Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Extolling the virtue of sandwiches

I just ate the best sandwich. Mesquite smoked turkey, home grown tomato, crisp lettuce on fresh rye with mayo. YUM! As I ate my drippy tomato-ey sandwich over a plate, I recalled reading Lawrence Sanders books from the 70s. I was a mere lass of 12 then, when the first book in his detective series "The Deadly Sins" came out in 1972, but I remember being entranced by the expositional detail given in this gritty NYC murder mystery to ... of all things ... sandwiches.

Sanders' main character in The First through Fourth Deadly Sin detective series was Edward X. Delaney. In the middle of a case, Delaney was usually stumped and what helped him think it through was to create the world's biggest sandwiches made of weird concoctions, and eat them directly leaning over his sink. Isn't is strange that I remember the sandwiches for over 37 years. But I do.

In another sandwich high, my sister and I used to vacation from Maine and Rhode Island at our father's condo on Singer Island in Florida. Wandering the palm-lined byways one afternoon, we stumbled upon a new open-air sandwich vendor. This was in the early 80s, and grocery items like sprouts and avocado and pita pockets were new and all the rage. We looked at the extensive sandwich menu and lingered over the possibilities. Finally I settled on a peanut butter and banana and honey concoction. I don't remember what made it so good but I remember it being just the right temperature to make the bread crispy and the peanut butter melty. It was bar none THE BEST sandwich I ever ate or have eaten since.

Sandwiches are portable, they can be lunch or dinner on the go. You can pack them and they take little room in a lunch bag. They can contain all the food groups and are tasty. They can be simple or complicated, neat or messy. What a perfect food!

he story goes, that the word sandwich that we use today was born in London during the very late hours one night in 1762 when an English nobleman, John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792), was too busy gambling to stop for a meal even though he was hungry for some food. The legend goes that he ordered a waiter to bring him roast-beef between two slices of bread. The Earl was able to continue his gambling while eating his snack; and from that incident, we have inherited that quick-food product that we now know as the sandwich. He apparently had the meat put on slices of bread so he wouldn’t get his fingers greasy while he was playing cards. More on the history of the sandwich going back to pre-Christ days, here.

Sandwiches have been featured prominently in movies as well as books. Who can forget Miracle Max's philosophy of life, where he says, "Sonny, true love is the greatest thing in the world - except for a nice MLT - mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe ... so perky. I love that."

The famous scene in "When Harry Met Sally" at Katz's Deli where Harry and Sally are eating sandwiches and having a certain discussion, and the scene culminates with an older lady in the next booth pointing to Sally's sandwich and saying "I'll have what she's having" (The woman who utteres the immortal line was Director Rob Reiner's mother by the way). That scene is considered one of the funniest of the last thirty years and for the next thirty years no one could order a sandwich in a deli without laughing. Or moaning.

Who can forget Jack Nicholson's trouble trying to get toast at the diner and having to deconstruct a chicken salad sandwich to get it?

Ahhh. The Noble Sandwich. It is history, it is its own scene in books, it has been its own character in movies. It is more than a meal, it is life! OK, I went overboard there. Gee, researching this post has taken so long and I have done laundry in between that... maybe it's time for another sandwich! I'll have a Miracle Max MLT with True Love on the side.

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