Stacked Roast Beef Heaven
Roast Beef Sandwich
Roast Beef Melt
Roast Beef on Rye
History of Sandwiches
The first recorded sandwich was made by the famous Rabbi, Hillel the Elder, who lived during the 1st century B.C. A poor man, but a great scholar, he began the Passover custom of sandwiching a mixture of chopped nuts, apples, spices, and wine between two matzohs to eat with bitter herbs. This sandwich is the foundation of the Seder and is named after him. But matzoh, being unleavened bread, is not absorptive of sauces and juices as today's sandwich has become.
Before the Renaissance and the invention of the fork, any object that moved between plate and mouth, lifting cooked food and its sauce without spills was a necessary utensil. From the Dark Ages to the Renaissance, bread was an integral part of a table setting. Thick slices of bread, called trenchers, were set on wooden plates (also called trenchers) to soak up the sauces accompanying pieces of meat. The word comes from the French verb trenchier or trancher, which means to cut. Each trencher was eaten at each meal, and a new one made for the subsequent meal by simply cutting off new a slice from the loaf. If the meal was formal and elaborate, trenchers might be changed more than once during the meal. The advent of the fork, however, dictated that using fingers to lift food was bad manners. The trencher became passé.
John Montagu (1718-1792), the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, revived the concept of bread as utensil giving us the name we use today. Montagu was First Lord of the Admiralty and patron to Capt. James Cook who explored New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, and Polynesia. Capt. Cook named the Hawaiian Islands after him, calling them the Sandwich Islands. Legend holds that Montagu was addicted to gambling, so addicted that he gambled for hours at a time at a restaurant, refusing to get up for meals. To believe this legend, we can only imagine that he was so intent on scooping up winnings that he could not listen to the growls in his stomach demanding food. Supposedly, he ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread. His fellow gamblers, no doubt looking for a lucky charm, began to order "the same as Sandwich!" The original sandwich would have been nothing more than a piece of salt beef between two slices of toasted bread. Whatever the truth of the legend, the name sandwich is inscribed for all time.
In her book, English Bread and Yeast Cookery, Elizabeth David tells us that while France and Italy remained true to the freeform bread, the British were quick to adapt to making a fine loaf of white bread in tins. This ensured uniformity and slices that were evenly cut. In addition, bread made in a tin is less crusty and offers more dough to absorb juices or spreads and hold ingredients together. The British loved their sarnies, the nickname given to sandwiches. Another slang word for sandwich, one that predates sarnie, is 'butty' as in jam butty, chip butty, ham butty etc., and that was a contraction of 'bread and butter'. That came from northern regions, possibly Yorkshire.
In 1840, the sandwich was introduced to America by Elizabeth Leslie (1787-1858). In her "Directions for Cookery", she offers a recipe for ham sandwiches that she deemed them worthy to be a main dish. In the 1900's, with the industrial revolution underway, bakeries began to sell pre-sliced bread. The American public jumped at the ease of making a sandwich. The sandwich as institution was born. Human beings, being adventurous, have developed the sandwich into both a quick and easy meal, and an art form. How long would it take for us to reconfigure the possibilities: we toast the bread or serve it plain; we pile high the sandwich with the maximum ingredients, or keep it simple with one or two.