Wednesday, October 14, 2015

“Something of a Novelty” in 1896: Hot Sandwiches.

In 1896, an American magazine (Albany) with the very English-sounding title of The Cultivator & Country Gentleman, noted that “Hot sandwiches are something of a novelty and will be relished on a cold night.” I was intrigued by the idea that something hot on bread, or hot bread with something on it, did not become a ‘thing’ until the late nineteenth century – it being without doubt that bread and fillings and the desire for something hot to eat on a cold night are all undoubtedly very ancient things.

It does seem pretty clear however that recipes for hot sandwiches did start to pop up in print publications around this time – which likely represents the desire to ‘discover’ (rediscover) old ideas never before seen in print. Or maybe the phenomenon is related to finding uses for newly invented and easily available kitchen equipment?

I don’t really believe that any cook, no non-cook for that matter, would actually need recipes for the following dishes, but I give them nonetheless:

Hot Roast Beef Sandwiches.
Roast a suitable cut from the hind quarter, make a gravy from trimmings and bones. Serve one thin slice of the hot roast on one slice of the bread, cover with a little of the gravy and serve with one other slice of bread. This is in some places accompanied by a spoonful of mashed or browned potatoes, or a choice is given of both kinds.
The Lunch Room (Chicago, c.1916) by Paul Richards

Hot Cheese Sandwich.
Cut stale bread in ¼ inch slices, remove crusts; cut mild cheese in slices same size as slices of bread, and sprinkle with salt and cayenne. Put a slice of cheese between each two slices of bread and toast until cheese melts or bake in a hot oven until cheese melts and the bread is browned; or sauté in butter first on one side and then on the other until delicately browned.
Cooking for profit: catering and food service management (Chicago, 1922)
by Alice Bradley.

And now for some rather more interesting comments and ideas on the theme of hot sandwiches. The English credited the idea to the Americans:

Roadside Restaurants in America.
Even though the roads of America cannot soothe the motorist with tea in a thatched cottage and supper in an Elizabethan inn parlour, they have their compensations. And the greatest of these is the roadside toasted sandwich, made of anything from cheese to chicken or frog-let, freshly toasted, hot, pleasantly large – a meal in itself for fivepence or a shilling.
These creations are not only to be found in various sandwich-stands, “pig-stands,” “barbecues,” in the cities, but also in innumerable little huts called lunch-rooms that have sprung up beside every petrol station, post office, or railway station on the high road. The most remarkable sandwich I ever ate was a so-called “oyster loaf” in a solitary shack that we came on after fifty miles of swamp. The shack looked anything but picturesque – a haphazard wooden construction plastered over with tin advertising signs and flanked by a pile of oyster-shells that were evidently the debris from the thousand oyster sandwiches that other wayfarers had eaten before us. In the little room, with its sanded floor and oilcloth-covered counter, we devoured our sandwiches. Each one was made of a long loaf of French bread that had been split, hollowed out, toasted, and packed with fried oysters. The loaf cost tenpence or a shilling, according to the number of oysters ordered. We paid or bill with gratitude, and looked at the dilapidated oyster-pile outside with a new respect.
The Manchester Guardian 04 September 1929.

And here is an interesting version of a hot sandwich from an American newspaper of the same era:

Hot Sandwiches.
On bread-baking day these most delicious of sandwiches are a pleasing tea table possibility, in shaping the raised biscuit for the pans, make them very much smaller than for regular service. Have some fresh butter mixed soft with a little whipped cream. Chop enough cold boiled chicken to make two cupfuls. Add mayonnaise enough to the chicken to make a spreading mass, a little red pepper, and a half-teaspoonful of onion juice. When ready break the hot biscuits open, ill with the chicken and a tiny lettuce leaf, and serve at once while the biscuits are hot.
The Washington Post (1877-1922) 19 April 1922

This is an interesting concept, in spite of the slightly confusing (to me) instructions, from an article about toast:

The Uses of Toast
 … And think of all the creamed things on toast, and the toasted sandwiches! For a change from the former, try making toast boxes. For a simple meal cut bread (sandwich loaves are good for this trick) into slices two inches thick, remove te rusts, ut around the inside with a sharp knife, leaving a thin shell, remove the center and bake the box in a moderate oven until nicely toasted. If you want a more elaborate box, cut the bread into cubes. Then, when the crust has been removed, insert the blade of a sharp knife into the top edges slanting downward, and cut off the top, so that when you remove the cover it will leave sort of a beveled edge. Toast the cover and the box very gently. Fill the box with the creamed mixture and replace the cover. If you have done your work neatly, the cut will not show. With lobster in a thick white sauce, this makes an ideal dish for a bridge luncheon.
If you prefer, the toast boxes may be cut in rounds with the aid of a baking powder tin. You will find it is better to toast them bottom up because the heat does not otherwise penetrate the inside of the box, and it is still white when the rest of the box is a lovely brown.

Afro-American [Baltimore] 30 April 1932


korenni said...

Back in the 1950s, my aunt was taken to Pappy and Jimmy's, which used to be a Memphis landmark but now, sadly, no longer exists. Although it wasn't on the menu, she asked if they could make her an oyster loaf. She said Pappy himself came to their table in tears, he was so grateful that someone had asked him for this piece of his past (Memphis isn't near the ocean, of course). She was surprised to find, when the oyster loaf arrived, that it had all kinds of "fixins" (unfortunately, I no longer remember what) instead of being the plain white loaf and oysters she was used to.

The Old Foodie said...

Hi korenni. Thanks so much for sharing your personal family memory - I am so delighted! And my apologies for the late response - I have been busy with family stuff.