Piece in our time: The 250th anniversary of the sandwich

It’s late at night, and - feeling a bit peckish - you head for the fridge. But your heart sinks as you see the fridge. It’s almost bereft - and how can what’s left be combined in to something tasty?

But your heart sinks as you see the fridge. It’s almost bereft - and how can what’s left be combined in to something tasty?

Thankfully, armed with a couple of slices of bread you can make a meal out of anything.

Also known as the sarnie, the butty and – of course – the piece, the sandwich celebrates its 250th anniversary this year.

Now a vital food for hungry office workers, weary travellers and, of course, animated canine sleuth Scooby Doo, below, the sandwich remains one of the few good things to ever come out of a 24-hour gambling session.

Many will know the story of the fourth earl of Sandwich John Montago, above right, who in 1792 called for his servant to bring him some cuts of beef between slices of bread while continuing to play cards.

His friends were soon asking to have the “same as Sandwich”. It is believed Lord Sandwich favoured the snacks because they allowed him to continue playing cards while eating, and because the bread stopped his hands getting greasy.

Today, what started off as a humble and cheap way to satisfy your hunger has turned in to an industry which employs 30,000 people in the UK.

In 2012, sandwich makers are beginning to take a gamble with their fillings – and it seems to be paying off.

Model Jodie Kidd – a descendant of the earl – is seeking the Ultimate British Sandwich in British Sandwich Week.

Peter McLean of Edinburgh catering firm and cafe, Foodies, said: “A good sandwich needs quality, fresh ingredients, good bread and good lubrication - there’s nothing worse than a dry sandwich.

“In the past few years, the demand for high quality with good quality bread has increased.

“Nowadays there is a sandwich for everyone, people with dietary requirements, sandwiches with halal meat.

“But it wasn’t that long ago you used to just get meat, cheese and veg.

“At Foodies, one of our stranger sandwiches that became popular was the peanut butter and jelly.

“When companies like PRET came on the market offering very good sandwiches, other firms had to up their game.

“M&S were the first to introduce the triangle sandwiches, but I think that kind of sandwich is seen in the same way as garage flowers are.

“Consumers can get something a lot tastier for an extra 50p - it’s an affordable luxury.”

One of the best-known unusual fillings was a favourite of Elvis Presley.

The King of Rock n’ Roll was partial to a “fool’s gold loaf”, made up of peanut butter, blueberry jam and bacon inside a hollowed-out loaf.

There is no doubt the sandwich is irrepressible due to both its simplicity and endless possibilities. Angela Barclay, owners of the Loaded Sandwich Bar in Bernard Street, Leith, said: “Probably the best selling sandwich here is the meatball with cheese and jalepeno.

“People will always want the usual fillings like egg mayonnaise, but I think it’s the range of flavours available that has really moved the sandwich on.

“Sandwiches will always be popular because people just grab them on the go, nowadays people work through their lunch and they just want something convenient. But there’s no doubt sandwiches are getting more adventurous – that’s the way forward.”

Like the old saying goes, one man’s meat is another man’s poison.

And for every person who could think of nothing better than tucking in to a cheese and jam sandwich, there’s another who could imagine nothing worse.

That’s where another strength of the modern day sandwich comes in to play, with hungry customers invited to create their own bizarre combinations.

Kelly McNab, 33, is owner of the Filling Place on Easter Road – where people are invited to “pimp” their sandwiches.

“Our slogan is quite unusual, but it lets people know that they can have whatever they want. However, freshness is very important as well. We grow our own herbs and lettuce and a lot of people comment on that.”

As other culinary trends, chop, change and fall by the wayside in the years to come, the global food institution – the sandwich – will always have a special place in our hearts.

No doubt in another 250 years, people will still be debating what makes the perfect piece.