History tells us that John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, had a habit of dining on salted beef between two slices of toasted bread while at the gambling table. Hence, the sandwich was born. It was such a great idea that it was named after him! I know a lot of other foods are named after people, but it’s still impressive.
Like any right-thinking American, I enjoy a well-made sandwich. I even enjoy a poorly made one as long as it has tasty ingredients. Bread, meat or a reasonable facsimile, veggies, optional condiments–all in a handheld form and easy to eat. It’s dining simplicity as its finest.
Here in Kentucky we eat hot browns, which we call sandwiches, but they really aren’t. White bread, layered with turkey, cheese sauce, bacon and tomato and then broiled until hot and brown. It’s what’s called an “open-faced sandwich,” which is no sandwich at all since you can’t pick it up. If you eat it with a fork, it’s not a sandwich.
You can put any kind of meat or meat product on a sandwich–turkey, ham, chicken, bologna, roast beef, liverwurst, Spam, pastrami, salami, all manner of fish, olive loaf–you name it. When I was a kid a neighbor offered me a souse sandwich. I declined. If you are familiar with souse, you know why. If you aren’t, click here. Get it, now? The same neighbor once asked my brother “You wanna mater sammich?” He declined. Offering someone a sandwich is a friendly gesture for sure, even if the “sammich” in question is itself questionable.
I’m not sure a tomato constitutes a proper sandwich. It’s like a partial sandwich. When my wife was a kid, she ate mashed potato sandwiches. That just seems wrong to me. Mashed potatoes should be eaten with your sandwich, not on it. Just because you call something a sandwich does not make it so. Perhaps not coincidently, my wife is the only person I know you does not like sandwiches. Somehow, we’ve remained together.
I’m not suggesting that all sandwiches require meat. You can have a cheese sandwich, even though the meat is missing. Even better, you can fry it in butter and call it grilled cheese. Grilled food is healthy, right? I ate a grilled cheese sandwich with country ham, bacon and pork rinds on it. I still considered it merely a grilled cheese sandwich. The angioplasty was extra. Eggs also make for a good sandwich. Fried or scrambled–it doesn’t matter.
Peanut butter and jelly is perhaps the greatest American sandwich. It must, of course, be grape jelly. Anything else is an abomination. Elvis loved fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. My elementary school served fabulous peanut butter sandwiches. I asked my mom to get the same kind of peanut butter. Mother, a home economics teachers back when there were such things, groaned and gently noted that this “peanut butter” was cut with copious amounts of corn syrup to make it stretch further. We weren’t doing that in our home. Oh well.
I’ll admit to being a bit of a purist with my sandwiches. Nothing too complex for me. The simpler the better. If I want a complicated meal, I’ll order one. There’s nothing more disheartening than to approach a sandwich shop counter anticipating a simple and tasty ham and cheese sandwich, only to see this on the menu:
Ham & Cheese: Organic, free range ham topped with aged Alpaca cheese, persimmon dill chutney, pickled capers and sesame cayenne mustard. Your choice of zucchini, rutabaga or Belgian flax bread.
What the hell do I do now? My ham sandwich is lost in an olio of ingredients which render the ham an afterthought. I can only awkwardly order the sandwich like this:
“I’d like the ham and cheese, but I just want ham and cheese on it. And do you have any other kind of cheese and maybe some regular whole wheat bread?”
Now, I’ve ordered a sandwich which isn’t even on the menu. Oh, they’ll probably accommodate me, but I’ll be judged. Plus, I’m sure they’ll spit on it. Let’s don’t even discuss the likelihood of the order being totally screwed up, too. Don’t do this to a sandwich. Keep it simple. If someone wants to befoul it with all manner of toppings, make that an option, not part of the basic sandwich.
While we’re at it, consider condiments. Ketchup (or catsup for the more refined of you), mustard and mayonnaise are the bellwethers. Heinz makes the only ketchup acceptable to my palate, but I never know what brand is on a sandwich. Fortunately, ketchup doesn’t go on very many sandwiches, even though it’s quite tasty on almost everything. Mustard is great for ham sandwiches and a must for a fried bologna sandwich. Beyond those, it’s a tad questionable.
Mayonnaise is the most frequently used condiment. I must now–publicly and definitely–state my objection to this practice. Mayonnaise consists of oil (why eat oil?), egg yolk (okay but the grossest part of the otherwise fine egg) and vinegar (completely grotesque). How could combining these elements create an acceptable sauce? It’s like 80% fat! Why not just smear lard on your sandwich? (Ooh, that’s not a half-bad idea). People try to make it better by adding spices like cayenne pepper or something else to mask the taste. Then there’s Miracle Whip, which is kind of like mayonnaise, yet somehow different. It’s called salad dressing, even though I’ve never seen it put on a salad. If you want to make sure that I don’t take a bite of your sandwich, drench it in mayonnaise. And don’t tell me to scrape off the mayonnaise. That doesn’t work. Mayonnaise residue remains.
Let’s be clear about something else. Hamburgers aren’t sandwiches. They are burgers. How do I know this? Because they have meat patties on them and are served on buns. True, a sandwich can be served on a bun, too, but it is the basic pattyness of the burger which distinguishes it. I’ll grant you that if one were totally insane and served a meat patty between two slices of bread, it might be a sandwich. Might. I once heard an older person use the term “hamburger sandwich.” I wanted to punch her in the throat.
Onions are another issue. Understand that onions themselves–unlike, say, Brussel sprouts–are okay and can add a lot to many dishes. Why pile raw onions on a sandwich? You may as well have an onion sandwich. What–the taste of chicken isn’t good enough for you? Are you so utterly demented that you think it should taste like onions? Don’t just randomly throw onions on a sandwich. For God’s sake, at least tell a person before doing it.
Unlike onions, pickles have no redeeming value. I know, I know…you LOVE pickles, right? Well, good for you. They’re awful. I surmise that at one time cucumbers were plentiful and there wasn’t much else to eat. Since cukes won’t last forever, someone decided to preserve them and add a little flavor to them. Hence, we have the pickle. It was better than starvation, I guess. It was a bad idea then, and it’s a bad idea now. Removing them for one’s sandwich does little good because of the pervasive pickle juice which saturates the bread and anything else it touches. Everything ends up pickled. Here’s an idea: just soak your sandwich in salt water and vinegar and dig in.
Tomatoes. They’re terribly offensive to me. Now, do NOT tell me that if I love ketchup, I have to love tomatoes. Ketchup is chock full of sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup (which, by the way, is the BEST kind of corn syrup) and flavorings and whatnot. Also, that gelatinous, seedy, embryonic goo is removed from ketchup. The tomato adds nothing of value to a sandwich, unless it’s a tomato sandwich, which we’ve already dismissed as a non-sandwich. Ugh.
As an aside, have you eaten a sugar sandwich? Years ago, I read a story about a boxer named Danny “Little Red” Lopez. He was so poor growing up, that’s what he ate! I’d try one. No onions, tomatoes or pickles, please. Hold the mayo, too. But I digress.it’
How about cheese? Like any patriot in our great country, I’m fond of American cheese, but I’m no xenophobe. The Swiss gave us both tremendous pocket knives and damn good cheese. Cheddar, mild or sharp, is always a winner. I don’t know what Monterrey Jack is, but I like it. I grew up eating Government Cheese, a dazzling cheese product that goes good on everything. Of course, we can’t leave well enough alone. Gouda cheese is now offered. How about Edam, whatever the hell that is? Bleu cheese? Hell’s bells, is that even cheese? It’s more like something you’d discard in the cheese-making process. Provolone is a little weird, but I can handle it. Mozzarella is good is a sandwich– a meatball or a chicken parmesan sandwich. Oh, and speaking of parmesan–it’s technically a cheese but more like some kind of seasoning. That’s why it generally it isn’t offered on sandwiches.
I almost forgot about bread. Look, bread is bread. Let’s don’t get too creative with it. White, whole wheat, multi-grain, maybe focaccia–we don’t need more choices. Options with seeds or odd colors or shapes don’t enhance my experience. Rye bread is weird, probably the result of some ill-conceived bakery experiment. Edible? Yes. Better than normal bread? No.
It’s starting to sound like I don’t like sandwiches. Maybe I don’t. Then again, consider that John Montagu had a storied career in politics and the military, yet he remains best known for eating salted beef between two pieces of toast. If such simplicity was good enough for the Earl himself, it should be good enough for all of us. Now, go make me a sandwich.