American Sandwich Series: Classic and Timeless American Sandwiches (Part 2)

 “Why are there so many sandwiches?  Why are you making us do this, Johnny?”

~AFFotD’s Research Department

sandwiches for all

Earlier this week, we set some ground rules on what will be a record-breaking (what record?  Fuck if we know, but there’s probably got to be some record out there that this breaks) eight-part article series to tell you about every sandwich we can think of that we haven’t already covered in our previous four-part section about regional submarine-style sandwiches.  So far we’ve told you about five standard classic sandwiches, all of which hit that perfect American sweet spot of being delicious but also pretty unhealthy for you.  We’ve been mainlining sandwiches ever since, trying to find inspiration through a bunch of cheese and/or bacon laden portable bread treats, and our doctor says if we don’t stop eating 10 sandwiches a day we’re going to die.  We told him to shut up, we have articles to right, and we can’t think of a better hero’s death than to die from too many ingested sandwiches.

This article series is already starting to mess with our state of mind.  It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.  Now, more classic American sandwiches!

American Sandwich Series:  Classic and Timeless American Sandwiches (Part 2)

 america sandwich

A sandwich is sort of like whiskey.  Even when you run to the gas station, buy the cheapest one available, and consume it as quickly as possible while stifling tears from the front seat of your 1995 Toyota Camry, it still tastes better and feels better going down than it has any right to.  While, sure, those of you who suffer from gluten intolerance might struggle to find loopholes to enjoy a sandwich, which of course becomes increasingly difficult with every fucking asshole who latches onto trendy diet fads buying up all the gluten free bread products that you actively require, for the vast majority of Americans, sandwiches represent the easiest food to make that tastes good.   Hell, we all grew up loving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and those literally take two minutes to make and represent the bare minimum in the “your parents caring about you” department.  Now’s about as good of a time to tell you that when you were told, “Mommy’s really busy this morning why don’t you make your own lunch” that was her way of saying she doesn’t love you as much as she thought she would when she had you.  Sorry you had to find out this way.

But enough equating your sandwich history to your emotionally stunting upbringing, we’re here to talk about sandwiches!  Delicious, wonderful sandwiches!  For eating!

Pimento Cheese Sandwich

pimento cheese

Ah yes, the caviar of the South, what a stupid misleading description of something that’s actually delicious.  No, we’re going to have to go on a little rant here about this—so, pimento cheese, which can be served on crackers or chips or added to hamburgers but, let’s be honest here, is primarily used as replacement for the fillings of a grilled cheese sandwich, has absolutely nothing to do with caviar.  Saying it’s the caviar of the South seems to be their way of saying “it’s our most decadent and delicious food item” which is all well and good, except it’s not an expensive food item to prepare, and it definitely doesn’t taste like fish vagina.  Caviar is “decadent” but also “really fishy” and “kind of gross.”  The only people who actually like caviar outside of its existence as a gaudy way to show how much money you’re willing to waste on food are Russian oligarchs and constantly-shocked upper class women in fur coats who invariably end up getting a pie in the face on accident during a Three Stooges short.

Anyway.  It’s fucking cheese, pimento, and mayonnaise.  It’s not caviar, and that shouldn’t be an insult to you, since it tastes way better than goddamn caviar.  It’s delicious.  You slather it on a sandwich, preferably between two pieces of toast, and you’ve got yourself a good time.  Its largest cultural significance comes from the its role as a signature dish of the Masters Tournament, which diminishes the fact that it’s delicious and everyone should be eating it, regardless of their desire to hit tiny dimpled white balls with a long stick of metal.

Despite its reputation as a Southern staple, pimento cheese was first made in New York.  In the 1870s, New York farmers began making a soft, unripened cheese that they soon started mixing with cream to make what we know as cream cheese.  At the same time, we began important pimentos from Spain.  Large scale food manufacturers canned these sweet peppers, and eventually we started combining the two together, with a 1908 Good Housekeeping article recommending a sandwich filled with cream cheese, pimentos, mustard and chives.  Now, the current recipe for pimento cheese involves cheddar, with some variations utilizing cream cheese as well, but this represented the first time where we mixed pimentos and cheese to make something delicious.  Eventually, it became appropriated by the South, partly because most pimentos were grown and canned by Southern farmers, with a group of farmers from Georgia coming up with an ideal pimento variety and a roasting machine that made the peppers easier to peel.

The recipe remained cream cheese-based until after World War II, when the popularity of pimento cheese on a national level began to wane.  Around this time, Southern cooks began making their own pimento cheese (before this point, several large companies sold jars of pimento cheese on a national scale), replacing the cream cheese with, at first, a “hoop cheese” made by draining the whey from cottage cheese and pressing the curds into round molds.  This was a far cheaper option to making pimento cheese than buying a jar of cheese, which led to more instances of it being made in the South, where the cheese maintained its popularity a bit more readily than the North, and soon other store-bought cheeses began being used—most notably cheddar.

Now, you can make a pimento cheese sandwich a variety of ways, with the addition of various spices or other ingredients such as onion or jalapeño, but you don’t really care.  It’s a bunch of shredded cheese and sweet peppers that, through a combination of science, magic, and American know-how, combines into a savory, creamy filling for one of the more reliably delicious sandwiches out there.  Just stop calling it caviar, come up with a better complimentary term for it, okay?

Monte Cristo

monte cristo

Oh God, that looks so good.  This is an American variation of a…French croquet-monsieur, but it’s still from America so we’re taking full credit.  This is a ham and cheese sandwich that is dipped in egg batter and fried—basically it’s a fried ham and cheese sandwich served on French toast dusted with powdered sugar and a side of jam if you’re lucky, which ohhhh look at how much you’re drooling at that thought right now.  That’s totally fine, it happens to all of us.  Now, the croquet-monsieur, which, ugh, France, came out in 1910—it’s a ham and Gruyere crustless sandwich fried in clarified butter.  That…sounds pretty good, as much as we hate praising anything France has done, though beginning in the 1930s we took that idea and make it much better.  From the 1930s to the 1960s, various recipes similar to the Monte Cristo popped up as French Sandwich, Toasted Ham Sandwich, or French Toasted Cheese Sandwich.  Either way, we pimped out that ride to various degrees, adding some sweet components, as well the addition of egg batter, while keeping the whole “ham and gruyere” thing intact.

The finalized product (well, as close to finalized as you can get—naturally there are regional variations, with some areas using turkey instead of ham because they are wrong about the purpose of taste buds, and others removing the sweet component of the sandwich as a reminder of why we can’t have nice things) likely first appeared on menus in Southern California.  While there are whispers that this happened as early as the 1950s, at the very latest it popped up in 1966 in Anaheim’s Disneyland of all places.  We know, we’re as surprised as you—we don’t really anticipate going to fucking Disneyland for our culinary origin stories, but here we are.

Reuben Sandwich

reuben sandwich

We’ve previously talked about the Reuben in borderline exhaustive detail, so you can click here for a more complete rundown, but this is an important enough sandwich to at least warrant a greatly pared down summary of its history.  Though there are several variations, the most common version of the Reuben is a hot sandwich on rye bread filled with corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing.  It was probably invented by Reuben Kulakofsky in Omaha, Nebraska, though some claim it was invented by Arnold Reuben, who owned Reuben’s Delicatessen in New York City.  There’s a large back and forth, and honestly we’re pretty sure it’s more likely to have originated in Omaha in the 1920s.  Whenever it was first made, it’s been a melty, toasty, delicious deli and lunch staple ever since.

Roast Beef Sandwich

roast beef

Roast beef is a national dish of England, with a cultural tradition dating back to the early 18th century.  Roast beef as a dish consisting of a hunk of cow roasted in the oven for a while, that’s British.  The roast beef sandwich as we know it, however, has been around America since at least 1877, so neener neener neener.  You might recognize this sandwich as “the exact kind of sandwich we said we weren’t going to cover when we talked about our stance on single-ingredient sandwiches” to which we reply ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

The first roast beef sandwich was known as beefsteak toast and consisted of cold beef, bread, and gravy, which was most flatteringly referred to as “a tired ark in a gravy flood” by The Washington Post in 1900.  Currently, when you think of a roast beef sandwich, two different kinds of meals come into mind—one is the cold-cut sandwich that honestly doesn’t need to be included in this article, and the other is the fast food friendly warm sandwich that ranges from pretty delicious to eh probably pretty good but remember that time that The Simpsons made fun of Arby’s man that was a brutal burn.  Now, Kelly’s Roast Beef from Massachusetts claims they invented the “modern roast beef sandwich” for the fast food age in 1951, which, sure.  We’ll grant that to them—1951 sounds good for the creation of a warm sandwich of sliced roast beef, and definitely marks an improvement over the frankly usually underwhelming choice of getting some cold roast beef pressed between two slices of bread.  Ohio and Boston, for whatever reason, are the hot beds of roast beef activity, and we’re happy letting them have that title while shrugging, saying, “Eh, it’s fine.  It’s a fine sandwich,” before moving on to talk about a sandwich we actually are excited about.

Grilled Cheese

grilled cheese

Sure, this is a pretty similar entry to both the melts in part one of this series, and the pimento cheese sandwich we just spent five hundred words bashing you over the head about, but fuck off, it’s grilled cheese, it’s delicious.  Science has proven that if you don’t like grilled cheese, you’re a bad person.  Well, okay, maybe instead of “science has proven” we should say “we’re saying right now” but you get the idea.

Cheese sandwiches have been around since cheese and bread have existed as a thing, which we’d posit is forever.  In England they enjoy a cooked cheese sandwich known as a toastie, where you bake or grill a cheese sandwich in either an oven or a pie iron, which is close to what we have, but ours is better because it’s grilled cheese  and we don’t bake our damn grilled cheeses in any damn ovens.  Buttered bread, filled with cheese, grilled—boom, grilled cheese.  That particular hero food first came into popularity in the 1920s, when cheap sliced bread and American cheese basically yelled at every American “smoosh us together and put us on fire please.”

It was the ultimate lunch food for the depression—outside of tasting great, we had literally just invented sliced bread (or more accurately—a bread slicer that made the selling of sliced bread both possible and extremely cost effective) and James L. Kraft had just managed to perfect his pasteurization process that led to the creation of American cheese, which was both cheap and able to travel long distances without spoiling.  We didn’t start calling it “grilled cheese” until the 1960s or so, but we had the sandwich as a day-to-day food during lean times—it famously (well, not famously, but importantly enough to be mentioned on like three websites) was a very common food item on Navy ships in World War II.  Now, Americans consume about 2.2 billion grilled cheese sandwiches yearly, we have an expansive variety to choose between, ranging from the simplest, cheap, Kraft singles and Wonder Bread Saturday lunch to gourmet grilled cheeses served in one particularly stupid New York restaurant for $214 a sandwich, but no matter how you eat it, you’re eating a slice of American culinary history.  Well, except for that two hundred buck one, that’s just obnoxious.

Peanut Butter and Jelly

pg&j

In 2002, a survey showed that Americans spend too much time conducting very stupid and pointless surveys.  It also, in collecting the information it was actually setting out to find, determined that the average American eats 1,5000 PB&Js from the date of their birth through their graduation from high school.  We’d say that number seems high, but it honestly doesn’t—peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are tasty, they’re kid friendly, and they’re engrained into our social consciousness.  Also, they cost, like, what, a quarter per sandwich to make?  We’ve never sat down and actually figured out the math, like, considering how many sandwiches you can get from a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a jar of jam, but…a quarter sounds about right, doesn’t it?

Anyway, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich did not start off as a humble lunch option.  While we as a species have ground peanuts into a paste ever since realizing that peanuts taste pretty good when ground into a paste, the process to make what we know as peanut butter wasn’t patented until 1884, and at the time it was considered an “elegant” food for the upper class.  The first recipe suggesting that peanut butter and jelly be paired together in sandwich form was published in 1901, but it wasn’t until 1920 that this combination became feasible for the members of the population that didn’t calculate their life’s savings in terms of “stores of ivory.”  By the 1920s and ‘30s, Skippy and Peter Pan brands of peanut butter offered affordable peanut butter options to pair with the cheap sliced bread that helped grilled cheeses launch into popularity.  From there, the PB&J had little difficulty grabbing a foothold as the lunch of our nation’s youth.

Then in 1968 we made Goober, combining peanut butter and jelly in a single jar, because we are nothing if not revolutionary in our ways to find a lazier way to make a lunch item that literally has three steps to it.  In a lot of ways, we see ourselves in the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Though to be fair, that might be because we’ve eaten enough of them preparing for this article that we’ve started hallucinating.  You all look like sandwiches to us right now.  Even you, turkey and swiss on rye.  We mean, Charley.

That’s all for what we’ve arbitrarily determined to be the classic traditional sandwiches of America.  Stay tuned as we continue our series, with the next installment being open faced sandwiches.  So many open faced sandwiches.  We brought this upon ourselves.

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3 responses to “American Sandwich Series: Classic and Timeless American Sandwiches (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: American Sandwich Series: Open faced Sandwiches of America | affotd

  2. Pingback: American Sandwich Series: Lesser-Known Regional Sandwiches of America (Mountain, West Coast and Southern Edition) | affotd

  3. Pingback: affotd

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