The History of the Great British Sandwich

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A toasted sandwichA national institution, the sandwich has reigned as the nation’s favourite lunchtime snack for years. According to rumour, the origin of the sandwich lies in the English town which bears the same name, where John Montagu (the Fourth Earl of Sandwich) was such an enthusiastic gambler that he created the sandwich so that he could play through the night without stopping for dinner.

Since this introduction, British sandwiches have become one of the world’s staple foods and many different varieties of these tasty snacks are now available. Whether they are home-made or shop-bought, most varieties of sandwich have significant histories that help them to retain their position as the king of lunchtime meals.

1. Chicken salad

One of the simplest sandwiches, the chicken salad is one of the best selling sandwiches in the UK. A simple combination of chicken and basic salad ingredients (including lettuce, cucumber and red onion), the chicken salad sandwich is popular because of its diverse appeal and affordable price.

All of the ingredients within the sandwich are known for their affordability and this has helped to make the sandwich a huge success. Chicken salads are claimed to have been around since the mid 1800s with their introduction into the world of sandwiches occurring in the early 1900s.

2. Ham and cheese

Another of the nation’s favourites, this perfect combination of meat and dairy products has been a popular addition to school lunchboxes for a number of years. Whilst the original sandwiches were nothing more than a slice of meat between two pieces of bread, the latter addition of dairy ingredients and vegetables made this snack the king of foods it is today.

In fact, it is estimated that 3.2 billion sandwiches are eaten from lunchboxes each year whilst more than 3 billion are purchased. The UK sandwich industry is also responsible for employing more people than the agricultural industry, with over 300,000 people employed in the commercial sector of the business alone.

3. BLT

A sandwich creation which evolved from other popular varieties, the BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) is now one of the most popular varieties of this snack and the exact recipe is thought to have grown from the sandwiches of the late Victorian era.

Most of the ingredients of a BLT (bacon, lettuce and bread) were familiar to the Ancient Romans who conquered Britain, making them staple groceries for British households long before the introduction of the BLT. Tomatoes, on the other hand, were not introduced in Britain until the sixteenth century.

Two centuries later and mayonnaise, a French invention, also found its way to our shores. According to modern historians it is the eighteenth century which is also credited with being the principle time for the creation of modern sandwiches and the first recipes for the BLT date back to the 1920s.

The popularity of traditional sandwiches such as these has become so pronounced over recent years that national events, such as British Sandwich Week, are held in celebration.

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  • There are so many variations of the sandwich. I consider it one of the most popular meals in our world! Thanks for the great article.

  • One of the simpler types of sandwiches, ham sandwich is nevertheless a popular sandwich. At its best, it makes use of processed ham as the filling in between buttered sliced white loaf bread. The ham can be freshly pan-fried or served as cold boiled ham. In other variations, the ham can be chopped and doused with tartar sauce. Ham can also be combined with other ingredients, as in ham and cheddar cheese or ham and mustard.

  • You think that processed ham is best? And with tartar sauce? Never tried that, sounds a bit fishy! Ham and pickle works too.

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