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Sandwich filings through time

With all the talk of money-saving packed lunches, it got us thinking about the history of the sandwich - or rather how sandwich fillings have changed over the decades and centuries.

According to research last year by Waitrose, as well as prawn mayonnaise sandwiches lasting the course, egg mayonnaise, classic BLT, tuna mayonnaise and salmon cream cheese sandwiches still feature in the Top Ten, as they did ten years ago.

However, we seem to have got a bit more adventurous with wraps filled with Hoisin duck and chicken and bacon caesar.

Top 10 2023

  • Prawn mayonnaise
  • Cheese and onion
  • Egg mayonnaise
  • Steak and caramelised onion chutney
  • Hoisin duck wrap
  • Chicken and bacon caesar wrap
  • Tuna mayonnaise sandwich
  • Salt beef and mustard mayonnaise
  • Salmon and cream cheese
  • Classic BLT sandwich


We pretty much all know that the invention of the sandwich is attributed to the Earl of Sandwich. (More precisely the 4th Earl of Sandwich, one John Montagu.) Legend has it that this notorious gambler needed subsidence which could easily be consumed with one hand without actually leaving the table. Serious food historians naturally challenge this turn of events, much preferring the idea of grilled pitas and canapés amongst people in the eastern Mediterranean.

The realities are that as meal patterns changed and afternoon tea was served, so the sandwich became a thing of delicacy. But as people became more mobile through the use of stagecoaches and trains, sandwiches were a convenient means of keeping fed. Hampers could be packed and taken or ordered for stopping off points.

But what of the fillings themselves ? It’s thought that up until the late Victorian times sandwiches would have just been slices of meat, but very possibly not things that we would consider now even if we weren’t vegan. In the 1890s, Mrs Beeton talked of ‘an endless number of pounded and shredded preparations, the varieties being multiplied by the addition of savoury butter, sauces and condiments.’ Some of these fillings from her All about cookery book have made it to the 21st century, but I suspect few of us would bother with the finer additions she included.


At the other end of the social scale, the 1941 Universal cookery book of 1000 tested and inexpensive recipes had a selection of marginally more weird fillings from ginger and chocolate to mushroom. Published two years into the war, the recipes undoubtedly reflected the hard times of the 1930s. A third of them were sweet and not savoury.



By the time we get to the dinner and cocktail party obsessed sixties, Good Housekeeping were advocating all sorts of sophisticated fillings for parties, but they they were all chopped, mashed, minced or flaked. And they certainly seemed to love an open sandwich. But recognising that sandwiches were also needed for lunch boxes or picnics they offered up some basic staples with us probably seeing mayo for the first time.


So, what’s it to be ? The frugal forties, the sophisticated sixties, the precision of the Victorians or a good old timeless cheese sarnie ?

Published on 01/04/2024 17:24:48
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