Welcome to “Food of Yore,” in which we’ll take trips down culinary memory lane to explore the history of recipes. Food history is as rich as our favorite flourless chocolate cake, so check back every Tuesday as we reveal the stories behind your favorite dishes.
In the test kitchen, we’ve developed recipes for sandwiches with backstories as rich as their fillings—Prosperity Sandwiches, Monte Cristo Sandwiches, and French Dip Sandwiches, to name just a few. And here’s a little backstory on sandwich innovation throughout the last century.
In the years before prohibition, New Yorkers were said to eat only six kind of sandwiches. The varieties were limited to sardine, tongue, roast beef, swiss cheese, liverwurst, and egg, according to William Grimes’s book Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York. But as Prohibition hit, cars became more mainstream, women became increasingly independent, and tearooms popped up all over the country. And the rise of tearooms led to the rise of the inventive sandwich.
New York City establishments were particularly imaginative, and the handheld meal became so popular that one New Yorker of the era counted nearly 1,000 different types. What were they? All sorts of different combinations (and not all terribly appetizing). Some examples include cheese and ketchup, lemon-prune, and baked bean and celery. Cookbooks reflected the trend, too, suggesting questionable pairings like peanut butter and chili sauce or shredded coconut, cucumber, and mayonnaise.
So it’s safe to say we’ve come pretty far in the sandwich game since the early 20th century. And since you’re probably in the mood to bite into one after reading this, try out the Griddled Patty Melt from Cook’s Country.
All the sandwich recipes mentioned in this story are free through May 2, 2013.