The Sandwich Century: #1 – The American Sandwich
After a half-century of perceived American cultural hegemony, Europeans feel the need to get back at us in any way that they can. You really can’t blame them; after endless decades of ruling the world, here we come with our fat loudmouthed tourists and our Big Macs, ruining everything, and it’s not like they can just up and carpet-bomb us. So their revenge has taken the form of naming a bunch of low-grade foods and beverages after us. It ain’t beating us in a war, admittedly. And it’s not like we didn’t foist a bunch of our own stereotypes on every European nation whose name we could be bothered to pronounce. But for we few who respect, admire, and even embrace European culture, it cuts to the quick to be handed a watered-down coffee and be told it’s an “Americano”.
That’s the case with our very first sandwich. I’ve long been familiar with the lazy quasi-breakfast item that consists of cream cheese and jam between two slices of bread, but I always assumed that it was called a goyim bagel or something like that. Imagine my dismay, as a longtime Europhile, to discover that in Europe, it is known as an “American sandwich”. What we did to deserve this I cannot imagine — the firebombing of Dresden, maybe — but since this project is designed to progress in alphabetical order, it’s the lead-off sandwich in my century of sandwiches, so in the spirit of peace, conciliation and eternal friendship between America and our European brothers and sisters, here we go.
THE SANDWICH: An American sandwich is, simply enough, cream cheese and some sort of jam, jelly or preserves between two slices of bread. Its origins are shrouded in the midst of antiquity, but an educated guess probably would involve sleeping late on Sunday, cultural proximity to urban Jews, and a desire to finish the Style section before getting dressed.
THE INGREDIENTS: Two slices of white bread, a.k.a. honky manna, are called for. I used Cascadian Farms organic raspberry preserves, and whipped Philadelphia cream cheese. (In another instance of geographical naming as cultural stereotyping, Philadelphia cream cheese has nothing to do with that fine East Coast town; its origins are British and the brand started in New York, but was named for Philly because of its one-time association with fine cuisine. Now, of course, Philadelphia is thought of as the home of angry sports fans who throw batteries at underperforming athletes.) Curiously enough, given its association with America, the sandwich is meant to be presented with the crusts cut off and shaped into neat rectangles, in the British style. It thus belongs to the tea sandwich family of European oppressors more than the crude, boorish American meat hunk-style sammy. Thank goodness for food’s little ironies.
THE TASTE TEST: I’ve never been a fan of foods traditionally associated with breakfast, nor do I especially enjoy frou-frou finger sandwiches, and I far, far prefer savory to sweet, especially in the sandwich medium. So you’d think I’d hate this delicate little throw-together, but honestly, it was a perfectly adequate start to the project. It’s simple to make, light, easy to digest, and would be perfect as a brunch item. It’s not that great, really; more inoffensive than spectacular. And you’d have to eat about three dozen of them to make a meal. But it’s a good way to begin, and despite its extremely humble ingredients, the European naming strategy and construction gives it a curious elegance. Cultural backfire never tasted so modest!