The Peculiar Art of Sandwich-Making

All the world loves a sandwich. Or so it would seem judging from the number of outlets that can be found on your average high street. Today, we’re offered choices that range from the simplest forms of two pieces of bread with a plain filling, all the way to designer breads with delightful names procured from exotic cuisines with equally fantastic fillings and combinations.

How did we evolve so far from the fare of simple sandwiches that our mothers made for our packed lunches? These were usually eaten in the school canteen on tables that were covered in elementary etchings: Joey woz ‘ere. Sharon heart Dave. Mr Philpott is a wanker. The sandwich was made from two spongy slices of shop-bought bread and inevitably had the crusts cut off . The fillings were simple, either cheese or cold meat. That’s it. As you got older, or mother was a bit pressed for time, the crusts stayed on.

The posh kids had their sandwiches made with wholemeal or granary and had something called mayonnaise in them. Then the other mothers caught onto this and so the sandwich was upgraded. For most, this wasn’t a pleasant experience as this wholesome bread was likened to chewing cardboard. But mothers will be mothers and once it was understood how nutritious a little roughage was, there would be no budging her. ‘Make it yourself then,’ would be the general response.

The worst sandwich to be given for lunch was Egg. Egg was to be avoided at all costs because of the sulphuric smell that wafted from the lunch box as soon as it was opened. No one ever wanted to swap for an egg sandwich. You were likely to be teased about being smelly if you revealed an egg filling.

School wasn’t the only place where the humble sarnie was served. Cast your mind, and your tastebuds, back to days out at the beach. Mother would have made enough sandwiches to feed an army of chislers (that’s children for the non-Irish readers!) with ferocious appetites. Old biscuit tins were packed into the car, filled with a selection of sandwiches as mother kindly catered to everyone’s tastes in an attempt to achieve a harmonious day out. Invariably, the sandwiches were warm and moist by the time they’d been decanted from the tin box. If there was any egg ones in there, they would be guaranteed to taint everything else.

The proximity of younger kids in the group meant that the chances of getting them covered in sand was increased. A gritty sandwich is not an experience worth repeating and it’s easy to conjure up the spine shivering sensation of the sand grating over teeth enamel.

Grown-ups ate different sandwiches to the kids. Theirs would have a spread of mustard, peppery and hot to accompany a better slice of meat. What also set the adult’s sandwiches apart was the crust which adults seemed to love. In fact, the crunchier the crust, the better.

Trips to France and to more far flung places introduced us to the Baguette. This long thin loaf revolutionised the art of sandwich-making. It became easier to cut it in half, slip the filling in and off you went. It was more robust than the flimsy slices of bread. After the Baguette, we saw the advent of the Panini, nicely flat so that it could be toasted. A little bit of added exoticism resulted in Foccacia. That was practically a meal in itself but not for the faint-hearted.

Let’s not forget the toasted sandwich for which special toasting gadgets were invented. Biting into one is a dangerous endeavour as the heat of the melted cheese is enough to cause searing blisters. The French have a posh name for a cheese and ham toastie – Croque Monsieur. Sounds so much more appetising in French, don’t you think!

Things moved from East to West and we came across the Tortilla on our forays into Mexico. This nifty piece of work evolved into a wrap and is much quicker to make because there’s no slicing involved. Perfect for the modern mother. The difficulty is trying to keep the filling inside the bread.

The humble burger is in theory, also a sandwich, being by definition a piece of meat between two slices of bread. The Earl of Sandwich must be rolling in his crypt wishing he’d patented the invention but he was too busy gambling away his fortune at the time. Think of the income he could have generated from McDonalds alone!