic and are indissociable from the long walks we took in the Peak District or the evening meals we had in the flowery garden annexed to their 19th-century stone-built nailer’s cottage. Those were unique sandwiches that constitute a piece of my “patrimony.”

Now, as a grownup, I create sandwiches in a totally improvised manner, just like I was taught at home. I get my inspiration from my American and English food magazines and cookbooks, what I find on market stalls or in my kitchen. I love to let my imagination flow and do the work.

The recipe I have decided to share with you today was invented on the spur of the moment while I was feeling particularly playful and witty. These refined, dainty and scrumptious little “Cheddar, Bacon And Egg Scone Sandwiches” have a certain British flair and are an ode to spring. They will delight those of you who adore traditional English breakfasts or afternoon teas as well as finger food, and are perfect for picnics, brunches and aperitifs. A wonderful idea for your Easter feast…


Cheddar, Bacon and Egg Scone Sandwiches
















Makes 8 medium sandwiches


8 scones (“Plain Scones” recipe here – add 1 Tbs Caraway seeds in step 2)
80g unsalted butter
16 strips bacon
180-200g orange (or pale) Cheddar cheese, cut into 12 equal slices
3 hard-boiled eggs, thinly sliced
1 red onion, finely sliced (into rings)
English “Brown Sauce”, to taste
16 Tbs alfalfa and onion sprouts


  1. Cut the scones in half and butter them.
  2. Fry the bacon until slightly crispy but not too dry, then drain it on kitchen paper.
  3. Place 2 slices of cheddar on the bottom of each scone, then add 3 slices hard-boiled eggs, a few rings red onion and 2 strips of bacon.
  4. Pour on some brown sauce, top with 2 tablespoon sprouts, and close the sandwiches.


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  • Lana
    April 16, 2011

    Great recap on sandwiches! Growing up in Serbia, I was not exposed to too many varieties – most of our sandwiches were open-faced, because the bread was freshly baked, crusty and sturdy.
    I love reading historical articles on food and its origins. Thanks for educating me:)

    • Rosa
      April 19, 2011

      Thank you! I’m glad you liked my article.

      I’d love to learn more about those Serbian sandwiches. They sound so scrumptious!

  • Maria @ Scandifoodie
    April 16, 2011

    This is fascinating! 🙂 And that sandwich looks absolutely scrumptious!

    • Rosa
      April 19, 2011

      Thank you, Maria! It was indeed.

  • TonyI
    April 16, 2011

    An interesting piece but I do think you recipe is symptomatic of where sandwiches appear to have ended up nowadays. Too many flavours and overly rich fillings all competing with one another with the end result being that the consumer is simply overwhelmed by it all.

    Call me old fashioned but based on a foundation of good bread (not overly thick) a combination of 2 at most 3 flavours provides a far more satisfying experience.

    For example

    Roast beeef and horseradish, Egg mayo and cress, cheese and pickle, and ham and mustard.

    Yes I know these are old school and some would say old fashioned and even boring but they have stood the test of time!

    let the debate begin!

    • Rosa
      April 19, 2011

      Dear Tony,

      Thank you for reading my article and for leaving a comment! I’m glad it made you react.

      I do believe that sandwiches should not be overloaded with too many ingredients, yet I don’t think mine is overly rich. The flavors all blend perfectly well together and counterbalance one another in a harmonious way…

      Of course, I also love the simpler versions as cited by you.

      I guess that if you use good and homemade produces, you can’t go wrong and, at the end, it is a question of personal taste. 😉


  • Rosa
    April 19, 2011

    Thank you! I’m glad you liked my article.

    I’d love to learn more about those Serbian sandwiches. They sound so scrumptious!

  • Dominique (De vous à moi...)
    April 27, 2011

    Superbe, non seulement ton sandwich te plait, mais en plus je perfectionne mon anglais (qui en a bien besoin!) grâce à ton article. je viens de faire germer des graines (un mélange), j’en mets partout… délicieux!

    • Rosa
      April 28, 2011

      Merci pour ton compliment! Je suis heureuse de pouvoir t’aider à perfectionner ton anglais tout en t’instruisant. 😉

      Les graines germées sont délicieuses, saines et leur utilisation est multiple.

  • Raina
    April 28, 2011

    I love a good sandwich. Yours sounds wonderful…the perfect combination of flavors. I love the choice of a scone with caraway seeds for the bread…yum!

    • Rosa
      April 28, 2011

      Thank you, Raina! I’m glad my sandwich is to your taste. Yes, scones can also be eaten without clotted cream and jam… 😉

  • Ana Powell
    April 28, 2011

    Awesome post Rosa, well done.
    Your work is getting better and better ♥

    • Rosa
      April 28, 2011

      Thank you for the kind words! I’m glad you like my work. 🙂

    April 28, 2011

    Never knew there was so much to be said on sandwiches. Why am I not surprised you have such a sandwich mouthful to say on the subject ;o)

    One of my very favourite meals to put together is based on the very simple sandwich. By that I mean…opening up my fridge and gathering whatever I have on hand that will please my tummy…especially roasted veggies. Great artisanal bread to hold it all together…and my pleasure has been fulfilled.

    Once again Rosa…your dedication to great food serves as a wonderful example.

    Ciao for now and flavourful wishes,

    • Rosa
      May 9, 2011

      Thanks for reading my article and for the kind words!

      I’m glad to hear that you also enjoy gourmet sandwiches made on the spurr of the moment and with whatever you find in your fridge.

  • Magic of Spice
    April 28, 2011

    What a great post! One of my favorite things about sandwiches is that they many times are spur of the moment inventions…Great looking sandwich 🙂

    • Rosa
      May 9, 2011

      Yes, indeed! The possibilities are endless.


  • Eva
    April 28, 2011

    This was fun to read. I recently got turned on to Vietnamese sandwiches, known as banh mi:

    I’m looking forward to making one soon!

    • Rosa
      May 9, 2011

      I’ve heard a lot about Bahn Mi and plan on making that sandwich at home with homemade baguette. 🙂

  • marla
    April 29, 2011

    Rosa, this post is awesome! Out of all these sandwich descriptions – yours would certainly be my first choice. Gorgeous!

    • Rosa
      May 9, 2011

      Thank you, Marla! Great to hear that you like my sandwich. 🙂

  • Louise
    May 3, 2011

    As luck would have it Rosa, tomorrow is National Hoagie Day and this post is simply awesome. What GREAT info. Quite enlightening. And, as for your masterpiece, oh my word!!!

    Thank you so much for sharing…

    • Rosa
      May 9, 2011

      Thank you, Louise! Right on time, indeed… Happy to hear that you liked reading this article and that you found my sandwich appealing.

  • Renu
    April 20, 2012

    Well written post Rosa! There are endless possibilities to make two slices of bread exciting.