It all started with John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich. He had a nasty gambling habit and refused to eat most of his meals unless he was able to hold them in one hand while placing bets with his other — hence the birth of the phrase "to sandwich."
Today, sandwich varieties are so numerous it's impossible to sample them all. Thank goodness for food writer Susan Russo (NPR, foodblogga.com) and her new Encyclopedia of Sandwiches (Quirk Books, April 5), a book that pays detailed tribute to the quintessential convenience meal humans across the globe can all agree upon.
In her comprehensive catalog of nearly everything between sliced bread, Russo provides readers a concise history of sandwiches along with more than 100 recipes, highlighting the "gloriously unfussy" functionality of sandwiches. The A-to-Z list digs up the evolution of classics such as the BLT, bánh mi and croque-monsieur. Did you know that hoagies were originally called "hoggies," due to their oversize character? Or that the French Dip was invented by mistake, a sandwich accidentally dropped into a pan full of meat drippings by an anxious illegal Gallic immigrant preparing a meal for a police officer?
The irresistible photography of Matt Armendariz really gets the taste buds in motion (making even a ham sammie on Wonderbread look sensual), and luckily for readers, Russo helps the DIY in all of us by providing approachable steps to building each sandwich to accompany their anecdotal accounts.
Encyclopedia covers the dessert base, too, with sugary expectables like ice cream sandwiches, and throws some doughnut-wiches (sweet and savory) your way, as well as panini filled with chocolate and sweet fruit compotes. Russo believes the sandwich is "the most democratic of foods" — it can be "humble or high-brow," and eaten at any given time of the day. She's sure you've had a sandwich, or will, at some point in your day today. If this is so, consider this your Bible.