Tuesday, 9 October 2012

"The art of the sandwich"

is apparently a book title - not that I have read the book.
Someone I know was talking about making cut lunches for school and the perennial problem of what to put in the sandwiches.
I remember school lunches and the sandwiches. My mother would stand there and say, "Vegemite (Marmite is the British equivalent), cheese or peanut paste?" (It was peanut paste back then, now it is "peanut butter".)  There were only ever the three choices and sometimes we were not even given that choice. A sandwich would appear in our lunch box and it would be Vegemite.
When that happened I suspect there was no cheese or peanut paste to be had - or Mum was simply not in a mood to ask us what we wanted. 
There would be two biscuits or a "little cake" and a piece of fruit. Our lunches never varied from that. They were simple. They were quick to make. They were cheap. Those things mattered. We ate the same thing all the way through primary school unless we went home to lunch.
We went home to lunch if my maternal grandmother was staying with us in one of the rural areas my parents taught in. She would provide a hot meal in the middle of the day. It gave her something to do while we were at school. Ungrateful children that we were we resented having to sit there and eat a hot meal when we could have been doing other things.
When we reached secondary school, before boarding school, we were expected to get our own lunch. As we always lived next door to the school we would go home and make ourselves a sandwich.
The fillings became more interesting then. Mum was not around to supervise the art of sandwich construction. My brother and I would make ourselves cheese sandwiches but add layers of tomato, lettuce, cucumber, grated carrot and celery. In winter we would sometimes boil an egg and have hot egg sandwiches with plenty of salt and pepper. We had to be careful about how much butter we used because buying it usually meant a journey in the car but nobody was worried about cholesterol. We had never heard of cholesterol. Like everyone else we kept hens because, without them, we would not have had eggs in rural areas.
Mum would put some things off limits. They were for the evening meal.  I don't think we ever dared to touch them. Raiding the biscuit tin was off limits too. Mum left the day's supply on the kitchen bench - if she remembered. Somehow she always remembered the fruit but sometimes forgot the biscuits.
Very occasionally we made honey sandwiches, something we had never been allowed to have in primary school. Jam was almost unknown in our family but there was usually someone on a local farm who kept bees so there would be honey. We could get away with it if we did not use too much - and the bread had to be fresh for a honey sandwich.
We ate because we were active. We were hungry because we were active. We did not expect food to be exciting or different. The only problem we had was deciding between Vegemite, cheese or peanut paste. It was usually Vegemite.


jeanfromcornwall said...

When I was small the bread was the food and the filling was just something to jazz it up a bit. Now it seems to be all about the filling. I rather suspect that the best way to make a sandwich is somewhere in between the two attitudes!

catdownunder said...

Perhaps it has something to do with the quality of some of the bread now available - the $2 loaf (which we import from the USA!)that has, as far as I can tell, almost no food value. Not sure why we do it because I am sure the Americans must produce good bread too - and we can. (I make ours because my father believes bread is food and not merely something on which food is put. How right you are!)

Frances said...

Cat: I notice on a popular parenting website that "making one's own school lunch" is listed as an appropriate chore for 7 year olds. I wonder if you have an opinion on this?

catdownunder said...

Not unsupervised Frances.
If there was time I would like to see a 7yr old child (and even younger) participate in the process - help choose appropriate food and so on but if anything needed a sharp knife or the use of something dangerous (e.g. boiling water for an egg)then an adult needs to do it.
I think children should participate in kitchen activities - but at age appropriate levels. They are much more likely to want to eat what the have helped to prepare. Trouble is when both parents work there often isn't much time for such activities. What do you think?

Frances said...

I think that it must be good for the growth of a child's body and spirit to feel nurtured and nourished by parents. There are plenty of other chores that a 7 yr old can do - help sort the washing, set the table, feed the dog, sweep the floor, take out the rubbish, get own breakfast (and learn simple cooking), etc. But, I would have parents prepare main meals, particularly lunch away from home, check grooming, read a bedtime story and tuck him/her in, that to my mind would allow a child to feel fundamentally cared for.
Even "privileged" children now are often quite deprived, because of their very busy parents, of what is to my mind very basic, simple nurturing. Opening up a lunch that Mum has prepared, even if it's only a vegemite sandwich, must convey to the child some level of interest or concern, surely?