Time to celebrate humble but delicious sandwiches
Chicken is our current top ingredient for popular snack
With around 12 billion eaten in the UK every year, it can truly be said the humble sandwich is Britain’s favourite form of food.
So it is not surprising it now has an annual week set aside to celebrate it.
This week, from Monday, May 11, to Sunday, May 17, is officially British Sandwich Week and, therefore the perfect time to take a look at its history, and what a long history that is.
The sandwich using two slices of bread as we know it in Britain today, can arguably be traced to 18th century Europe.
It is said to be named after John Montagu (1718-92), the fourth Earl of Sandwich, who started a craze for eating beef between two slices of toast.
It is said that he ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread to stop the grease getting on his fingers when he played cards or cribbage, and that others began to order “the same as Sandwich”.
However, the story of the sandwich dates thousands of years further back.
One ancient Jewish sage is said to have wrapped lamp and bitter herbs between two pieces of unleavened bread— during Passover
Flat breads of only slightly varying kinds have long been used to scoop or wrap small amounts of food en route from platter to mouth throughout Western Asia and northern Africa. From Morocco to Ethiopia to India, bread is baked in flat rounds, contrasting with the European loaf tradition.
During the Middle Ages in Europe, thick slabs of coarse and usually stale bread, called “trenchers”, were used as plates. After a meal, the food-soaked trencher was fed to a dog or to beggars at the tables of the wealthy, and eaten by diners in more modest circumstances.
The immediate culinary precursor with a direct connection to the English sandwich was to be found in the Netherlands of the 17th century, where the naturalist John Ray observed that in the taverns beef hung from the rafters “which they cut into thin slices and eat with bread and butter laying the slices upon the butter” — explanatory specifications that reveal the Dutch open-faced sandwich, was as yet unfamiliar in England.
Initially perceived as food that men shared while gaming and drinking at night, the sandwich slowly began appearing in polite society as a late- night meal among the aristocracy. The sandwich’s popularity in Britain increased dramatically during the 19th century when the rise of industrial society and the working classes made fast, portable and inexpensive meals essential.
In a recent survey by the British Sandwich Association, who scrutinised sandwich buying data from supermarkets, it was revealed chicken is now our favourite filling with four of the top nine sandwiches bought having chicken as their main filling ingredient.
Our very favourite, it would seem, is chicken and bacon.
Brits consume 43,000 tonnes of the chicken in sandwiches each year. This is two and a half times more than the second most important ingredient – cheese.
The second most-loved filling is the 1980s classic of the prawn sandwich followed by bacon, lettuce and tomato, which was the nation’s favourite last year but has fallen two places.
Plain chicken sandwiches come in at fourth place, with ploughman’s sandwiches – a mix of cheese, salad and pickle – taking fifth. The first recorded use of the word ‘Sandwich’ ( with a capital S), was in 1762 by Edward Gibbon writing of the Beef Steak Club in London
The only novel by Jane Austen containing the word ‘sandwich’ is Mansfield Park
Around 12 billion sandwiches are eaten every year in the UK
The world’s largest sandwich currently weighs 5,440 pounds
In 2008, an attempt in Iran to beat the record for the world’s biggest sandwich failed when the impatient crowd ate it before it was measured
The earliest reference to a ‘bacon sandwich’ listed in the Oxford English Dictionary was by George Orwell in 1931
The record for creating the most expensive sandwich ever made is claimed by chef Tom Bridge whose Lancaster Cheese Sandwich which was sold on eBay in 2006 for £345
The Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) were also named after the 4th Earl of Sandwich in 1778
Sandwich is also a town in Kent, although its name has nothing to do with sandwiches.
Top food 12 billion sandwiches are eaten in the UK every year