By Laurie Triplette
Southernism of the Week:
Knee high to a grasshopper: Interchangeable with “knee-high to a bullfrog.” Refers to a time when the specified individual was very young. Think Christopher Robin or Pinocchio.
TIME TO SANDWICH SOME FLAVOR ON THE GO
Happy National Sandwich Month, everybody!
On behalf of all sandwich lovers, I thank you, John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792), for instructing your cook to slap some beef between slices of bread during a 24-hour gambling marathon. The rest, as we now know of the sandwich, is culinary history.
Montagu didn’t come up with his sandwich concept out of the blue. The Earl had traveled extensively through the eastern Mediterranean. During his travels, Montague became fond of Greek and Turkish grilled pita and other breads containing meats and marinated veggies. Those Mediterranean folks had been making them for centuries. In fact, the ancient Romans are said to have invented the canapé, consisting of tasty meat and veggie bites contained within petite pieces of bread.
Under the Earl’s somewhat profligate gambling influence, however, the English soon began concocting finger foods consisting of cheese-and-butter pastes and meats fixed within bread slices. Englishman Edward Gibbon is reputed to have made the first printed mention of “sandwich” as a term in his journal entry dated 24 November 1762, referring to consuming a sandwich meal at the Cocoa Tree.
By the mid-1760s, the “sandwich” had become a popular English repast for the masculine gender, and later, it became a fixture for light suppers and teas, and for carry-in lunch for the working class.
Americans were making them, too, but didn’t embrace this oh-so-English dish by the “sandwich” name until the 1830s, after some of our anti-British sentiment had settled down into history. It should be noted that Mary Randolph provided recipe instructions for making oyster loaves (pre-cursor to Po-Boys) in her landmark 1824 American cookbook, The Virginia House-Wife. (Mrs. Randolph once ran a boarding house.)
Other cookbook references to sandwiches appeared throughout the 1840s and 1860s, mostly featuring meat-filled bread doctored with condiments based on butter.
The sandwich evolved into the between-stops food sold at train stations. It also helped fuel alcoholism, according to the Temperance Movement folks by the late 19th century. Sandwiches were handed out free with drink purchases at American taverns and bars. That practice didn’t survive the Great Depression, but to the present day, sandwiches remain a popular “quick-fix” meal for busy consumers and partiers alike.
Once soft white bread became commercially available throughout America, the sandwich became a mainstay in the States. Whereas the English favored beef in their sandwiches, in America it was all about the pig, vis-à-vis ham sandwiches. Sliced beef tongue, a cheaper cut of meat, was popular in both cultures well into the 20th century.
The sandwich gained Pop Culture status during the mid-20th century, when Dagwood, the lead character of the comic strip series, became famous for concocting foot-high midnight snack sandwiches from every meat and condiment within grabbing distance. The term Dagwood, like the word sandwich, entered mainstream American language to describe far more than the object it first represented.
One of the 20th century’s perennial favorites was the Bacon Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich, also known to Americans as the BLT. Although Bacon and Lettuce sandwiches became popular during the 19th century, the advent of commercially prepared mayonnaise and soft white bread pushed this sandwich combination into the top tier of popularity.
The 21st century version often features bacon made from heirloom pigs, smoked without using potentially hazardous preservatives.
The Old Bride’s favorite sandwich since I was knee-high to a grasshopper has been a classic BLT. The classic BLT consists of crisp-cooked smoked bacon layered with homegrown beefsteak tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, and Duke’s Mayonnaise slathered on toasted Wonder bread.
Of course, any type of bread COULD be used in a BLT, along with mayo tarted-up with hot sauce or Creole seasoning. I just have one question: Why mess with perfection?
Sandwiches of all types are a favorite form of breakfast for many Southerners. Think pancakes wrapped around link sausage, or chicken, sausage and country ham biscuits … or tortilla-wrapped scrambled eggs with cheese, spicy peppers, bacon or sausage … or a finger-licking, drippy fried egg sandwich.
Other types of sandwiches have been popular nationwide for decades, including the “Club,” the French Dip, the various subs, heroes and po’boys, and the rolls containing seafood fillings (think Lobster Rolls).
The evolution of American sandwich preferences also reflects why Americans are known for our “melting pot” culture. We absorb every cuisine that hits our shores, and we adapt it to suit our Heinz 57 tastes. Hence, our fondness in recent decades for breadless sandwiches in which the “wraparound” components are breaded, fried eggplant slices, butter lettuce leaves, or tortillas or pita bread. … Fish Tacos and or Chicken Fajitas anyone? How about a Stromboli or a Pepperoni Pizza Pocket?
This week’s recipes are for sandwiches containing somewhat off-the-wall combinations of store-bought ingredients. The idea here is to encourage the “cook” to use what’s available, and not be limited to the obvious.
AVOCADO VEGGIE WRAP
This wrap may be taken into Mexican, Greek or Creole flavoring, depending on the mayo base, cheese, seasoning and type of peppers. For a more Greek and Middle Eastern version, use Tzatziki Sauce instead of mayo, and Cavender’s Greek Seasoning, along with roasted red peppers and crumbled feta, instead of Tony’s, jalapeños and shredded fiesta blend cheese.
2 Garden Spinach Herb tortilla wraps
1-1/2 to 2 T mayonnaise
1/4 to 1/2 c Mexican fiesta blend shredded cheese
1 ripe Haas avocado, peeled and sliced into strips, divided
1/2 c chopped ripe tomato, divided
>1/2 c fine-chopped lettuce, divided
8 slices of deli-style, sliced and pickled jalapeño peppers, divided
Tony’s Original Creole seasoning, to taste
Spread mayo evenly over one side of each tortilla wrap, allowing about a half-inch around the edges. Sprinkle cheese over the mayo.
Position the slices of half an avocado in a vertical line down the center of each tortilla. Sprinkle tomato and lettuce over the avocado. Add 4 peppers on top. Sprinkle Creole seasoning to taste over the avocado mixture.
Roll one side over the center and then roll and wrap the other side, to form a tube. Tuck the two ends of the rolled tortilla. Slice each tube in half and serve.
The Italian Job Ham Sandwich
Spinach dip is readily available in the refrigeration aisles containing cottage cheese and chip dips. For a healthier version when time allows, make your own.
Onion Poppy Seed Ciabatta Sandwich Rolls
Deli baked ham, sliced on #1 cut
Deli-style roasted red bell pepper strips
Large basil leaves or arugula (4 per sandwich)
Slather a thin layer of spinach dip on the inside of both halves of the roll. Position 3 to 4 slices of ham on the bottom roll half. Add about 6 to 8 strips of roasted red pepper over the ham. Place the basil leaves or arugula leaves in an “x” or cross formation over the peppers. Add top half of the roll and cut the sandwich in half before serving with pickled okra as a condiment.
SWEET HOT CAJUN BEEF MELT
This is a larger version of the classic Party Roast Beef Rolls that many of us make for tailgating and cocktail parties.
Whole wheat bolillo rolls
Deli Cajun roast beef, sliced or shaved on #1 cut
Baby Swiss cheese slices
Chopped toasted pecans or walnuts
Slice each bolillo roll horizontally, or slash down the center cleft. Spread a thin layer of horseradish sauce on each half, and a thin layer of honey mustard on top of the horseradish sauce on one half.
Slather 1 to 2 T of peach preserves on the other half and sprinkle with about 1 T of chopped nuts.
Place 3 to 5 slices of beef on the other half. Top with 2 slices of Baby Swiss cheese. Press the two loaded roll halves together and loosely wrap in foil. Heat until the cheese melts in oven or toaster oven preset to 450˚F. Be careful not to burn the bread.
Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian, and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists (AFJ),Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SOFAB). Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ web site and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter (@LaurieTriplette).