The World Between Two Slices
I was just getting my packed lunch ready for work tomorrow.
Just the standard thing; a couple of wholemeal baps with the Filling Of The Day. Being a creature of routine, what the Filling is usually depends on what Day it is. Monday is tuna pâté, Tuesday is Lancashire cheese with tortilla chips, Friday is tinned Canadian salmon.
Wednesday and Thursday are usually chicken slices or bacon and, reckless devil that I am, I sometimes switch them around.
Anyway, I was standing at the grill just now waiting for the bacon, when I started to ponder sandwiches in general, and the bacon butty in particular.
And 'particular' is what I am when it comes to the pig sarny. Simplicity is the watchword as far as I'm concerned. I have no time for people who try to jazz up sandwiches with black pepper, balsamic vinegar or even (shudder!) avocado: after all, the sandwich was invented to be quick and simple.
So, for the essential, the seminal bacon sandwich, each of the following statements has to be true:
- It must be streaky bacon, not that horrible rubbery back bacon that your teeth spend ages wrestling with
- Said bacon must then be grilled to a high crispness; crisp enough for it to be in danger of shattering when you try to stick a fork in it, but not so crisp that it sets off your smoke alarm
- The bread must be white, sliced and with a good spread of butter on it
- The bacon should be left for about half a minute after taking it from the grill, then placed on the buttered bread
- The whole ensemble should then be left for another minute or so for the heat of the bacon to start to melt the butter.
This, my dears, is the food of the gods. But it got me thinking about other sandwiches I have known and loved. I remember when I first discovered peanut butter at the age of eleven, and horrifying my classmates when I produced it in sandwiches on a school trip to Penrhyn Castle. There were the Princes' salmon paste sandwiches which were a feature of my tiny days, followed later by the actual salmon butties when I visited my grandmother every Saturday afternoon (there were pickled onions with them, too - the juxtaposition of the salmon and the vinegar was just right).
Later, when I was a student and very nearly penniless (and these were the days of full student grants - goodness only knows how I would have coped in these more modern, everything's-a-commodity times), I got by on crisp sandwiches. Walker's cheese and onion crisps, in fact. You could get a standard bag of them for about 17p, and you put them on the bottom slice, put the other slice on top and just pressed until the crisps started to break. I survived all this, somehow. My mother would have been horrified, and would have had the Red Cross to drop food parcels in for me had she known.
Then there was a type of sandwich which you would probably never encounter today, not even in the most private of sanctuaries: the beef dripping sandwich. We couldn't afford to have beef for Sunday lunch very often, and when we did it was usually the cheapest cuts. But the true treat was not the meat (which tended by its nature to be tough), but the fat. This would be poured from the roasting pan into a small earthenware bowl, then placed in the fridge to solidify. When required, this would then be taken out and made into sandwiches. The real delight of this was not the usual beige stuff at the top of the bowl, but the dark brown layer beneath it. This was ambrosial; it had a searching poignancy of taste which was the very essence of the meat.
Of course, you couldn't do it today. If you were merely to make the attempt, forty-seven government agencies would be knocking your door down within the hour, naming you and shaming you, and placing you on the Enjoyable Eating Offenders' Register.
Ah, Oú sont les butties d'antan?
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