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History of the Sandwich

Whether it’s a pb&j at a picnic or a foot long sub for supper, sandwiches are a simple, savoury (and portable) option for any meal of the day. But do you know how they were invented? Delve between the bread slices to find out the story of this delicious dish!

The Sandwiches That Started It All

The first recorded mention of a sandwich-like meal dates all the way back to the 1st Century B.C. Ancient Jewish Rabbi Hillel the Elder is reported to have started the Passover tradition of putting lamb, mixed nuts and herbs between two pieces of matzo (unleavened bread).

In the Middle Ages people would use thick slices of stale bread, called “trenchers”, as plates for meats and vegetables, creating an open-faced sandwich, but the bread was sometimes too stale to eat and was often fed to dogs and farm animals.

In the 17th Century taverns in the Netherlands started to serve something that looks a lot more like the sandwiches we eat today. They would hang cured beef from the ceilings of the taverns that would be sliced and paired with bread and butter for customers.

The Earl of Sandwich

Slowly the sandwich started appearing not just in Dutch taverns, but also among aristocrats as a late-night meal. The sandwich got its name from 18th Century English nobleman John Montague, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who regularly ordered meat between two pieces of bread. The story goes that he liked this meal so much because he could eat his meat and continue to play cards without getting his hands messy with grease. Soon people started ordering “the same as Sandwich”, and the name has stuck ever since! Even though he is not the inventor of sandwiches, Sandwich is the name that has gone down in history.

By the 19th Century the sandwich had become popular all over Europe, especially in England because of the industrial revolution. People needed easy-to-make, easy-to-carry lunches that would fill them up for a long day of work at the office or doing hard labor. Every class of person enjoyed sandwiches, and there are now sandwiches of all different kinds and flavors and for every situation—from the bite sized cucumber sandwiches you might eat at tea with the queen to a good ol’ tuna sandwich you might find in your lunch bag.

Check out the “Sandwich Board”

Are you a “sandwich star”? Check out these sandwiches, and see how many you’ve tried!

  • Peanut Butter and Jelly: The name says it all!
  • Monte Cristo: Fried ham and cheese sandwich.
  • Reuben: Meat, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese, this sandwich is served hot, usually with corned beef or pastrami.
  • BLT: Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato
  • Tuna Melt: A tuna sandwich with melted cheese on top.
  • Panini: An Italian style sandwich, often grilled on Italian “ciabatta” bread.
  • Club Sandwich: A triple-decker toasted bread, turkey, lettuce and tomato.
  • Sloppy Joe: An American summer camp favorite, ketchup and ground beef on a hamburger bun.
  • Cucumber Sandwich: What you might have at “High Tea”, finger sandwiches with cream cheese and, of course, cucumber!
  • Grilled Cheese: Cheese grilled between two toasty slices of bread, great for breakfast or lunch!
  • Po’ Boy: A Louisiana tradition that features New Orleans baguette-style bread and fried meat or seafood.

Did You Know...?

A court in Boston, Massachusetts ruled that a sandwich has to have at least two slices of bread (no burritos or open-faced sammies)!

Have Your Say

What’s your fave kind of sandwich? Let us know in the comments section below!

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What's your favorite sandwich?

  • Peanut Butter & Jelly
  • Ham & Cheese
  • Turkey & Tomatoes
  • Butter & Jam

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