Wednesday, September 01, 2010


Do you like a thumb-bit for a quick snack? I do, although I admit it is not an elegant meal. It is just right for some occasions however - such as when you are cleaning out the fridge and some of the scraps are too tempting to scrap, or when the desire for a supper snack cannot be resisted, or when it is too late for breakfast but too early for lunch and you are not pretentious enough for brunch.

It is obvious that I have been doing some foraging for old food words. A ‘thumb-bit’ is a piece of meat eaten on bread, and is so called for the obvious reason that the thumb is used to secure the meat in place. Delightful, isn’t it? Sounds more fun than ‘open sandwich’, doesn’t it?

The word is recorded in A dictionary of archaic and provincial words, obsolete phrases … (1847). The nineteenth century was a time of great interest in ‘lost’ English dialects, and there are many similar texts waiting to provide linguistic fodder for us in the coming weeks and months.

For added historical interest, you can, if you wish, use your thumb not to hold the meat on a vapid modern slice of white foamy stuff, but on a substantial large piece or ‘dad-of-bread.’ This treat is courtesy of Brockett’s Glossary of North Country Words (1825). A plain meat sandwich is getting more interesting and more fun all the time, isn’t it?

I have, I think, chosen an interesting recipe for the day. It is a sandwich. It is true that it is more complicated and more elegant than our thumb-bit, but who needs a recipe for a piece of meat on bread? It is attractive on a number of counts. It sounds interestingly savoury and tasty, which should be reason enough. It is versatile, which is always a virtue in a sandwich. It would, methinks, make a marvellous canapĂ©, if cut as suggested, or a marvellously substantial snack if left intact. It requires a ‘knife-point’ amount to be spread on the bread – and when did you last see an instruction like that in a recipe book?

It is also impossible to resist the title of the book from whence it came - Culina Famulatrix Medicinae: or, Receipts in Modern Cookery, with a Medical Commentary, written by Ignotus (York, 1806). How many publishers of cookery books today would accept a title in Latin? Have we cookbook buyers become dumbed down?

A Cheshire Sandwich.
Take anchovies, Cheshire cheese, and butter, of each equal parts. Made mustard to the taste. Pound in a marble mortar till all the ingredients become well incorporated. Spread a knife-pointful of this upon slices of white bread, and between two pieces put a thin slice of ham, or any kind of cold meat. Press together, and with a sharp knife, divide the sandwich into mouthfuls.

Quotation for the Day.
Too few people understand a really good sandwich.
James Beard.

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