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National Sandwich Month

Did you know August is National Sandwich Month? Here’s a little bit about the month-long tribute and some delicious sandwich recipes to try.

August is National Sandwich Month, a time to celebrate and consume the humble sandwich. Like some other food-oriented holidays, National Sandwich Month was invented by a food-industry leader, The Wheat Flour Institute (established by the Miller’s National Federation).

National Sandwich Day is celebrated on November 3 each year.

The holiday was created in 1952 and is an informal observation. Does anyone really expect schools and banks to close in honor of the sandwich? No, but some might argue it’s an idea worth considering.

There isn’t a lot of historic data on Sandwich Month–a quick search online reveals a few sources worth looking at, but overall there is more detail about the food itself.

Suffice it to say, observing National Sandwich Month means eating as many sandwiches as you like, and in the 21st century that also means sharing your food images on Instagram and other social media. If you share your sandwich pics during August, using the hashtag #NationalSandwichMonth will put you in touch with other people sharing your passion.

National Sandwich Month
Turkey Sandwich

A Brief History Of The Sandwich

Some believe the origin story of sandwiches begins with an 18th century man named John Montagu, better known as the fourth Earl of Sandwich from 1718-1792. The British statesman is said to be the inventor of the sandwich in a similar way that Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla discovered certain aspects of electricity around the same time–Edison “won” the PR contest as to who got there first in America most likely because he was…American.

The Earl Of Sandwich didn’t innovate, but he did bring an idea back from his travels. Sandwich observed people from Greece and Turkey using pita and meat in ways we are all familiar with today. But at the time, the idea was a very new one in the United Kingdom and John Montagu got the credit in England for bringing that concept to the table. Literally.

The Earl Gets His OG Sandwich

It’s true that the 18th-century Earl of Sandwich did not “invent” the sandwich. But he WAS very fond of them–so much so that they now bear his name.

How fond? In 1762, he was involved in an all-day, all-night gambling spree and according to the legend, the Earl asked for food to be prepared so he could eat and gamble at the same time. Part of that request? No utensils.

The result was sliced meat delivered between two pieces of toasted bread. The name of the person responsible for this history-making food prep was apparently not recorded. But after this evening, the sandwich was fairly destined to become popular in the region.

As mentioned above, sandwiches have been around a lot longer than the 1800s; there are long-standing traditions that could be included in the “sandwich pantheon”  including Passover where meat or other fillings have been placed between slices of bread, pita, matzoh, or others.

Wraps, an alternative type of sandwich, were found as far away as Africa and Asia. And the debate over whether a hot dog (which has origins in America as early as the 1800s) is a sandwich or not rages to this day.

French Dip Au Jus Sandwich
French Dip Au Jus Sandwich

Sandwiches In America

Sandwiches didn’t really catch on in America until well after the American Revolution. Part of the reason for that may have to do with nationalism.

Americans were loath to imitate parts of British culture. In America, early sandwiches were likely made from ham and not beef, which Brits sandwiches were usually made of; it’s possible that a “sandwich” as interpreted at the time featured a specific set of ingredients–the sort of thing that makes a gyro different from a kebab or shawarma.

It is entirely likely that the popularity of the sandwich today in American culture has its root in the Temperance movement; bars would offer free sandwiches to lure drinkers into the bar in spite of protests by those marching for “clean living”.

No matter the inspiration, the American sandwich has evolved over the decades and today there are more types than we can count, especially among fusion restaurants combining western sandwich concepts with South Korean, Chinese, and Taiwanese influences (just to name a few).

What Makes A Sandwich?

Essentially any filling between two slices of bread or surrounded by a bready substance could technically qualify as a sandwich. Which side of the hot dog argument do you fall on? Is a hot dog a sandwich or something more unique? There really isn’t a wrong answer here, but Merriam-Webster has chosen to define the hot dog as a sandwich because of the configuration of the bread.

What Makes An American Sandwich?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a sandwich made in America typically features meat and bread in a specific ratio. The meat must be at least 35% and the bread must make up no more than 50% of the presentation.

Popular Sandwiches In America

There are many examples of famous sandwiches, starting with Elvis Presley’s legendary Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich, capitalized here only because it has evolved into a specific cultural meme; this is a VERY specific sandwich!

On the East Coast, the corned beef sandwich is a staple at many deli counters and restaurants. The Philly cheesesteak is such a hotly contested menu item in some parts of the state of Pennsylvania that competing restaurants operate across the street from one another, both claiming to be the only ones “doing it right”.

The hoagie, the grinder, Chicago’s famous Italian beef sandwiches, and the ever-present submarine sandwich are all bready legends in their own way.

Among military communities like San Antonio, Texas, you’ll find sub shops run by veterans and their spouses offering fusion sub sandwiches like the Bulgogi sub–a traditional submarine sandwich loaf filled with the delicious South Korean beef called Bulgogi.

In middle America, you’ll find sandwiches heavy on seafood including walleye. You’ll also discover tavern sandwiches, made popular by Roseanne Barr as “loose meat sandwiches”. Compared to traditional sandwiches, this is a relative newcomer–it was introduced in Iowa in 1924. Illinois is famous for the Horseshoe, which is two slices of toast, meat patties, french fries, and a cheese sauce.

On the West Coast, sometimes it’s not the filling that makes the difference. The San Francisco sourdough craze is a highly specialized indulgence made unique because of a local bacteria; Lactobacillus San Francisco. Combined with candida milleri yeast, you get San Francisco sourdough.

There are even famous fictional sandwiches. In mid-20th century America, the cartoon Popeye featured a lovable bum offering to “pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today”. Hamburgers are, technically speaking, definitely sandwiches. But the most famous cartoon character associated with the food is Dagwood Bumstead. He was one of the central characters in the Blondie comic strip featured in the comics section of the Sunday newspapers (remember those?).

Dagwood was famous for building enormous sandwiches, which became known as Dagwoods. These cartoon indulgences feature huge multi-layered sandwiches with every type of meat and cheese. On paper as cartoon food, they look impossible to eat. In real life, people make less fearsome versions of the Dagwood, but they are still very large.

National Sandwich Month

Observing Sandwich Month in August means different things to different people, but one of the “challenges” of the month could include going through different types of sandwiches you have never tried before. Expanding your horizons into fusion food, or trying alternative takes on the sandwich as found in other cultures is a fun way to learn new things about food and about other cultures at the same time. But it’s always fun to revisit some classics, too–when was the last time you had a triple-decker?

Delicious sandwich recipes to try:

National Sandwich Month Recipes

From breakfast to dinner, check out these awesome sandwich recipes, there is something for everyone!

Monique McArthur
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