It’s a simple recipe: bread, filling, bread. But sandwiches had to get their scrumptious start somewhere.

This week, we’re serving up an extra delicious dose of history. Joy Dolo and co-host Ben travel back to a time when putting food between two slices of bread was a culinary revolution. And reporter Tracy Mumford introduces us to two innovators - the one who did it first and the one who gets all the credit.

Plus, Brains On host Molly Bloom drops by the studio to treat Joy and Ben to some strange historical sandwiches. Have you ever heard of a sandwich… loaf? You can check out a photo here.

Audio Transcript

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NARRATOR: Noon, an ordinary scene in an ordinary city. Our two travelers settle in for a mid-day repast. But this lunch will not be a pleasant hour of rest and relaxation for Joy and Ben.

JOY: So what do you want to eat?

BEN: Something easy-- souffle?

JOY: Maybe something a little easier than that. What about a sandwich?

BEN: I'd love a sandwich.


Where's that weird noise coming from?

JOY: I have no idea. I'm sure it's fine, and we're totally not trapped in some trippy lunchtime horror scenario. Anyway, what have we got for making a sandwich?


Just ignore it.


BEN: OK, looks like tomatoes, bacon, mayo, mustard, Swiss cheese, cheddar, ketchup, pickles, ham, turkey. Wow, we have it all.

JOY: Oh, awesome. I'm going to make a BLT.

BEN: Me, too. Let me just grab the--



JOY: Ben?

BEN: We don't have any bread.

JOY: No. No! We can't have a sandwich without bread.

BEN: It's just a stack of food.

JOY: Wait, no, no. We don't need bread. We'll use books. See? A bookwich. No, no, no, shoes. Wait, banana peels. That'll work, right?

BEN: This isn't happening. This isn't happening.

JOY: Hold on. I found some bread in the freezer.

BEN: Really? Yes! Lunch is saved.

JOY: Oh, no, wait. It's raisin bread.

BEN: No!


NARRATOR: And there you have it-- Joy and Ben, trapped at the lunching hour without sandwiches in the hunger zone.


JOY: You are such a natural.


I'm Joy Dolo, and this is Forever Ago, the show where we order up history on two slices of having a good time.

BEN: Hold the mustard.

JOY: Ha-ha! That's my lunch date for the day, Ben. Hey.

BEN: Hi.

JOY: So I hear you like to cook. How did you get into that?

BEN: I watched other people cooking, and I thought it looked like fun.

JOY: Is there something that you like to cook?

BEN: I like to cook stir fry a lot. And I also like to cook tilapia.

JOY: You can make tilapia?

BEN: Yeah.

JOY: Whoa! You should come to my house and show me a few things because I'm pretty sure I can't make tilapia. Do you like to make sandwiches, or is that just a little too basic for you?

BEN: I like to make sandwiches sometimes. Like, on a cold day, a nice grilled cheese will do it for me.

JOY: Why do you think sandwiches are so popular? Why do you think people eat them all the time?

BEN: I think they're popular because they're easy, good, and can go so many ways.

JOY: Yeah, yeah, they're easy. You just throw it together and run out the door to go to work or school, which is why it's hard to imagine a time before sandwiches. You know, I bet the first life on Earth ate sandwiches.


CREATURE: I'll put a single-celled organism between two other single-celled organisms and voila, a single-cell salad sandwich.


BEN: I mean, what goes better with primordial soup than a primordial sandwich?

JOY: Nice. But the first sandwich for humans had to come from somewhere, or somewhen. Here to help us track it down is Tracy Mumford, who-- Tracy, did you just put bananas in that sandwich?

TRACY: Uh, yeah, it's the Elvis, peanut butter and bananas-- perfect sandwich.

JOY: OK. Well, do you have time to tell us about the history of sandwiches, or are we catching you mid-snack?

TRACY: No, no, OK, I have time. I have time. The Elvis can wait. First, we do probably need to agree on what is a sandwich. You would think that this would not be controversial, but people have a lot of feelings about this. Ben, how would you define a sandwich?

BEN: I would define a sandwich as two pieces of bread and then with any condiments or vegetable or meat in the middle. And then you put the other slice of bread on top.

TRACY: Yeah, I think you've nailed it. It's the basic, right? It's like bread, something, bread. So does a hamburger count as a sandwich, then?

BEN: I think it does because the bun serves as the bread. And then you also have the condiments, the vegetables, the meat inside.

TRACY: OK, so how about a hot dog? Is a hot dog a sandwich?

JOY: Whoa.

BEN: I think so. Because it's basically a folded piece of bread around a piece of meat. And then you put whatever condiments you want on there.

JOY: You guys are blowing my mind right now. I wasn't sure if I was going to get on board with that hot dog thing, but I think I'm on board.

TRACY: Right-- like, technically? OK, but here's one. Is a burrito a sandwich?

JOY: No.

TRACY: I mean, it's got a filling. It's got a tortilla, which is a kind of bread.

JOY: That's true. But I mean, if we're talking about sandwiches, we have one bread, stuff in the middle, and then bread. If bread is surrounding it, I don't think I can get on board with that, Ben. I don't think I can.

BEN: No, I don't think so. Because I think that you need to see the inside of the tortilla or bread in order to count it as a sandwich.

TRACY: So it can't be a mysterious sandwich. You need to be able to see. Well, OK, so according to the state of Massachusetts, you are right. A burrito is legally not a sandwich. They actually had to go to court over this. It's a very long story. But a burrito-- legally not a sandwich in Massachusetts.

JOY: Who brought that to court?


TRACY: It was important, OK? So there are still a million other kinds of sandwiches that we did not even mention. You've got your falafel sandwich in pita bread. You've got your bánh mí on a baguette. You've got your classic peanut butter and jelly on Wonder. And it's that basic formula that you laid out, Ben. It's like bread, filling, bread.

JOY: OK but where did they come from? Who started this thing?

TRACY: Sandwiches are so old, it's really hard to say who made the first one. They're probably as old as bread itself, which cultures all over the world made their own versions of. But the earliest appearance of what sounds like a sandwich is in a text about a Jewish religious leader named Hillel the Elder, who was born in 110 BC.

JOY: Goodness.

TRACY: BC, right. He is older than Julius Caesar, who went on to rule Ancient Rome. If you looked at a map from back then, none of the countries, none of the borders that you know now, would exist. It's so long ago, people were not even writing on paper yet. That is the world that Hillel lived in.

And it was then that he made himself I think what we call a sandwich. He laid out some lamb, some bitter herbs. He put them between matzah, which is a Jewish flatbread. And he ate them as one.

JOY: Yum.

TRACY: And that's the key thing, right? You gotta stack them up and eat them as one thing.

HILLEL THE ELDER: You're welcome.

TRACY: Oh, hello. You are right on time. Yes, seriously, thank you for stacking up your food like that.

HILLEL THE ELDER: Everybody's still doing it, too. Eating your peanut butter and jelly hillels or your grilled cheese hillels.


HILLEL THE ELDER: Your Reuben hillels, your roast beef hillels.

TRACY: So that's not--

HILLEL THE ELDER: --and tuna fish hillels.

TRACY: Yeah, um, so I don't know how to tell you this, you're definitely the earliest on record to make one, but you did not get the credit.


TRACY: Yeah. No, we call that thing you made a sandwich.

HILLEL THE ELDER: Sandwich? Who was that guy?

TRACY: That's a good question.

JOHN MONTAGU: Did somebody say sandwich?


John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, at your service.

HILLEL THE ELDER: Hey buddy, why'd you get all the credit? What'd you ever do?

JOHN MONTAGU: My resume is quite extensive, if that's what you're asking-- First Lord of the Admiralty, leading the Royal Navy. I've also served as postmaster general and secretary of state for Great Britain twice. Also, my house is quite nice.

HILLEL THE ELDER: OK, but did you ever make a sandwich?

JOHN MONTAGU: I am Sandwich.

HILLEL THE ELDER: I'm talking about the food-- sandwich.

JOHN MONTAGU: I am Sandwich.


TRACY: OK, OK, OK, Sandwich, we know. So here. Here's what happened. One day, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich--


TRACY: Yes, you, you, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, got very, very hungry.

HILLEL THE ELDER: I am hungry.

TRACY: Good, good. Hold that feeling. So now we're at, like, the mid-1700s. We're in London. America is still a British colony. People are getting around by horse and carriage. There's no, even, trains yet.

The few people who know how to write, they use a feather quill. There's no pens yet, either. And when powerful British men get their pictures painted in this time, they wear one of those powdered white wigs. The Earl of Sandwich definitely rocked one of those wigs.

The story goes that the Earl of Sandwich was sitting at a gambling table, and he'd been there for, like, 24 hours straight. He had not moved, whole day, no breaks. He didn't want to get up. He was totally hooked. But his stomach was growling.

And back then, dinner was like a whole thing. It took hours, especially if you lived the life of an earl, who's part of the aristocracy, the ruling class. Dinner had all these courses. It took a bunch of time. And Earl didn't want to get up from the table. He didn't want to give up his cards. He did not have time for that. So he called out, bring me some beef.

JOHN MONTAGU: Beef-- between two pieces of bread. I'm too busy to leave this table, and I want to keep one hand free for playing.

TRACY: And because he was a fancy earl-- we talked about the wig and everything-- people watched him do this, people who liked to talk all about what the aristocracy was doing and what they were wearing and even what they were eating.

MAN: Did you see that?

WOMAN: I totally saw that.

WOMAN 2: He just ordered, like, beef on--

MAN: On bread! It's totally bread.

WOMAN 2: Two pieces of bread.

WOMAN 1: Now he's eating it.

MAN: With one hand.

WOMAN 1: Did you just see that?

WOMAN 2: I want that.

WOMAN 1 AND MAN: Me, too.

MAN: Oh, yeah.

WOMAN 2: Excuse me. Excuse me, waiter.

MAN: Waiter?

WOMAN 2: Over here. I'd like to order the same as Sandwich.

WOMAN 1: Me, too.

MAN: Make that three.

WOMAN 1: The same as Sandwich.

JOY: So that's how it happened? We all started eating sandwiches because one guy didn't want to put down his cards?

TRACY: Well, maybe. But here's the tricky thing about history. Sometimes we can't be sure what actually happened, especially when there were no cameras or phones or computers or, in Hillel's case, paper.

JOY: Ha-ha.

TRACY: So this leaves us with some mysteries. That story about the earl being so into gambling that he needed to stay at the table and keep his hand free to eat, it's from a book published in 1770.

JOY: Oh.

TRACY: But there's another book that suggests he could have just been very busy at his desk doing work, and he needed a portable fast food. Because running the Royal Navy, lots of paperwork.

JOY: Yes, of course, of course.

TRACY: So basically, what this tells us is how the sandwich got its name but not who invented the whole idea. And that's really kind of the trouble with history is that we remember the splashy story or the big-named aristocrat who was involved but not the person who was in the kitchen actually making the thing or all the other people who've been making sandwiches for more than a thousand years.

HILLEL THE ELDER: An ice cream hillel, anyone?

TRACY: Exactly. Because the true story of the sandwich is the story of all the people who have ever put down two pieces of bread and dreamed about what could go between them. And there's even a moment, a moment that threatened to doom the sandwich.

JOY: Sandwich doom?

TRACY: Oh, it's coming.

JOY: Oh, all right. Well, hold that ominous thought for one moment while we take a little break.

TRACY: Sure thing.

JOY: Ooh, there's a lot of sandwich jam going on. I think we need to switch it up, Ben. What do you think?

BEN: Yeah.

JOY: I think it's about time. It's time to play First Things First.


This is the game where we take three things from the past and put them in chronological order.

BEN: Like, was grilled cheese invented before sloppy joes or after?

JOY: Let's reveal our three items. Ben, will you do the honors?

BEN: Of course. Here they are-- Philly cheesesteak, ice cream sandwich, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

JOY: Do you know what a Philly cheesesteak sandwich is?

BEN: No.

JOY: It's roast beef, grilled green peppers and onions, and provolone cheese with, like, a thick white bread that sandwiches it in there. And it's melty and delicious.

BEN: Mm, sounds good.

JOY: Sounds good, huh? [CHUCKLES] Well, OK, so if we're going to say which came first in history, what do you think?

BEN: I think that peanut butter and jelly came first, then ice cream, then Philly cheesesteak.

JOY: Oh. Why that order?

BEN: I think because peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, because they did peanut butter sandwiches a long time ago. And then ice cream sandwiches because they're made of milk, and they had a lot of that laying around but maybe not as much as peanut butter or jelly. And then Philly cheesesteak last because it just doesn't really sound like they would eat it really early. It sounds like something you would eat that's more contemporary.

JOY: I agree. I think peanut butter and jelly was the earliest sandwich. That makes sense to me. I'm going to say Philly cheesesteak next just because I like to be a little different. And Philly cheesesteaks are delicious. There's no logic behind it. And then I'll say ice cream sandwiches last. Because I think that's right. That makes sense, don't you think, Ben?

BEN: Yeah.


JOY: All right. Well, the correct order is sealed in an envelope here in the studio. We'll do the big reveal in just a sec. Forever Ago will be right back.



MAN: Did you know a man named John Young once smuggled a sandwich into space?

JOHN YOUNG: You would, too, if you saw the menu up there-- not Earth's finest foods. Trust me.

MAN: In 1965, meals on space flights consisted of NASA-approved items, like rehydratable hot dogs and bite-sized compressed food cubes coated in gelatin.

JOHN YOUNG: If the ride up there doesn't make you nauseous, the food will. Ooh.

MAN: So before a flight with NASA's Gemini program, Young got a corned beef sandwich and stashed it in his spacesuit pocket.

JOHN YOUNG: Kept that sammy hidden from lunchtime to lunchtime. Once we were in orbit, I busted that thing out to share with my crew mate.

MAN: Except there's a reason NASA doesn't want sandwiches in orbit-- crumbs. Shortly after Young and his fellow astronaut took a bite, the bread started falling apart. If these crusty morsels floated into vents or electronics, things could go haywire on the ship.

JOHN YOUNG: Yeah, I probably should have thought about that. It would have been pretty embarrassing to go down in history as the guy who wrecked a spaceship with rye bread.

MAN: Luckily, the spaceship was fine, and the mission was a success. But Young was reprimanded by NASA when the mission was over. No sandwich stowaways have been reported since.



JOY: I hope you have a snack handy. Because we're back, and we're still talking sandwiches.

BEN: This is not an episode for an empty stomach.

JOY: Yeah. So we left off trying to place three things in historical order. And it was peanut butter and jelly, ice cream sandwiches, and Philly cheesesteak sandwiches. Do you remember what order you had, Ben?

BEN: I had peanut butter and jelly, then ice cream sandwich, and, finally, Philly cheesesteak.

JOY: And I had peanut butter and jelly, Philly cheesesteak, and then ice cream sandwiches. Let's open that envelope and see the answers.


OK, first is the ice cream sandwich. I didn't see that coming. Ice cream sandwiches were invented by a pushcart peddler in the Bowery neighborhood of New York in 1899. They were sold for $0.02 to $0.03, until kids refused to buy them. Then the price dropped to a penny.


So it's like the kids came together and were like, we're not going to pay $0.02. We'll just not eat ice cream. What do you think was second?

BEN: I think that peanut butter and jelly was next.

JOY: You're right! Second is peanut butter and jelly. First known recipe is from 1901. That's a long time ago.

BEN: I know.

JOY: Goodness. By Julia David Chandler. And it used currant or crabapple jelly.

BEN: Ooh.

JOY: I don't think I've ever had crabapple jelly. Have you?

BEN: No, it doesn't sound very appetizing.

JOY: No, it sounds sour.

BEN: Yeah.

JOY: [LAUGHS] And then last but not least is the Philly cheesesteak. That was invented in the early 1930s by brothers Pat and Harry Olivieri. They had a hot dog stand and tried frying up some steak to change things up. Legend has it a cab driver came by, smelled the frying steak, and asked for it in a sandwich form. He loved it. And soon, everyone was coming for this new sandwich. Word of mouth really travels.

BEN: Yeah.

JOY: Were you surprised by this order?

BEN: Yeah. Because I totally thought PB and J was first.

JOY: I did, too, and you had solid facts behind your reasoning. I did not--


JOY: --at all. OK, before the break, reporter Tracy Mumford was telling us about the doomed sandwiches we're about to face. Take us back there, Tracy.

TRACY: Right, OK. Well, I'm going to give you some context first. So once people had coined a word for this super-convenient, super-delicious food, the sandwich, it kept spreading-- pun intended, I guess. And you can see that in old cookbooks. So this recipe is from 1837. So this is still more than 40 years before people had electricity in their houses. And it comes from a woman named Eliza Leslie.

ELIZA LESLIE: [CLEARS THROAT] Cut some thin slices of bread very neatly, having slightly buttered them. And if you choose, spread on a very little mustard. Have ready some thin slices of cold boiled ham, and lay one between two slices of bread.

TRACY: Did you catch that? That is a recipe for a ham sandwich.

JOY: Well I guess when you started them back then, you need to write it down. Because you need to know the order. Otherwise, you'd have ham on the outside and bread on the inside.

BEN: [LAUGHS] That would be so weird. Here, you want a sandwich? Yeah, there's two pieces of bread on the bottom and then some ham on the top.

JOY: I didn't read the recipe. I just was feeling crazy today in the kitchen.

TRACY: You gotta get them in order. It seems really silly. But at this point, it was so new, you needed a recipe for a ham sandwich.

JOY: Oh, yeah.

TRACY: So people kept experimenting with all kinds of ingredients, including a strange food called peanut butter.

JOY: Ooh, that's my favorite sandwich.

TRACY: So that really hit the public around the late 1800s. And when sandwiches met peanut butter, like, whoa. You could say that people went nuts.


Thank you, thank you.

JOY: That's great.

TRACY: But at first, people were not eating peanut butter and jelly. They were eating peanut butter and chili sauce.

JOY: Gross.

BEN: Ew.

TRACY: Peanut butter and-- I'm sorry, Joy-- mayonnaise.

BEN: Ew!

JOY: Never! Never!

BEN: They didn't. That's disgusting.

TRACY: Peanut butter and lettuce.

JOY: That's better than mayonnaise.

TRACY: A little bit of a crunch.

BEN: Yeah, that's better than chili sauce.

JOY: Yeah.

TRACY: Get your greens in there. The thing is, though, as we hit, like, the 1900s, the 1910s, early 1920s, people are gobbling up sandwich after sandwich after sandwich, even if it's peanut butter and mayonnaise. All those slices of bread, though, they were each hand cut, one by one.

BEN: That sounds tiring, for your hand, anyway, and your arm.


TRACY: It's weird, right? Because there was electricity. There were movie theaters. There were cars. People went to the store to buy their loaves of bread. They weren't really making them at home. But until 1928, they still had to cut every slice themselves.


WOMAN 1: How many people are coming for lunch?

WOMAN 2: 10 people, I think.

WOMAN 1: 10? I'll just keep slicing.

TRACY: Enter Otto Rohwedder, a man with a dream, a man who took the ease of sandwiches to the next level.

OTTO ROHWEDDER: What if people's bread came pre-sliced?

TRACY: He worked on a mass bread slicing device for more than 10 years. He lost his early prototype and his blueprints in a fire.



TRACY: But he kept going, convinced that sliced bread could change everything. And I don't know that it changed everything, but people could sure make sandwiches a lot faster. Companies were skeptical at first. I mean, did people really need their bread pre-sliced? Wouldn't it go stale if you cut it all up before you put it in the packaging?

So Otto kept innovating. He wrapped the sliced loaves in this thick wax paper to keep them fresh. And America fell in love. Sliced bread spread across the country. But then, in 1941, America entered World War II. And two years later, sliced bread disappeared from the shelves.


The government banned selling it.

BEN: Uh-oh.

JOY: Sandwich doom.

TRACY: Sandwich doom. It was all for the war effort. Lots of things were being rationed-- gasoline, butter, sugar, coffee, bicycles. And the thick wax paper that kept the sliced bread fresh? The government said that it needed that resource for other manufacturing. But take away people's sliced bread, the main ingredient in a sandwich, and people get upset, including this woman who wrote into The New York Times.


WOMAN: I should like to tell you how important sliced bread is to the morale and saneness of a household. My husband and four children are all in a rush during and after breakfast. Without sliced bread, I must do the slicing for toast-- two pieces for each one. That's 10. For their lunches, I must cut by hand at least 20 slices for two sandwiches apiece. Afterward, I make my own toast-- 22 slices of bread to be cut in a hurry. Are you kidding me?


TRACY: So people were upset, rightfully or not. They were so upset, they protested. And this ban on sliced bread lasted less than two months.

JOY: Wow.

TRACY: So do you think they were overreacting?

BEN: Yes. Because it's only a few pieces of bread. Big whoop.

JOY: Big whoop is right. And hello, we're in a war. You think you can figure out another way to eat? [LAUGHS]

BEN: Yeah.

TRACY: Plus, you're slicing arm would get really buff if you just went with it.

JOY: That's true. All of a sudden, everyone's just doing push-ups so they can slice bread.

BEN: No, they're just doing one-armed push-ups with their slicing hand. [GRUNTS]

JOY: This is my slicing arm, bro.

BEN: Look at these jacked muscles.


TRACY: Well, the people who were upset, they got their way. Sliced bread went back on the shelves, and the sandwich continues to shine. Peanut butter eventually gets united with jelly. You get the Elvis-- peanut butter, bananas, sometimes even bacon. Then there's the Reuben, the sloppy joe.

And oh, we don't know who Reuben was, exactly, or Joe. We really do like naming sandwiches after people. Restaurants put sandwiches on their menus named after locals or celebrities or the lady who comes in every week and asks for the same thing, which is how we kind of got into this whole situation in the first place, by naming that stack of bread and beef, all the way back in the 1700s, the Sandwich.


TRACY: No, not you right now. But think about it, Joy. Think about it, Ben. What would the Joy sandwich be?

JOY: Oh, man. Well, first, the bread would have to be a rye, something deep, dark, and nutty. And then inside of the sandwich would be some kind of bright fruit, like mango, with coconut dusted on it. And then the spread would have to be something strawberry, something that will be like, oh, to the eye. It'll just look-- it'll be red or something. I think that's what my sandwich is. It's a strawberry spread with mango and coconut dusted on it on rye. It sounds disgusting, but it'd be beautiful.

TRACY: I would totally eat that.

JOY: Would you eat that sandwich?

TRACY: That sounds great, yeah. There's not enough fruit in sandwiches.

BEN: I may eat that.

JOY: [LAUGHS] What about you?

BEN: The Ben sandwich would be on wheat bread with a little bit of mayo. I know you wouldn't like it, Joy.

JOY: I wouldn't eat it.

BEN: With a little bit of celery salt, cucumber and turkey with tomato, pickles, and seaweed chip.

JOY: Ooh, seaweed chips on the side or on top of it?

BEN: On top of it.

JOY: Ooh, you know how to eat, Ben. That sounds good.

TRACY: I think people could be ordering the Ben sandwich a hundred years from now. And maybe they would wonder, who made this first?

BEN: Hopefully, they remember me.

JOY: Oh, I bet they will. Well, thanks for that scrumptious sandwich history, Tracy.

TRACY: Any time. I now have a date with a peanut butter and banana sandwich, so I will see you later.

BEN: Bye.

JOY: See you later.


The sandwich is already a pretty perfect food. In between those two slices of bread, you can put almost anything.

BEN: That bread is like a blank canvas. You are an artist, the sandwich your masterpiece.

JOY: Beautiful. I could eat at least two masterpieces right about now. So is there room left for innovation? We asked listeners what they think the future sandwich will be, and here's what they said.

LISTENER 1: So my new sandwich is a sandwich that's like an everlasting sandwich. Whenever you think about it, it would automatically teleport to you.

LISTENER 2: People are actually starting to eat bugs. So we could have potentially have bug sandwiches.

LISTENER 3: It comes in a little packet that you could carry in your pocket. And then you just put it in a microwave. And all of a sudden, boom, insta-sandwich.

LISTENER 4: I think future sandwiches, they could talk to you.


And they would be able to walk and follow you wherever you go.

LISTENER 5: So you just have two pieces of bread that you like. Then you just say, I want jam on this side. I want peanut butter on that side. And it just magically appears.

LISTENER 6: My new sandwich in the future would be a bread that you just toast. And then it turns into an automatic sandwich.

LISTENER 7: You never run out of sandwich. You bite, and it grows back.

JOY: Sometimes the best ideas for the future come from the past. So Ben, remember all those crazy sandwiches we heard about from the early days of sandwich mania?

BEN: Yeah, those were extremely crazy.

JOY: They were nuts. [CHUCKLES] Well, your taste buds are about to do some time traveling because we're going to try a few of those long-ago lunches. Bring in the sammys.

MOLLY: Hi, guys.

JOY: Molly Bloom, my friend and host of Brains On! Hello.

MOLLY: Hi, Joy. Hi, Ben. OK, well, not only do I love science, I love recipes, especially old ones. Like, did you know lemon jello tuna salad is a thing?

JOY: Ish.

BEN: Ew. That's disgusting.


MOLLY: Well, anyway, I am so excited to share these long-forgotten sandwiches with you today. So first up, in front of you, you have the toast sandwich. So I invite you to take a bite. As you're chewing, I'll tell you what you're eating.

JOY: This is bread. You go first, Ben.

MOLLY: So yes, you are totally right. You're eating bread. It is a recipe that dates back to 1861 from the cookbook, Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management. It's from England. And here's what it is. It's a piece of toast between two slices of untoasted, buttered bread.

BEN: I mean, it's OK. But I would not order this.


JOY: I wouldn't pay for this. No, I feel like-- it's very buttery, which is nice. But there's just so much bread going on that it kind of detracts from the butteriness of the bread.

MOLLY: OK. So we're going to try another sandwich.

JOY: Oh, look at this.

MOLLY: Oh, yeah.

JOY: This is a fancy sandwich.

MOLLY: So this sandwich is from a 1919 cookbook called Cooking for Two. It's by Janet McKenzie Hill, and it's published in Boston. It's called the cold baked bean sandwich.


JOY: It's so-- it's so thick.


Ben looks like he's really forcing it down. [LAUGHS] The things we do for our listeners.

MOLLY: So the reason it seems so thick is because it is a club-style sandwich. There are three slices of bread in this sandwich. So you've got three slices of buttered Boston brown bread. And Boston brown bread is made steamed in a can. This is bread that you buy in a can, and it's steamed in that can. So it's kind of a softer texture than regular bread. It also has raisins in it.

BEN: Oh, no wonder. That's what I was tasting.


MOLLY: And then-- so you've got a slice of brown bread with butter. Then you have a piece of lettuce. Then on top of that lettuce, you have some cold baked beans and some honey mustard dressing, another slice of lettuce, another slice of Boston brown bread, and then a little more baked beans, some cauliflower florets, and then another slice of buttered Boston brown bread. What is your review of this historic sandwich?

JOY: I'm confused. I'm just completely confused about this.

BEN: I think it's plain disgusting.

JOY: [LAUGHS] It's just plain disgusting. That's all there is.

MOLLY: All right, I have saved the most spectacular for last.

JOY: Oh.

MOLLY: We're going to bring it in now. It looks like a beautiful vanilla birthday cake. And I'm a little sorry to disappoint you, but this is sandwich loaf.

JOY: What?

BEN: Oh, yum.

MOLLY: Yeah, so you cut into it, and it kind of looks like a slice of cake. But instead of frosting and white cake, you have white bread, then a layer of curried egg salad, then another layer of bread, then a layer of ham pickle salad, and then another piece of white bread and then a layer of chicken salad, then another piece of white bread, and then a layer of tomatoes. And it's all encased in a beautiful layer of cream cheese.

JOY: This is just-- it's like a masterpiece sandwich.

BEN: I know.

MOLLY: So these were popular in the '40s, '50s, and '60s in the United States. And this particular recipe is from 1965.

JOY: All right.

MOLLY: So give it a taste.

JOY: Here we go. I'm gonna do it.

BEN: I'm scared. [LAUGHS]

JOY: You know, it's-- it's got a lot of, uh, cream cheese.


MOLLY: So maybe-- how about we start by describing the texture. What is the texture like?

JOY: Yeah, you know, it's soft. It's just a lot of soft things inside of a loaf.

MOLLY: It's missing that cauliflower crunch from the last sandwich.

JOY: Yeah, I miss it now. I miss the last sandwich.

BEN: I feel like the egg doesn't really go well with this. It feels a little grainy or dry to me. And then this pickle ham stuff just tastes weird together. It smells like spoiled milk.

JOY: Oh.

MOLLY: Not delicious-sounding. What would your ideal sandwich loaf be, Ben? If you could invent your sandwich loaf of the future, what would it be?

BEN: Maybe shrimp, then bread, then crab, then bread, then seaweed, then bread.

MOLLY: Ooh, I like this--

JOY: Yum.

MOLLY: --under-the-sea sandwich loaf idea. How about you, Joy? Do you have a sandwich loaf?

JOY: Well, I have my breakfast loaf. I think that ham-- ham, yes-- ham, bread, bacon, bread, eggs, bread, smothered in cheese.


JOY: I'm pretty sure that would be wonderful. I think people would eat that.

BEN: That sounds disgusting, in my opinion.

JOY: How can you go wrong with ham and bacon and eggs?

BEN: I don't know. It just doesn't sound very appetizing.

JOY: Oh, man.

MOLLY: There's a sandwich loaf for everybody.

JOY: All right, Molly, thanks for that blast from sandwich past.

BEN: Yeah, thanks.

MOLLY: You are so welcome. Any time.

JOY: Later.


JOY: Bye.

BEN: See you.


JOY: A sandwich is a simple idea with a not-so-simple backstory.

BEN: Yeah. Like a good sandwich, this history is full of layers.

JOY: We went from a time when putting things between bread was just a clever way to eat--

BEN: --to a food craze named after an aristocratic influencer.

JOY: We heard how sliced bread won over hearts and minds--

BEN: --and how, when it was taken away, people lost their minds.

JOY: Do you have a killer idea for the future of sandwiches?

BEN: Head to and tell us about it.

JOY: Forever Ago is brought to you by Brains On! And American Public Media.

BEN: It's produced by Alyssa Dudley, Molly Bloom, Mark Sanchez, and Sanden Totten.

JOY: Production help comes courtesy of Lauren D. Our fact checker is Ryan Katz. We'd also like to thank Eric Ringham, Jim Meskiman, Taylor Kaufman, Suzanne Levy, Jonathan Shifflett, Darby Maloney, Ned Leebrick-Stryker, Priska Neely, Carla Javier, and Paul Tosto. And a special thanks to food historian Laura Shapiro and Bee Wilson, author of Sandwich-- A Global History. Is there anyone you want to thank today, Ben?

BEN: Yes, I would like to thank Alyssa Dudley and Lauren D. for giving me this opportunity and you, Joy, for being such a great co-host.

JOY: Oh, stop it! Oh, you're going to-- oh, you guys. Well, that's it. This episode on sandwiches is a wrap.

BEN: Wait, are wraps sandwiches?

JOY: Let's not get into it. We could be here for hours.

BEN: Fair enough. Bye.

JOY: Bye.

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