The longest sandwich ever made, according to Guinness World Records, was nearly half a mile long. And hey, this was no slap-dash dried bread and peanut butter creation.
It was made from chicken breast, lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayonnaise, red vinegar, salt, mustard, white pepper, lemon juice, cumin and coriander — yummy! — and measured 735 metres long. They figured in weighed in at nearly 600 kilos.
The three sandwich-making teams, one of them from Notre Dame des Soeurs Antonines School, started it in the schoolyard, then snaked it out into the streets. I laughed when I read about this huge creation. But what I really loved is that the world's longest — and as far as I can tell, biggest — sandwich was made in Beirut.
Sandwiches are about as universal and ubiquitous as it gets in our world, and this time of year they're the mainstay of busy people everywhere, from New York commuters to Valley Trail riders.
And I'm always happy to dispel the myth that they were "invented" by the Earl of Sandwich, even though his name is attached to them.
Long before the earl was born, ancient mountain dwellers in what we now call Kazakhstan, people living on the plains of Persia wrapped tenderly roasted lamb into pieces of naan bread for a quick, portable meal. The Concho people in pre-colonial Mexico stewed chicken with chipotle peppers and nestled it in a fresh corn tortilla. And in a totally wrapper-less application, Mongol horsemen "sandwiched" meat between the saddle and the horse's back to tenderize it as they rode.
The Earl of Sandwich is an ancient title in England going back to the 17th century, but it's the fourth earl to whom all things "sandwich" are linked. Born John Montagu, he held a number of important posts during his career, but he was so corrupt and incompetent some suggested his epitaph should have read, "Seldom has any man held so many offices and accomplished so little."
It is true, though, that the modern sandwich and the Sandwich Islands were named for him, which some say would be epitaph enough. But the origins of the modern sandwich — meaning some kind of filling between two slices of bread — still remain debatable.
However tight this definition seems, with no room for open-face sandwiches, or pita wraps or other iterations, it's pretty much the standard operating definition in North America. In fact, U.S. law has ruled that a sandwich must include two slices of bread — something to do with non-competition clauses and new sandwich shops.
Thank goodness some of our sandwich icons would pass the legal test! Like a Dagwood. Named for the 1920s character Dagwood Bumstead, of Blondie and Dagwood cartoon fame, these tottering towers of multiple layers of bread slices, cheese, frilly lettuce, tomatoes and deli meats always looked they were on the verge of collapsing.
And a club sandwich, known as a "clubhouse" these days, would make the grade. Properly made with two slices of bread, not three, and cold, sliced roasted chicken — not turkey, thank you very much — bacon, lettuce, tomato slices and mayo, it was the favorite of former King Edward VIII of England and his wife, Wallis Simpson. She apparently took great pride in preparing them. Properly.
But a Paul Bunyan sandwich, named for its heartiness, wouldn't technically qualify. It's made with a bun and a hot cooked hamburger-based filling. Nor would a hero, which is served on a bun, too.
But sandwiches are so versatile and universal, it's darn near impossible to say they have to be made any certain way. All we know is we love them and they speak a universal language, so here are a few tips to get you out of your sandwich box.
For a fresh touch, one that's super good for you, try grating raw beets onto your sandwich and into your salads, for that matter. That's a big trend in Australia and it opens up a whole new world for you and beets. I think the biggest hold back to using them is the long cooking time they usually take.
Beets are big in sandwiches in Germany, too. In Munich, open-face sandwiches sport sliced pickled beets, hard-boiled egg, and pimentos and shredded cucumber on a dark rye bread. They also serve beet salads made from sliced, cooked beets in a light vinaigrette, like a potato salad, and topped with chopped chives.
Sandwiches were once so popular, at least in America, that Florence A. Cowles wrote a cookbook devoted to them — Seven Hundred Sandwiches. Larousse Gastronomique, by comparison, has maybe 20.
Seven Hundred Sandwiches features the likes of lettuce sandwiches, summer sandwiches and bacon sandwiches — good for camping because you can cook the bacon over a campfire and, of course, salted bacon would not spoil without refrigeration. It also recommended the adaptive baconion sandwiches, bacon all dressed up with sliced onions. Not to be pooh-poohed.
Onion sandwiches, also not to be pooh-poohed, were a favourite of my mother's this time of year when onions are fresh, firm and juicy. You have to use white bread, butter both slices thickly, preferably with fresh unsalted butter, spread a thick layer of thinly sliced sweet — note the operative word "sweet" — onion, salt and pepper it liberally, and enjoy.
I have one of my mom's oldest Americana cookbooks, circa World War II, and I can't believe the number of off-beat sandwich fillings it has!
But then, sandwiches are like eggs — you can pretty much trust your instincts and make up just about anything and they'll taste good. Don't forget those Middle Eastern touches — maybe a little Arabian baharat or cumin like they used on that record-breaking sandwich in Lebanon.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer currently on a chorizo and cuke sandwich kick.
Fun sandwich fillings from Lily Wallace:
• Chopped dates mixed with an equal amount of peanut butter or cream cheese, seasoned with salt and sprinkled with lemon juice.
• Chopped celery, apple, nuts and/or olives, in any proportion, and salad dressing.
• Cream cheese seasoned with anchovy paste.
• Tiny, well-browned sausages with a little grated onion.
• Tuna fish or salmon topped with slices of crisp bacon.
• Chopped raisins mixed with grated orange rind and sprinkled with lemon juice
• Mashed, leftover beans mixed with diced crisp bacon, mustard and ketchup
• Chopped green pepper mixed with chopped onion, chopped ripe olives and mayo.