Friday, April 14, 2017

Friday-Saturday & Sundry Thoughts...on Sandwiches & Their Creeping Crapification.

While away from home recently we ate more restaurant-style sandwiches than was probably good for us. Some were acceptable enough, if fairly flavourless, others, it has to be said were actually gross.

A sandwich, traditionally, is something one can eat in one's hand without needing knife, fork or spoon - a paper napkin, perhaps, but that's the only accessory required. From Wikipedia, a little history:
John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, PC, FRS (13 November 1718 – 30 April 1792)[1] was a British statesman who succeeded his grandfather Edward Montagu, 3rd Earl of Sandwich as the Earl of Sandwich in 1729, at the age of ten. During his life, he held various military and political offices, including Postmaster General, First Lord of the Admiralty, and Secretary of State for the Northern Department, but is perhaps best known for the claim that he was the eponymous inventor of the sandwich.

The modern sandwich is named after Lord Sandwich, but the exact circumstances of its invention and original use are still the subject of debate. A rumour in a contemporaneous travel book called Tour to London by Pierre-Jean Grosley formed the popular myth that bread and meat sustained Lord Sandwich at the gambling table.[21] Lord Sandwich was a very conversant gambler, the story goes, and he did not take the time to have a meal during his long hours playing at the card table. Consequently, he would ask his servants to bring him slices of meat between two slices of bread, a habit well known among his gambling friends. Other people, according to this account, began to order "the same as Sandwich!", and thus the "sandwich" was born.[22] The sober alternative to this account is provided by Sandwich's biographer N. A. M. Rodger, who suggests that Sandwich's commitments to the navy, to politics, and to the arts mean that the first sandwich was more likely to have been consumed at his work desk.

The original sandwich was a piece of salt beef between two slices of toasted bread.

Nowadays it turns out that in sandwiches, as in other things, size matters. Ordering what I thought to be a simple ham and cheese sandwich I was presented with something at least 8 inches high, something which would have been impossible to hold in the hand and ...erm know. The ham was the gross part of this concoction - of the variety consisting of compressed bits and pieces of goodness knows what parts of some unfortunate animal's anatomy - it really did smell gross - after having been thrown onto a grill for a minute or two, layered with tasteless slimy melted cheese and other bits and pieces.

On another occasion I ordered what seemed the simplest sandwich on offer: grilled chicken breast sandwich with lettuce and tomato, & fries. What could go wrong? Again, not possible to safely eat in the hand, and the chicken breast was completely uncuttable - like rubber in fact. They might as well have given me a slice of car tyre and I could have declared, "tastes like chicken!" We mentioned this to the waitress who kindly retrieved it, took it back to the kitchen - returned with a newly prepared sandwich. The replacement was no better. When the kindly waitress returned to ask if the new sandwich was better, I had to respond, "No, I'm sorry but it really isn't." Happily we were not charged for my sandwich, nor for the serving of fries which I did consume, to stop my tummy rumbles. The manager came to apologise and said that she will definitely be "speaking to" her chef.

While it'd be silly to expect to find delicate, deliciously seasoned cucumber sandwiches on menus in the middle of central-USA, something akin to those delicious Marks and Spencer sandwiches I used to buy back in Blighty would be quite in keeping, and not hard to do.

It's odd to admit this, but the one type of sandwich we sampled, more than once, which did not disappoint was the humble sausage and egg MacMuffin from the dreaded and much maligned Golden Arches. Cheap, tasty and consistently good. I'd never have expected to be praising ol' Mickey D's for anything other than the cleanliness of their restrooms - but there it is! I do wish they'd treat their staff better though!

Looking back into my archives I see I've scribbled about sandwiches before, in early 2012 - here's that post again, along with its comments:

"Too few people understand a really good sandwich"
James Beard (May 5, 1903 – January 21, 1985) American chef and food writer

Astrologically, we're all sandwiches. Human sandwiches. Fate, the chef, dictates by the very seconds during which we entered the world and took our first breath, what ingredients our personal sandwich would contain, how much spice or sweetness, how solid or squishy, whether flavours would be distinct or muted, blending or contrasting.

I once, long, long ago, knew a pair of young sisters from Ireland, can't recall the exact place, maybe Kerry or Connemara, somewhere romantic sounding anyway. What I remember best about the girls, apart from their lovely lilting accent, was their love of sandwiches. We all worked in a small hotel at the time, and would often take our meals together at untraditional times after guests had eaten and gone on their way. The two girls, Maura and Aileen would make sandwiches of whatever we were presented with as breakfast, lunch or evening meal. I'd watch with fascination as they'd take two slices of regular white sliced bread and create a thing of mouth-watering deliciousness from it all. I'm sure their version must have tasted much better than mine, eaten knife-and-forkly, but I never dared to copy their style.

The Irish girls popped into my mind while looking at some photographs at HuffPost the other day, photographs of "America's Best New Sandwiches, 2012"
How about, for instance, The Irish Breakfast Sandwich:
Thick-thick slabs of salty bacon, savory Irish sausages, and circular slices of black (blood) pudding and white (oatmeal-pork fat) pudding, plus a fried egg and slice of grilled tomato, only slightly fancied up with a thin layer of garlic aioli spread on the crispy bread, and a housemade, tarmarind-spiked “brown sauce” on the side for dipping.
Yikes! That's what my husband would call "a hand held fat bomb".

Another memory surfaced just as that of the Irish sisters faded. Memory of a veritable King of Club Sandwiches, from another time, and another place. With a few other hotel staff members, I would munch these after we'd all "serviced" some event or other: wedding, dinner dance, banquet etc. Our head barman, Jack, had once worked on luxury ocean liners, and knew the drill. He would beckon a few of us into the silent abandoned kitchens, raid the fridges for ingredients, and concoct delicious multi-layered, toasted club sandwiches such as I'd never tasted before and have certainly never tasted since. What appear on restaurant menus as club sandwiches are mere travesties of Jack's version.

I don't know why sandwiches in particular remain in my memory so clearly, other food items seldom leave reminders. While typing this I've also recalled delicious salt beef sandwiches served every market day in the front bar of a Devonshire market town hotel where I worked, back in the early 1960s. The chef prepared the salt beef in such a way that it melted in the mouth. It was hewn off a large joint, as needed, then cushioned between two hefty slices of Granary bread (I miss that bread). The farmers almost always cleared the lot in no time, but on one or two occasions, when there was a little leftover, I got to sample this delicacy. YUM! And I'm not usually a meat lover.

My own taste in sandwiches nowadays is simple.....good (non-sweet-tasting!) wholemeal bread, good butter, and just one of the following: beetroot, picked in sweetish vinegar, or lots of lettuce and/or baby spinach piled in, with salt and a slash of salad creme (Heinz if I can get my hands on some); or the old classic cucumber sandwich with plenty of black pepper; or less elegantly a concoction I've not tasted since leaving the UK : a "chip butty": two slices of bread, well-buttered (no margerine) filled with hot chunky chips (potato fries) -Britain's overweight version of the USA's skinny French Fry - with salt and vinegar liberally sprinkled. Sigh... dribble.. and out.

COMMENTS from 2012

Gian Paul: Just read your sandwich stuff while waiting for lunch (time difference now 2 hours ahead of you).
Will not enter details of my food here, other than today it's fish etc. and a glass of white wine (sec), of course.

I remember having eaten some of your English sandwiches in the early sixties on market days as well. Only it was not in Devonshire, but Bedfordshire where I was learning English, staying with farmer friends. And to help digestion, we had either some Gin and T. or some Ale.

PS. Destiny (but nothing is perfect) could have made for me learning English in Devonshire - and who knows we might have met over a sandwich...
February 28, 2012 8:58 AM
Twilight said...
Gian Paul ~~That sounds to be a very elegant lunch you were awaiting......And I (a much younger I) would have been very happy to help you polish your English-speaking over a sandwich and a glass or two of whatever. :-)

Gian Paul said...It's not about elegance, it's about fresh food. On Tuesdays a fisher from the south of Brazil (colder water, better catch), comes to São Paulo, where his fish is eaten on Fridays. The local fishery here holds him up midway, so we get really fresh fish araound here, in the middle of nowhere!

Twilight ~~~ Sounds like a very good deal - fresh is always elegant. ;-)

Rossa said...I had a bakery and 2 shops in the early 90s and offered 4 types of bread and 50 different combos of fillings. Every sandwich was made to order. None of the pre-made in my shops.

Love a good pastrami but the ones we get in the UK have never matched the one I had in New York in 1980. There is something about having a classic like that in the City it is said to originate from.

My sandwiches got the ultimate compliment one Friday when I had to take a Friday off (with chicken pox, caught on holiday!). My 2nd in command told everyone that came into the shop that we were short staffed so there would be a delay. At the peak lunch time period someone actually waited for 40 mins for his favourite Friday sandwich. Fridays were usually the day most people bought something a bit special.

Our cakes were pretty fab too! Those were the days and thank you for reminding me that we had some fun then.

PS. Irish breakfast sandwich...yuk! Up there with deep fried Mars bars. Chip butty - great hangover cure. American fries like McDonalds are more like the French frites. Good old British chips, done in dripping or lard are hard to beat if done right. And thereby hangs a tale. One person's soggy is another's crispy!

Twilight said...Rossa ~~~ I bet yours were mouth-wateringly good too! And the cakes!

I'm not keen on pastrami. It's not a bit like the salt beef I remember (which was, I think a kind of pickled silverside). I once had one of those famous salt beef/pastrami sandwiches at the Nosh Bar in London and was disappointed in it, after all I'd heard about them.

Yes - I have to be careful about using the word "chips" here. USA-ans think I'm talking about potato crisps.

The fat used for frying fish and chips makes a big difference, yes, I remember that. When I was a small child in Hull there was a fish and chip tent in the market on Saturdays, the smell of the frying, even from a distance, did literally make the mouth water - I think they used beef dripping. I can still recall that smell - or better better description- scent!

Juno said...The chip butty - the first time & only time I had one was when I was living in England and had been invited by a Welsh co-worker to go to her hometown to watch the Wales v Ireland Rugby Final. The game was broadcast in the local town hall with the whole village attending, and they were serving up chip butties. :) (Wales won)
Twilight said...

Juno ~~ Glad you had the opportunity to sample this delicacy....LOL~! I'm not sure what the attraction of the chip butty is, but for many it's mighty strong!

James Higham said...Lots of good cholesterol there, Twilight.

Twilight said...James Higham ~~ In the USA one can practically swim in cholesterol if not very careful. No wonder there's a veritable plague of diabetes here!

JD said...Rossa has it right...there is nothing quite like a chip buttie!
:)but not knife and forksy lahdy-dah style it has to be eaten with melted butter running down and between the fingers that's a real sandwich :) oh yes, and bacon butties too eaten the same way isn't civilization wonderful!!!

Twilight said...JD ~~~ Yes indeedy - and butter is the key to a chip buttie. Margerine would be sacrilege. Bacon sarnies mmmmm - yes, another comfort long as the bacon is good (Irish or Danish).


Wisewebwoman said...

I remember my mother's tomato sandwiches that I can never replicate. Tomatoes from the garden, skinned and mashed with thyme and finely chopped shallots and breadcrumbs and thickly plastered on her own bread and butter. They never dripped or slid and Mein Gott I salivate thinking of them.

Great post.


Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~ Ta WWW! You have me salivating too now! :-) I often make a tomato sandwich for my lunch, but mine are not half as yummy as your mother's sounds to have been! The tomato, hereabouts is, sadly, subject to creeping crapification too. (GMO, I bet!) Once or twice we've come across some grown, and grown naturally, in Arkansas or Colorado and they've been a lot more tomato-ish. Mexican-grown toms fill the shelves regularly though, and are tasteless.