As many of you know, I love old words - especially old regional food words. I had a sudden realization the other day that I have never shared my favourite old regional food word with you. I don’t know how it happened, but it did. Today I want to make up the deficit.
The word is butty. As far as I can make out, in the late nineteenth century the word rsimply referred to a piece of bread and butter. Before too long – and certainly by the time I grew up in the North of England – the word was usually qualified to indicate the chosen spread or filling, so you could have, for example, a treacle butty or a jam butty or a bacon butty. In other words, a butty was a sandwich. Not one of your unfulfilling fancy-pants sandwiches made with thinly sliced white bread cut into triangles, but a rustic, filling snack, hastily made and thickly comforting. Not cut, even, but the bread just folded over the filling.
Jam and bacon butties are pretty good, but the quintessential butty is a chip butty. A chip is known elsewhere in the non-butty-eating parts of the world as a French fry, but ‘French Fry Butty’ does not sound right, no matter where you eat it. A cousin of the chip butty is the crisp butty, crisps being ultra-thin packetted potato snacks known in the non-buttty-eating parts of the world as chips. Confusing, isn’t it?
Anyway, if you haven’t had one, I urge you to try a genuine chip butty. You don’t need a recipe. Just put a big pile of hot chips onto a thick slice of buttered bread, salt and vinegar them (malt vinegar, if you please) fold it over and eat it while it is hot. The bread must be white. Tomato sauce (ketchup, if you will) is optional.
Less well-informed parts of the world have a quite different concept of a potato sandwich, as the following recipes show. First, from America:
A New Sandwich to Please the Palate.
For luncheon or tea try these Parmentier sandwiches. Cut thin rectangles of bread from a sandwich loaf, not too fresh, cook by steam potatoes with skins. Remove the jackets and when cool cut into thin rondelles. Arrange them carefully on one-half of the rectangles of bread.
Then make a good mayonnaise dressing, using a little mustard. Spread the other halves of the bread, and join with the others to make neat sandwiches. Put them on a plate and in a moistened linen. Place under a heavy weight for three or four hours before serving.
Rochester Evening Journal and the Post Express... February 12, 1925
And secondly, the nineteenth century celebrity chef version from the big southern city of London, England:
Sauté the slices of beef as directed for bubble and squeak, cover one side of each piece with mashed potatoes a quarter of an inch in thickness, egg and bread-crumb over, then proceed the same with the other sides, fry in hot fat of a light brown colour, as you would a sole, and serve. Any kind of fresh meat may be used the same way.
The Modern Housewife (1851) by Alexis Soyer