“A young woman, pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself, and both placed near a window, cut down to the ground, and opening on a little lawn, surrounded by shrubs in the rich foliage of summer, was enough to catch any man’s heart…it was all in harmony; and as everything will turn to account when love is once set going, even the sandwich tray, and Dr. Grant doing the honours of it, were worth looking at.” – from Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, 1814.
Although the first recorded use of the word “sandwich” was in the journal of historian Edward Gibbon in 1762, people have been putting fillings between two pieces of bread for much, much longer than that. Even though the word “sandwich” was in common usage by the mid-18th century, however, few recipes for sandwiches appear in cookbooks of the time. Most likely, this is simply because sandwiches are so easy to make that most people didn’t need any instructions.
These are two of the oldest recipes actually titled “sandwiches” that I could find, from the 1804 book Culina Famulatrix Medicinae by Alexander Hunter. Although one recipe is titled just “a sandwich” and the other is called “a Cheshire sandwich,” they are both essentially the same except for the presence of anchovies in the second recipe. I have given the quantities of ingredients I used; but like most sandwiches, the recipes are very adaptable and the amounts can be easily adjusted to taste.
Both of these sandwiches are designed to be very small; Hunter directs the cook to cut the sandwiches into “mouthfuls.” He comments after one recipe that “this is a very neat sandwich, as it need not be touched with the fingers of the most delicate lady,” and remarks again after the second recipe that the “fair sex…delight in sandwiches.” They seem like exactly the sort of dainty sandwiches that would be served at a Regency ball, or that one would find on Dr. Grant’s sandwich tray at the Parsonage in Mansfield Park.
- 3 tbsp softened butter
- 3 tbsp grated Cheshire cheese (if you can’t get actual Cheshire cheese, use a mild, crumbly white cheddar instead)
- 1 1/2 tbsp mustard (use a good-quality mustard of your choice such as stone-ground or Dijon; do not use yellow mustard)
- 3 tbsp minced anchovies
- ham or other cooked meat, sliced
- For the first recipe, “A Sandwich,” mix together 3 tbsp of butter, 3 tbsp of cheese, and 1 1/2 tbsp mustard. For the second recipe, “A Cheshire Sandwich,” do the same but also add 3 tbsp minced anchovies. Mash using a fork until the ingredients form into a paste.
- Spread a small amount of the paste on two pieces of bread. Put ham or other cooked meat between the two pieces of bread and press together. Trim off the crusts and cut into finger-sized sandwiches.
I tried making both recipes, with anchovies and without (in the picture above, the sandwiches with the anchovies are on the bottom). I used ham for my sandwiches as the recipe suggests, but other cold meats such as chicken would certainly work too. If you were making these for a party, you could create quite a variety of sandwiches simply by using the base recipe and switching out the meats. I liked the plain sandwiches best; the anchovy sandwiches were just a little too much anchovy for me. Personally, I would probably use about half the amount of anchovies called for if I made these again; but if you like anchovies, by all means use the full quantity. Infinite adaptability is part of the beauty of sandwiches – that, and the fact that they can preserve the clean fingers of “the most delicate lady.”
Austen, J. (1814). Mansfield Park. https://gutenberg.org/files/141/141-h/141-h.htm
Davidson, A. (2006). Sandwich. In A. Davidson & T. Jaine (Eds.), The Oxford companion to food (pp. 692-693). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gibbon, E. (1929). Gibbon’s journal to January 28th, 1763: My journal I, II & III and ephemerides. New York: W. W. Norton & company. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015003929422&view=1up&seq=317&skin=2021
Hunter, A. (1804). Culina famulatrix medicinae: Or, receipts in cookery. York: T. Wilson and R. Spence. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Culina_Famulatrix_Medicinae/dPopAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0