The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 14, 2014

If it’s between bread, Americans can have good meal

By John Blankenship

— We Americans may never get over our obsession with hamburgers and hot dogs. But our culture allows us to dabble in a medley of delicious food substances between two slices of bread.

And though we’re well aware that the sandwich, as we have come to know it, dates back long before the time our nation ever came into existence, it doesn’t matter when it comes to enjoying our gastronomical treasure.

First, a bit of definition and history: The verb “to sandwich” has the meaning “to position anything between two other things of a different character, or to place different elements alternately.”

According to Jewish history, the ancient sage Hillel the Elder first put a slab of lamb between two soft wafers of unleavened bread around the year 1 B.C.

Some two thousand years later we Americans have elevated slamming delightful recipes of awesome edibles between chunks of bread into something of an art form, though it took a while for the portable fare to make its rounds to the Colonies.

What we now widely recognize as a sandwich is thought to have arrived on our shores after it appeared in Europe during the 18th century. Following the Revolutionary War, new settlers started using the term to describe bread and meat mixtures, and the idea quickly spread to all corners of the country, where it was first promoted as an elaborate meal at supper.

And by the 20th century, as bread became a staple of the American diet, the sandwich became the same kind of popular, quick meal as was already widespread in the Mediterranean.

Even so, Europeans have long regarded as uncivilized the American custom of grabbing a quick sandwich for lunch.

But we have been civilizing the sandwich with gourmet distinction. Few would argue that some of the best and tastiest sandwich samples are to be found in the cities and at roadside eateries across the United States.

What’s more, sandwiches can be found at every meal of the day in our country and even appear at after-theater parties in New York, where venerable thespian hangouts serve up gargantuan platters christened for the celebrated.

You can order a “Mohammed Ali,” a three-decker with corned beef, pastrami, chopped liver, and Bermuda onion; or a “Shirley MacLaine,” with lake sturgeon, Nova Scotia salmon, lettuce, tomato, and onion.

The “Reuben” was named for the old song that goes “Reuben, I’ve been thinking.” It is a grilled mix of corned beef, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese on pumpernickel.

In fact, as far as American sandwich cuisine is concerned, no ingredient is too bizarre to be crammed into something edible, including artichoke hearts, spinach, coconut, pineapple and anchovy paste — though not necessarily all together under the same roof.

But it all goes to prove that America’s ability to seize foreign ideas, add a bit of native sauce, and whip them into national cravings is well-documented, as in the case of pizza and pepperoni rolls and Italian subs.

So too with the sandwich called variously a “hero” or “submarine” or “torpedo” (for the shape of the bread used to make it) or “grinder” or “hoagie” or “poor boy.”

It is best fashioned with a fresh Italian loaf packed with cold cuts, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, oil, and perhaps sprinkled with banana peppers.

Some call such a fabrication a “zep” (or “zeppelin”) and some, a “gondola.”

Heroic variations include such creations as the “Cinderella” (chicken cloaked in zesty mayonnaise) and a “rich girl” (filled with lobster and crab meat).

You could say that sandwiches are a major energy source for both children and adults in the U.S.

And as far as my favorite club sandwich is concerned, I prefer roast beef, Black Forest ham, German bologna, and a slice of provolone cheese served up on a hoagie roll with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and banana peppers.

I just happened to pass by the deli on my way home yesterday and packed my shopping cart with choices of all of the above.

It only takes about 15 minutes to fashion a feast fit for a king. And as my uncle Sid would say back in his day, “It’s a meal within itself.”

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Top o’ the morning!

 — Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald.       E-mail: