A couple of days ago, I posted something about Five Sandwiches that Made America and I received some flack — mainly from the Everloving — that the real American sandwiches had been omitted. Therefore, as atonement, I did a little research on grilled cheese, the hoagie, hamburger, Reuben, and the BLT.
The French have had their croque monsieur since the 1890s, but the grilled cheese sandwich as we know it had to await the invention of sliced bread by Otto Rohwedder in the late 1920s, and was further enhanced with the introduction of cheese slices at the end of the 1940s.
As the Committed Pig notes:
“The name “grilled cheese” didn’t actually come around until the 1960’s; before then it was all “toasted cheese” or “melted cheese” sandwiches. Which brings up a very important point – how you actually cook this sandwich doesn’t really matter, and historically the methods have been all over the map. Records show as early as 1902, a recipe for a “Melted Cheese,” designed to be cooked in a hot oven, appeared in Sarah Tyson Rorer’s ‘Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book’. A recipe was also published in 1929 in Florence A. Cowles’ ‘Seven Hundred Sandwiches’ called to broil the ingredients to make “Toasted Cheese.” “Toasted Sandwich,” published in 1939 in ‘The Boston Cooking School Cook Book’, encouraged the ingredients to be broiled or even sautéed in a frying pan coated with butter. And in ‘The Joy of Cooking’ (1953), Irma S. Rombauer wrote that bread and cheese should be heated in a commercial waffle iron – an easy meal for even “the maid-less host” to prepare.”
So many names for this ubiquitous American sandwich: hoagie, submarine, grinder, po’boy, hero, wedges, etc. etc. The origin myth is that a local shopkeeper supplied these kinds of sandwiches to the ship workers building submarines at Groton, CT, during the second world war. But a listing two years earlier for a restaurant in Wilmington, DE, serving “submarine sandwiches to go” seems to hit that one on the head.
The concept of piling different ingredients between two long sticks of untoasted bread seems to have arisen spontaneously in several locations around the same time — thus the wide array of local names — hoagie, submarine, grinder, po’boy, hero, wedges, etc. etc. — for what is essentially the same sandwich.
Since its commercialization, the name Subway has become a standard.
Where would America be without the hamburger sandwich? It has easily overtaken the hot dog as America’s fast food go-to. Billions are chewed every year, and working a hamburger stand is often a good first step into employment. I’ve never had a Big Mac but I’ve written about them.
According to the Library of Congress, it was Louis Lassen, a New Haven, CT, lunch wagon operator who in 1895 first ground up beef and slapped it between bread. The Lassen luncheonette still exists and they only allow additions of cheese, tomato, and onion, nothing else. But there are other stories from other towns from around the same time. It’s clear that it was an efficient product for both buyer and seller, and pretty soon they were were being sold everywhere.
Competition was so strong that most successful hamburger chains quickly became masters of business efficiency, of delivering an adequate standardized meal and experience for the least cost. Ray Kroc, who opened the first franchised McDonalds in the 1950s, was one such master and he quickly turned McDs into the behemoth.
The Reuben, always associated with kosher delis though definitely not kosher, seems to have come about in the 1920s, probably as a poker game food in Omaha, NE. But Reuben’s Deli in New York has also claimed authorship.
The Canadian version would probably use Montreal smoked meat rather than corned beef.
Although all the ingredients were available there is no evidence of bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches prior to 1900. Food For Thought has found a recipe from the “1903 Good Housekeeping Everyday Cook Book, where a club sandwich included bacon, lettuce, tomato, along with mayo and a slice of turkey.”
This confirms me in my view that the BLT is simply a form of club sandwich. Nothing wrong with that, but not quite as innovative as the other sandwiches.