A little bread, meat, and a slice of history ...

Learn the stories behind a variety of sandwiches we eat today. Did you know peanut butter was once a delicacy?

A popular tale says the first man to eat a sandwich was a gambler who lived in 18th-century England. John Montagu, fourth Earl of Sandwich, it was said, was so busy gambling he didn't have time to eat, so he would order his servant to make him a treat. The servant put beef between two slices of bread and gave it to his master. In reality, according to his biographer, the Earl of Sandwich was probably so busy working as a politician that he ate at his desk.

Today sandwiches are a staple in lunchboxes across America. Here's a little trivia about one of our favorite midday meals:

Sloppy Joe.
A form of the sloppy Joe sandwich probably originated in the 19th century. Hamburger meat was popular for cooking dinner because it was inexpensive and could be easily mixed with other ingredients (often fillers that could "stretch" the meat to feed more people). The sloppy Joe, also called a loose-meat sandwich, was served in restaurants in the 1930s and '40s. It was called sloppy because the meat falls off the bun and Joe because it's a typical American name. The sandwich is made with ground meat and tomato sauce mixed with other ingredients like onions. It's served on a soft hamburger roll.

American sandwich is a term used to describe some of the first sandwiches eaten in the US. Americans began eating sandwiches in the 18th and 19th centuries. During the Civil War, they would serve meat with bread as a simple meal in the evening. The most popular American sandwich in the early 1900s was ham. There was boiled ham, broiled ham, and ham salad. The introduction of presliced soft white bread in the 1930s is one reason the taste for sandwiches grew in the US. Today, the phrase a real "American sandwich" is used to describe many different varieties.

One of America's most popular sandwiches is made with peanuts - the peanut butter sandwich. Peanut butter started to gain popularity at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 and, about a decade later, at the St. Louis World's Fair. It was considered a delicacy at first, and it was served in New York's finest tearooms in the early 1900s.

Commercial brands of peanut butter were introduced in the 1920s and '30s. Peanut butter offered an inexpensive, high- protein alternative to meat. Both peanut butter and jelly appeared on US military menus in the 1940s, during World War II. Peanut butter and jelly sales soared. It's still a popular choice for kids today.

The Dagwood sandwich was introduced in the 1930s in a comic strip called Blondie. In the strip, a character named Dagwood likes to make a sandwich that's piled high with whatever he can find in his refrigerator. One recipe for the multilayer Dagwood includes turkey, pastrami, roast beef, pepperoni, salami, cooked bacon, provolone cheese, Swiss cheese, Monterey Jack cheese, 10 slices of bread, tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, onions, mayonnaise, mustard, minced garlic, oil, and vinegar - all on one sandwich!

The Western sandwich is believed to have originated when pioneers were on the road migrating West. The Western is also called a Denver. It includes scrambled eggs, ham, onions, and green peppers. It is served on toast. It was common for eggs to go bad without proper refrigeration. Women would mask the flavor of spoiled eggs with plenty of onions and bacon. Some historians believe the Western was created by chuckwagon cooks and improved over the years.

The Italian sandwich, also known as the submarine or hoagie, is a large sandwich on a small loaf of Italian or French bread, six to 12 inches long. The sub was most likely introduced by southern Italian immigrants, many of whom came to the US in the early 20th century. Some say New England is where this sandwich originated. An immigrant sold fresh-baked bread to workers from his pushcart and later added meat, vegetables, and other ingredients. Today there are many variations of the Italian. One traditional recipe calls for salami or ham, onions, olives, American cheese, sour pickles, veggies, a squirt of oil, and salt and pepper.

This is a three-decker sandwich of turkey or chicken with crisp bacon piled onto toasted white bread with mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato. The most popular tale is that the recipe originated in men's social clubs in the late 19th century. Its name may have come from its association with exclusive clubs. The 1904 St. Louis World's Fair had restaurants with the club sandwich on the menu. Club sandwiches also were served in double-decker club cars on trains during the 1930s and 1940s. (The sandwiches were once two-decker.)

In the time of Mongol Emperor Genghis Khan (1167-1227), Khan's army ate patties made of scraped lamb and mutton. The scraps of meat were shaped into patties and softened by placing them under saddles of the sturdy ponies the men rode. They were eaten raw because the men had little time to dismount and cook. When the Mongols invaded Moscow, the Russians adopted the raw-meat meal with the name "Steak Tartare." (Tartars was what they called the Mongols.) Russian chefs refined it with chopped onions and raw eggs.

In the 1600s, ships from Hamburg, Germany, visited Russian ports. The meat was brought back to Germany. By the 18th and 19th centuries, it had become known as Hamburg Steak. German immigrants brought their meat to America, where it was later featured on menus in New York.

There are different stories about when and where the first hamburger was served on a bun. One story says that in the late 19th century, Charlie Nagreen, or "Hamburger Charlie," of Seymour, Wis., sold hamburgers from his ox-drawn food stand. Louis Lassen of New Haven, Conn., also has been credited with serving beef patties, made from his leftover meat scraps, with toasted bread in the early 1900s. The sandwiches were said to be popular with workers on the go.

Sources: 'What's Cooking America,' by Linda Stradley, History and Legend of Sandwiches, http://whatscookingamerica.net; The Food Timeline, editor Lynne Olver, www.foodtimeline.org/foodsandwiches.html; 'Sandwichery: Recipes, Riddles and Funny Facts About Food,' by Patricia and Talivaldis Stubis; Gourmet Retailer, www.gourmetretailer.com

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