Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Poultry and Pork on Toast - the History of the "Club Sandwich"

The "Club" sandwich may have originated at the Union Club of the City of New York, the third-oldest private club in the United States.

The Club Sandwich
The Food Network describes a “Classic Club Sandwich” as sliced turkey, bacon, tomatoes, romaine lettuce and mayonnaise, all on toasted white bread.  The basic recipe has been unchanged for nearly a century: 

When is a Club Sandwich?

Alas, how many culinary subterfuges have been committed in the name of the club sandwich! So many, in fact, that one begins to wonder what a club sandwich really is, and when a sandwich ceases to be a plain sandwich and becomes club.  Is it in the toasting of the bread or the addition of mayonnaise, the presence of bacon or the presence of chicken?

Some officials in Washington, bent on popularizing cottage cheese, issued recipes a while ago for the making of all sorts of so-called club sandwiches, all of which contained this nourishing dairy product.  But one wonders whether the chef who first invented and popularized the club sandwich would have recognized any of them as “club.”

But now that peace has come perhaps we can go back to our old ideas regarding the club sandwich.  We used to think – did we not? – that the fundamental ingredients for a club sandwich were a slice of tomato, a slice of the breast of a chicken, a slice of crisp, broiled bacon, a crisp piece of lettuce, two slices of toast and some mayonnaise.  The two slices of thin, buttered toast are essential.  So is the mayonnaise and the lettuce.  Bacon lends much to the savoriness of the sandwich, so it should be included when possible in the ingredients which make up the filling.

The Topeka State Journal (Kansas), April 12, 1919, page 11.

But the inventor of the “Club Sandwich” might not have even recognized that sandwich as his own.  The earliest accounts of the “Union Club Sandwich” list only poultry and pork (ham; not bacon), with no mention of mayonnaise, tomatoes or lettuce; all on whole-wheat toast.

The “Union Club Sandwich”

Have you tried a Union Club sandwich yet?  Two toasted slices of Graham bread [(whole-grain wheat bread)], with a layer of turkey or chicken and ham between them, served warm.

The Evening World (New York), November 18, 1889, Extra edition, 2 O'Clock, Page 2.

The Evening World, November 18, 1899.

For some reason, the sandwich caught on; and good news travels fast; but still no mayo, tomato or lettuce:

A famous institution of the Union Club at Fifth avenue and Twenty-first street is what the epicures of the club have proudly christened “the Union Club sandwich.”  It differs essentially from any other sandwich made in town, and is a particular hobby of the club chef and of club men who like a good thing after the theater or just before their final nightcap.  Heretofore the composition of this sandwich has been a mystery to the outside world.

The club chef toasts well two slices of Graham bread cut thin, and between them places a layer of chicken or turkey and ham, and serves the sandwich warm.  An outsider who tasted one of the sandwiches for the first time on Saturday night pronounced the combination “delicious.” That is just what everybody else says to whom the sandwich is served as a novelty.

The Sun (New York), November 18, 1889, page 4.

News of the new sandwich spread to other cities. 

Pittsburg Dispatch, November 19, 1889.

A few weeks later, we learned that the toast could be buttered; and that the layers of poultry and ham should be thin:

Eccentric Celebrations.

The Tenderloin Club’s Supper of Sinkers and Champagne – An Anti-Tip Gathering.
The Christmas celebration of the Tenderloin Club began at 12:01 A.M., in the club quarters on the ground floor of the two-story tenement at 134 West Thirtieth street, and lasted until after midnight last night.  Passers-by were astonished to see men in evening dress alternately blowing Christmas horns and consuming hot coffee, the peculiar brand of butter cake known as “sinkers,” and washing the mixture down with bumpers of champagne.  The men in evening dress were members of the Union and Lotos Club, and actors, managers, and newspaper men.  Some of the club men were millionaires.  Several well-known actresses drove up in carriages during the afternoon and stayed a moment to partake of the coffee and sinkers. . . . .

The banquet board consisted of a brand-new pine shelf built around the wall of the club room and groaning under the weight of coffee pots, plates of sinkers, champagne bottles, and Union Club sandwiches of toasted Graham bread buttered, with a thin layer of turkey and ham between.

The Sun (New York), December 26, 1889, page 2.

Members of the Tenderloin Club were still eating club sandwiches nine months later:

Devilled crabs are a special dish at the Tenderloin.  So is the sandwich of ham and chicken and Boston brown bread that was invented by the chef of the Union Club.

The Sun (New York), August 3, 1890, page 14; The Salt Lake Herald (Utah), October 19, 1890, page 2.

During the ensuing years, the club sandwich continued to spread (albeit without mayonnaise spread).  In the fall of 1894, Seniors at Princeton University ate club sandwiches:

Garçon, bring on the deep red Bacchus – the very best; that which was put in the earthen jars many years ago, and now is surely ready for use.  Make haste, boy! “Club”-sandwiches for all.  Cigars, too, and cigarettes!  Revelry and jollity shall hold forth for another year, for whether as Seniors on campus or in class-room, Seniors on the ball-field or in chapel, or as Seniors on Nassau’s resounding steps, we intend to “make Rome howl” “while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh when thou shalt say ‘I have no pleasure in them.’”

John Fox Weiss, A History of the Class of ‘Ninety-Five, Princeton, New Jersey, 1895, page 106.

In 1895, they were served at a high-society bachelorette party:

Miss Mayo is a member of the Twelfth Night Club, and last Saturday evening she made her farewell appearance as a girl bachelor at a supper given by the club in her honor. . . . The revels extended far into the night, and it was whispered that some stunning Easter gowns and hats failed to appear on Easter Day because of their owners unwise, indulgence in ginger-ale, buttermilk and sarsaparilla and lobster salad, club sandwiches, stuffed eggs, olives, cakes, and bon-bons.

The Sun, April 16, 1895, page 7.

(Yeah, I’m sure it was the “ginger-ale” that kept them in bed.)

In 1898, you could apparently even find them in Venice, Italy:

The lady, a well-known American discovered also that she was starving.  A gondola was called, and hopping lightly into it the lucky dog – he is very handsome, so takes no pains with women – set out on a cruise for a club sandwich.

Musical Courier, Volume 36, Number 11, March 16, 1898, page 23.

I wonder whether the Venetian club sandwich had mayonnaise, lettuce or tomato?  It could have had at least two of the three, I suppose; in 1897, an article about sandwiches encouraged the use of mayonnaise-dipped lettuce on club sandwiches:

There is a certain house in this fine town where the hostess makes and serves to her guests a most delightful club sandwich.  The evening I was there those sandwiches were simply exquisite, and, really, if there had not been a last car to catch, we might still be eating.  These good things were made by slicing very thin the white meat of chicken or turkey, and put with lettuce leaf, which has been dipped in mayonnaise, between slices of bread, cut three-cornered.  A daintier sandwich cannot be found, and when you eat these, like Oliver Twist, you will want “more.”

The Evening Star (Washington DC), March 13, 1897, page 19.

Another sandwich discussed in the same article, the “Johnstone” (hot chicken salad on hot toast), originated at the Metropolitan Club.  The “Blue Plate Special” may also have originated at men’s clubs; some of the earliest references to “Blue Plate” dinners related to The Boston City Club and the Friar's Club in New York City (see my earlier post, Washington’s Willowware, Men’s Clubs and Dining Cars, the Delicious History and Etymology of “Blue Plate Specials.”). 

Soon, bacon (cold, cooked; or hot boiled; or broiled breakfast bacon) replaced ham as the go-to pork:

The Methodist Cook Book, 1898.

Snap Shots at Cookery, 1899.

Salads, Sandwiches, and Chafing-Dish Dainties, 1899.

Tomatoes were added by 1911:

Slices of peeled tomato, one or two olives and slices of hard boiled egg with pickles chopped fine are variations that can be introduced as desired.

Arizona Republican (Phoenix), July 23, 1911, page 1.

The wheels of progress continued adding ingredients to the “club” sandwich, until it didn’t really look much like a “club” sandwich; which would ultimately result in the sort of back-to-basics backlash quoted at the beginning of this article:

Best of Sandwiches

Some New Ideas Evolved by Clever Cooks.

Improvements in the Popular Tit-Bit Known as the “Club” Have been Made – Oyusters Used in Place of Chicken.

Tea rooms in the big city shopping districts are serving some new varieties of the always popular club sandwich.  While the principal ingredients remain the same each style of club sandwich differs from its fellows in some detail which makes it distinctive.

What is known as a French club sandwich is served with a toasted English  [(huh?)] muffin substituted for the usual slices of toasted bread . . .

. . . Thinly sliced duck is delicious with the bacon and other ingredients, and turkey is also another good substitute.  Strips of rare beef, either cold or freshly cut from a hot roast and moistened with horseradish may also be used, and strips of rare steak are equally appropriate.

An oyster club sandwich has for its distinctive feature two or three large fried [( . . . wait for it . . .)] oysters. . . .

For those who do not care for fried oysters the oyster club sandwich comes in still a different form, the oysters beign poached intheir own liquor until the gills curl, when they are drained of moisture and used for the foundation of the sandwich.  If preferred oyster club sandwiches may be served with Russian dressing instead of mayonnaise, as the addition of the tomato flavor in the chili sauce is particularly agreeable with oysters, either fried or poached.

Sardine club sandwich is made of large boned sardines . . .

The egg club sandwich is usually served with a basis of an egg . . . .

Edgefield Advertiser (Edgefield, South Carolina), April 28, 1915, page 3.

Does that mean that a peanut-butter and jelly club sandwich have peanut-butter and jelly?

Earlier Attempts?

Although the written record suggests that “club sandwich”-style sandwiches were largely unknown before 1889, it is easy to imagine that someone else may have had the same idea earlier.  “Ham sandwiches” date to at least 1843[i], and chicken sandwiches to 1868;[ii] how long could it take for someone to get “chocolate in my peanut butter” or “peanut butter on my chocolate”?  Tomatoes and lettuce show up on sandwiches much later; lettuce by 1886,[iii] and slices of tomato by 1887.[iv]  I imagine that the growth of sandwich culture may have been spurred by technological advances in refrigeration, shipping, and electrical generation and distribution; which may have provided a more stable supply of staple sandwich ingredients. 

But, nonetheless, someone did serve chicken and ham together on a sandwich in 1880; chicken/ham salad, not sliced as in a true “club”:

Chicken Sandwiches. – Ingredients: chicken and ham, four eggs, one tablespoonful of olive oil, mustard, vinegar.  Chop the chicken (not too fine) also a little nice ham; then beat together the yolks of the eggs (boiled very hard) with the oil; when smooth add a little made mustard and vinegar; should it not be salt enough from the ham, add a little; stir this mixture well and add the meat.  Have ready some thin slices of bread buttered, and put some of the mixture between two slices; very nice.

Osage Valley Banner (Tuscumbia, Missouri), October 21, 1880, page 1.

Two articles from the 1880s were ambiguous on the issue; they describe, simply, “chicken and ham sandwiches.”[v]  “Chicken and ham sandwiches?”  Is that, chicken sandwiches and ham sandwiches, or sandwiches with chicken and ham?  Didn’t they realize that someone might be curious 130 years down the road?

What Defines a Club Sandwich?

There are three features common to all of the various descriptions of “Club” sandwiches; sliced pork, toasted bread, and a second, non-dairy protein.  Ham or bacon, and some other meat, poultry, egg or seafood, on white or wheat toast - and you've got a “club” sandwich. 

If you like “Club Sandwiches,” thank the chef who worked at New York City's Union Club in 1889.

[i] Burlington Free Press (Burlington, Vermont), April 23, 1843, page 1.
[ii] The National Republican, August 4, 1868, page 3.
[iii] Evening Star (Washington DC), June 26, 1886, page 3.
[iv] Springfield Daily Republic (Springfield, Ohio), September 24, 1887, page 7.
[v] The Anderson Intelligencer (Anderson Court House, South Carolina), June 17, 1886, page 1); The Worthington Advance (Worthington, Minnesota), September 13, 1883, page 3.

Minor edit February 15, 2019, adding a citation to New York Sun article of Novermber 18, 1889.

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