Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The British Railway Sandwich.

The passenger railway business began in the north of England with the opening of the Stockton to Darlington railway line on September 27, 1829. For some years the steam locomotive had been used to pull coal-wagons, but on this day, a passenger carriage carrying a number of no doubt very excited and honoured dignitaries was attached. The man they called “The Father of Railways” , George Stephenson (1781-1848) was in the driving seat on that inaugural ride.

Within a few decades railway lines criss-crossed many countries, and made it possible for many more people to become “travellers”. As we do nowadays, before setting off on a rail journey passengers could do their travel homework by reading the accounts and hints from those who had “been there, done that.” A little over two decades after Stephenson’s train line carried the north country notables on that first ride, there were already several guides to would-be passengers. Today’s advice about how to ensure one does not go hungry en route come from Hints to Railway Travellers, and country visitors to London, by an Old Stager (1852)

“Carry your own provisions, by which means you can dine when you are hungry instead of when the railway directors think you ought to be. Chickens cut up, and tongue sliced, with bread,biscuits, cakes and so on are most convenient. Don’t forget the salt. Buy sandwiches if you do buy.
The quickest Express generally gives time for drinking, but if you don t like getting out of the carriage, you can add sherry and water, or brandy and water, to the stock. Ask how long the train stops before you alight and on no account attempt to do so before it stops.”

Sandwiches, sandwiches, sandwiches. Make or buy sandwiches became the standard advice to railway passengers. Railway refreshment room supervisors heard the call, and invented the infamous “British Railway Sandwich.”

It was some time before cookery books devoted to the sandwich were published, but when they did, some even had special sections on sandwiches suitable for railway journeys. One of those books was Something New in Sandwiches, by M. Redington White (1932). Recipes were given for sandwiches in various categories – simple savoury, special savoury, vegetarian, afternoon tea, sweet biscuit etc., and various combinations were suggested for taking onto the train.

Menus for Railway Journeys.

1. Cress, Ham, Tomato, Apple.
2. Cheddar Cheese, Beetroot, Beef, Apricot.
3. Cream Cheese, Celery, Kidney, Green Pea, Lemon.
4. Sausage, Broad Bean, Banana, Orange.
5. Egg, Roe, Lettuce, Strawberry.
6. Sole, Liver, Russian Salad, Melon.
7. Cabbage, Pork, Apple, Walnut.
8. Chicken, Asparagus, Greengage, Orange.

It is good to see that many of the books ensured that the dessert course was covered too. We have had many sandwich recipes before, but here are some sweet ideas from Salads and Sandwiches, by Mary M. Wright (Philadelphia, 1917)

Mint Sandwiches.
Pear preserves, Fresh mint, Bread and butter.
To each pint of thick pear preserves add about a fourth cupful of fresh mint chopped fine. Use as a filler between thin slices of buttered bread.

Ginger and Orange Sandwiches.
Candied orange peel, Preserved ginger, Orange juice, Ginger syrup
Chop the candied orange peel and the preserved ginger until fine, using an equal quantity of each. Mix in enough of ginger syrup and orange juice to make it of the right consistency. Spread on thin slices of bread spread with unsalted butter.

College Sandwiches.
Peanut butter, Sweet milk chocolate
Bread and butter
Grate the chocolate and stir into the peanut butter, and spread on thin slices of buttered bread. These make nourishing sandwiches that are excellent for the children’s school lunches.

Pineapple Sandwiches.
Preserved pineapple, dates, pineapple juice, Bread and Butter
Chop the preserved pineapple, and add half as much chopped dates. Mix into a paste with a little pineapple juice, or syrup from the preserved pineapple. Spread on thin slices of white or brown bread, and form into sandwiches.

Sandwich recipes can also be found at:

Quotation for the Day.

If they want to get rid of me, they'll get rid of me through British Rail
Tony Benn, September 1984


KT said...

That reminds me of my trip to Japan - the only time I had a sandwich while I was there was on the train from Kyoto to Kobe. It was turkey-cranberry - appropriate considering it was late November and my family was celebrating Thanksgiving back at home in California.

Anonymous said...

I ordered sandwiches for a couple of meetings at work this week. There were maybe a dozen or fifteen choices, pretty much variations on "the standard" and none of them matching the lists you quote -- there was a cheddar and beef option, actually, but sans beetroot and apricot. Which leads to a fairly obvious reflection on the subjectivity and time-boundedness of what's "standard." (I wonder how the group would have reacted to cream cheese with celery and kidney.)