Local Folks Foods

Excellent Kosher Food

January 18, 2012

"Enjoy Every Sandwich": The History of Bread, Meat & Everything in Between, Pt 1

Not long ago, I watched a PBS special that really caught my interest. To their credit, they put on some fun and interesting specials on food and this is no exception. The special,"Sandwiches You Will Like", investigated just what the title implies. I have to admit, I enjoy a good sandwich as much as the next person. So I'll do a few things here. First, some history, look at types of sandwiches throughout the country, and the ones I like most. This is part one of two.

So let's start with the history of the sandwich. Where did it begin? Who can we credit for this? Well, we had John Montagu to thank for this. Who is John Montagu? He was the Earl of Sandwich (Kent, United Kingdom) who was a patron of Captain John Cook, who named the Islands of Sandwich and Montagu after him. Montagu is credited with inventing the sandwich, at least the naming of it. This tells the story in a nutshell:
"Acknowledging the fact that combination of bread/pastry filled with meat or cheese and dressed with condiments have been enjoyed since ancient times, Food historians generally attribute the creation of the sandwich, as we know it today, to John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. This Englishman was said to have been fond of gambling. As the story goes, in 1762, during a 24 hour gambling streak he instructed a cook to prepare his food in such a way that it would not interfere with his game. The cook presented him with sliced meat between two pieces of toast. Perfect! This meal required no utensils and could be eaten with one hand, leaving the other free to continue the game. Sadly, the name of real inventor of the sandwich (be it inventive cook or the creative consumer) was not recorded for posterity.(1)"

I've even heard about his fellow card players order the same thing Sandwich did. Almost a give me what he's having. Now notice I said the name and modern version? This happened in the early to mid 1760's in the UK. The concept existed but there was no name associated with it. In fact, it goes as far back as 1 BC. Hillel the Elder, who was inspired by Exodus 12:3 to take bitter herbs and matzah to create what we call a sandwich. Hillel too "a small portion of bitter herbs and Paschal sacrifice (according to some versions, just bitter herbs) on a piece of matzah, creating a small open-faced sandwich. Because he was the first known person to do this, and because of his influence and stature in Palestinian Judaism, this practice was added to the Seder and the sandwich was named after him"(2). He did this for Passover since matzah was not a prohibited grain. The forbidden grains were "wheat, barley, spelt, rye, and either oats (according to Rashi) or two-rowed barley (according to Rambam's interpretation of Mishnah Kilayim 1:1; Yerushalmi Challah 1:1)."(3)

Eventually, this early form of the sandwich spread throughout the Middle East and eventually Europe. It's believed that Montagu was inspired partially by a trip to the Middle East, where food is eaten with pita bread. Eventually, the sandwich made its way to America. Sometime as early as the 1500's, a personal favorite of mine (and probably yours as well) was invented- the Hamburger, traced to Hamburg, Germany. Or so many thought. What evolved to be the hamburger came from a VERY unlikely source- Genghis Khan. He and his Mongolian armies rode on horseback for long periods of time. So what did they decide to do? They "keep scraps of lamb or mutton, formed into patties, under their saddles to tenderize the meat. When they stopped to make camp, the horsemen would cook the patties over open flames or eat them raw. The dish was taken to Russia, where it became “steak tartare (4).”

Read more:

So now we move forward to America. We know the sandwich (as we know it) DID come from Europe but our takes are, in many cases, much different than the original. The hamburger was not served on bread until it came to the USA. While the Germans brought the hamburger to America, there served it ground and cooked, mixed with bread crumbs. It wasn't placed on bread until an Oklahoma farmer named Oscar Weber Bilby, invented the bun made out of yeast. If you want more on the hamburger, check the names of Frank Menches, Charles Nagreen, Louis Lunch and Fletcher Davis for who invented the version we have today. According to, Bilby's burger was served on Mrs. Bilby's homemade yeast buns.

The sandwich as we know today here in America many credit to Eliza Leslie (aka, Miss Leslie), who really stumbled into fame. Leslie was born in London but eventually moved to Philadelphia. She could be considered the "Dear Abbey" of her day. Her book "Directions for Cookery" was known as the first to propose a ham sandwich as a main course. You can see the recipe here The book was written in 1840. Mrs. DA Lincoln also had her version some years later

Nice of these folks to set the table for what we so enjoy today. So much for the history of the sandwich for now. I think I've covered that as well as I can. Next up, the sandwiches that are not only very popular but those I like the most as well.

Works Cited:
*Either contributor(s) and/or date were not available.
1. "Food Timeline FAQs: sandwiches" taken from

2. "Hillel Sandwich", taken from A Virtual Passover,

3. " What is Matzah?", taken from Jewish Recipes, +

4. "Hamburgers: 5 Things Men Should Know", Simon Majumdar, taken from, +

Other suggested readings:
"Sandwich History", Bella Online, Catherine Bridges

"Home of the Hamburger?", Barry Popik, April 1, 2007, American Thinker,