Sandwiches have long been the lunch mainstay of the creative and the frugal. Sandwiches in various forms date back well into the early days of man – in a pinch, bread, meat scraps, and even leftover vegetable were re-purposed into a midday meal. The earliest use of the term ‘sandwich’ is difficult to trace, but according What’s Cooking America, “the first written record of the word “sandwich” appeared in Edward Gibbons (1737-1794), English author, scholar, and historian, journal on November 24, 1762.” The art form of the sandwich, however, has been alive since the 1500’s or earlier:

“What, then, were sandwiches called before they were sandwiches? After combing through hundreds of texts, mostly plays, that were written long before the Earl of Sandwich was even born, a possible (through somewhat prosaic) answer emerges. The sandwich appears to have been simply known as “bread and meat” or “bread and cheese.” These two phrases are found throughout English drama from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The sandwich has always been ideal for poorer families that had to stretch a budget — it’s a snap to put together and easy to wrap up and take along with you. In that spirit, I thought you’d enjoy a bit of history, from Florence Nesbitt’s Low Cost Cooking. (p 112-113) A former housekeeper herself, there is scant information on Nesbitt’s biography on the web, but in the opening pages of the book, she describes herself as the Field Supervisor and Dietician at the Department of Relief, at the Juvenile Court of Chicago.

Published in 1915, the book is one of a series that Ms. Nesbitt authored for The American School of Home Economics in Chicago that focused on budget food and daily living for poorer families, or, as she described “housekeepers who must conduct their homes with a small expenditure of money.” Often these were women who worked outside the home and had to leave older children in charge of part of the household duties.

Ms. Nesbitt’s timeless advice on the art of cold lunches:

If a cold lunch must be eaten by any member of the family, it should be very carefully prepared and should  have as much variety as possible. A cold lunch soon  becomes exceedingly distasteful if it is always the same.

The substantial part of the lunch must usually be sandwiches with fresh fruit if possible and sometimes cake or cookies, or candy.

The lunch box or basket may be divided into two or four parts by making partitions of strips of pasteboard. Each compartment should be lined with white paper fresh each day. In this way different kinds of food can be kept separate and it will be possible to carry baked beans and salads of all kinds in one compartment where they will not injure the other foods.

Ms. Nesbitt also had some suggestions for making sandwiches.

Bread loaves in 1914 were thick and un-sliced. Often bread would get hard quickly – butter was used to not only add a bit of fat and taste to sandwich recipes, but also to moisten stale bread that would then be warmed to soften it: Slice bread for sandwiches very thin, put in the filling and cut them the size and shape desired. It is better to have each sandwich small as this makes them more appetizing. They should be very carefully wrapped in oiled paper so they will not dry out. The following are some suggestions for making filling for sandwiches.

1. Sliced Meats.

Ham, roast or boiled beef, etc., sliced thin. When such meat is used for the family dinner, cut off some good slices for the next day’s lunch. Homecooked meats cost only about one-third as much as the ready-cooked.

2. Chopped Meats.

Ham, pork, beef, mutton, etc., chopped fine, with seasoning such as mustard, salad dressing, etc. All leftover meats can be used in  this way and made into tasteful sandwiches.

3. Bacon, fried crisp.

Dip one side of the bread to be used in the hot drippings, lay the pieces of bacon inside. This is good with cornbread. (2014 note: We don’t need the fat from bacon drippings in modern times —  in fact, turkey bacon is always the healthier alternative. But back in 1915, filling growling stomachs was the priority.)

4. Lettuce.

Spread a leaf of lettuce with cooked salad dressing and place between slices of buttered bread. Or, use cottage cheese instead of salad dressing.

5. Nut Sandwiches.

Chopped or ground peanuts or other nuts, moistened with salad dressing or melted butter.fig jam sandwiches

6. Nut and Fruit.

Use dried figs, raisins or dates, chopped fine and mixed with ground nuts.

7. Cheese.

Make a layer of grated cheese between slices of buttered bread. It may be moistened with syrup.

& Egg.

Hard-cooked egg chopped fine, moistened with hot drippings or butter, or salad dressing; sweet green pepper chopped fine
may be added ; or fried egg placed between pieces of bread.

9. Baked Beans.

Mash the beans fine, add a little mustard and vinegar, or any other seasoning desired, and place between buttered bread.

la Sweet Sandwiches.

Mash the pulp of stewed fruit, dates, figs, prunes, etc, and spread between buttered bread. A thick marmalade may be used
for this.