I learned the art of sandwich making from my father.
When it comes to bread and cold cuts, my dad really knows how to stack it up.
As far back as I can recall, my dad’s sandwich-making was as much art form as it was eating. Sometimes it was an exercise in physics, too, as he attempted to figure out how to eat his mile-high creations. I think he learned his craft from Dagwood Bumstead.
Carefully, he’ll reach into the middle of the loaf of bread to select two of the sturdiest slices, then he’ll layer them with a combination of meats and cheeses, topped off with lettuce and tomato, maybe some peppers or onions, and finally finished with one or more condiments — mayonnaise, mustard, or his personal favorite, Kraft Sandwich Spread, that pinkish-colored pickle-laced spread that sort of looks like Russian dressing.
Dad typically will step back a moment to admire his work, often proclaiming, “Good sam-ich,” before digging in.
For sure, there’s nothing like a good sandwich.
I’ve had sandwich-making on the mind lately for two reasons. My husband informed me that he had after-work meetings three days this week, and would not be home at his regular time until Thursday — the one night I won’t be home. There won’t be a whole lot of cooking going on at my house this week, but there no doubt will be a whole lot of sandwich- making.
The second reason is a vintage magazine insert that I happened upon during the basement clean-out that is ongoing at my house: Good Housekeeping’s Sandwich Manual.
History holds that the sandwich was invented in 1700s England by the Fourth Earl of Sandwich.
Sandwich, it seems, was a notorious gambler and he never wanted to bother getting up from the gambling table to eat, so he instructed his servants to bring him sliced meat between slices of bread. He could eat this without having to leave the game. Over time, his fellow gamblers started asking for what Sandwich was having and eventually, it came to be known as “a sandwich.”
But I do believe even the Earl could have picked up a few tips from Katherine Fisher and Dorothy B. Marsh, who were, respectively, director and food editor of the Good Housekeeping Institute in 1952 when the Sandwich Manual was printed.
The Sandwich Manual was enlightening. Who knew there were so many rules to follow for making a sandwich?
Under the heading “Facts in the life of a sandwich” were these pearls of vintage wisdom:
• “Sliced bread is a godsend.” I can’t argue with that.
• Bread should be buttered before a sandwich is made to “keep the bread moist and to prevent fillings from soaking through.” This, of course, explains why everyone’s grandmother would never think of making a sandwich without first buttering the bread.
• Leaving the crusts on the bread kept it from drying out and also acted like a girdle to help hold the sandwich together. I will never eat another sandwich without thinking of a pair of Spanx when I bite into the crust. Maybe that’s a good thing.
There are detailed descriptions of how to cut sandwiches — yes, there are more than two ways, I have learned — tips on how to correctly wrap sandwiches in waxed paper and pages of sandwich filling suggestions, including this one for Baked Beans and Salami:
“Snip ¼ pound salami into small bits. Place in bowl one 1-pound can baked beans with tomato sauce. Add salami, 2 tablespoons chili sauce, 2 teaspoons prepared mustard, and a little minced onion. Mash with fork.” Baked beans and salami will fill six generous sandwiches.
I suspect there will be plenty left over too.
There were instructions on the wisdom of keeping frozen sandwiches on hand to avoid the early-morning lunchbox rush and to always be prepared for a picnic or party — something it honestly never occurred to me to do.
Clearly, I would have failed 1950s homemaker school, making soggy sandwiches on unbuttered bread, failing to get the proper dog-ear fold on my waxed paper and having a freezer filled with items like ice, pesto and margaritas, but not a sandwich in sight.
I knew just how far behind I was when I read the two-page color photo spread titled, “Susan serves a Party Sandwich Loaf,” made by Good Housekeeping’s teenaged cook, Susan.
The day before her “gang” comes over Susan prepares separate bowls of ham, egg and tuna salads, and chills them overnight. On the day of their arrival, she mixes up two kinds of cheese spreads and puts together this loaf by slicing the bread horizontally into five slices, and then layering the prepared salads and one of the cheese spreads, along with sliced tomatoes, into a stacked sandwich that would bring tears to my dad’s eyes.
Finally, she frosted the loaf with cream cheese spread, before finishing it off with decorations of radish slices and chopped parsley. I have to say, it was a sight to behold.
And as I reviewed the mayonnaise, cheese and white bread content of the recipe, I became convinced that Susan is now a 78-year-old woman who knows a thing or two about Spanx herself.