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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month

Many's the long night I've dreamed of cheese--toasted, mostly.
~Robert Louis Stevenson~

I'm delighted to announce; April is Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month!

Do grilled cheese sandwiches have a history I wonder? Who was it that put a few pieces of cheese between two slices of bread to create the very first grilled cheese sandwich? Sure enough, a quick trip over to The Food Timeline and I got my fill of grilled cheese history. Guess what? While I was there, I also discovered another interesting crust of sandwich history. Today is the day The Dagwood Sandwich was first introduced to the American public. Anyone who has ever attempted fate by digging into a Dagwood Bumstead Sandwich knows it can certainly include cheese or anything else that happens to be "growing" in the refrigerator.

The Dagwood Sandwich was introduced to the American public on April 16, 1936. It was invented by Chic Young and featured in his comic strip Blondie. The first Dagwood consisted of tongue, onion, mustard, sardine, beans and horseradish. Over the years, the sandwich grew bigger and typically included everything "but the kitchen sink!" foodtimeline.org

Grilled Cheese Sandwich Crumbs

Most likely, The grilled cheese sandwich is a product of the depression. "Gussied" up, it was stylish enough to present to guests, yet economical enough to serve for dinner, usually with a bowl of hot tomato soup. Grilled cheese sandwiches are not usually called as such in vintage cookbooks. Many refer to them as toasted cheese sandwiches or cheese toast. Toasted cheese sandwiches also take on many forms and methods when described in vintage cookbooks. For instance, in The American Woman's Cookbook first published in 1938, the instructions are quite simple.

"Between two slices of medium-thick bread, lay slices of cheese cut about one-eighth inch thick. Place in the oven until cheese melts.

By definition, a grilled cheese sandwich is usually a toasted sandwich, (sometimes toasted by frying) that consists of two slices of buttered bread, layered with freshly melted warm cheese. My version of a grilled cheese sandwich is pretty much the same but instead of butter, I slather mine with my favorite mayonnaise, Hellmann's. I always follow the same procedure, which is probably more time consuming then most ways but hey, it's my sandwich! First, I put the mayo on one side of each slice and lay it in the frying pan one at a time. I repeat with the second slice of bread. Then, I take both pieces of bread and put them to the side. Now, I add butter to the bottom of the frying pan and let it melt gently. I take the toasted sides of the bread and cover them each with 1 piece of cheddar cheese each. I know this is going to sound silly but, here goes. I then take another single slice of cheese, cut it in half and add 1/2 of each piece to each slice of bread. I return each slice to the pan all alone to toast gently. When both pieces have been toasted gently, I "sandwich" them together, put them back in the pan and cover the pan. I shut the stove off and let it sit for exactly 2 minutes. This of course is the most basic of grilled cheese sandwiches. I have been known to add ham and tomatoes to the repertoire but, to me, this becomes more of a croque-monsieur. I'm a bit fussy about the kind of cheese I use also. I'm not in favor of using processed store bought cheese, although I have. I much rather select a Vermont cheddar. It just seems to me, the simplicity of the sandwich deserves the best ingredients available. Oh alright, one more thing, I never have my favorite grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup. I prefer potato soup if I had to choose a soup and sandwich combination. If not, grilled cheese with V8 is fine with me.

According to wikipedia, "The grilled cheese sandwich is a variation on the very old combination of bread and cheese. The modern grilled cheese sandwich (American cheese and sliced white bread) began in the 1920s as an open sandwich. The additional slice of bread became common in the 1960s." I didn't know that! It doesn't appear that way in the various recipe books I skimmed through in search of a grilled cheese recipe to include today. I chose to include a few recipes from three bread booklets I have on hand. Perhaps, when I'm done here, I'll check a few of the cheese recipe books I have to compare. In the mean time, I have chosen 3 recipes to include from different bread books and years. Before we get to the recipes, I would like to include this item of information I found in a 1902 publication titled The Cooking Club It is filed under a section titled "Some Sandwiches." This is the same publication I used when posting a recipe for pecan day.

The fried egg sandwich, while it has ardent supporters among the masculine lunch box carriers, is to be regarded as a doubtful food by him whose digestion is not of the strongest ...Cheese sandwiches are said by some to belong to the same black list, and for the same reason. They are certainly nutritious and are very simply and quickly made by grating a mild sft cheese over slices of buttered bread.

The Recipes

The first recipe was harvested from 88 Mealtime Surprises Made with Bond Bread. The copyright on this promotional booklet is 1933, General Baking Co. Not exactly a grilled cheese sandwich, the toasted cheese roll sandwich sounded interesting so it is included below.

Toasted Cheese Roll
To 1/4 lb. soft cheese, use 3 tbs. creamed butter. Rub cheese through strainer, mix with butter and season with salt and paprika. Spread on loaf before slicing thin. Trim crust, roll, and seal edge with butter. Set in refrigerator 15 minutes, then bake in 450 oven until light brown.

From Taystee Bread we get this recipe for Toasted Tomato & Cheese Sandwich. The How I Use Taystee Bread booklet was published in 1933 by Purity Bakeries.

Toasted Tomato Cheese Sandwich
6 slices Taystee Bread
2 large ripe tomatoes
1/2 cupful ground cheese
1 tbs. cream
1/4 tsp. salt
  1. Cut off ends of tomato, slice thin into 3 slices
  2. Cut bread in circles a little larger than tomato. Toast bread, butter lightly, place tomato slice on each
  3. Mix cheese with cream & salt. Spread evenly over tomato slices.
  4. Toast until cheese is melted & lightly browned.
  5. Serve with slices of broiled or fried bacon.

The last recipe comes from The Wonder Book of Good Meals. This is a World's Fair Edition of the booklet which was published in 1934. If you missed my post on Wonder Bread, you can visit it here. The following recipe for Cheese Dreams is filed under the heading "Some Special Sandwich Recipes."

Cheese Dreams
Spread soft American cheese between buttered slices of Wonder Bread. Toast. Stiffly beaten egg whites may be mixed with the cheese. The sandwich is then toasted in the oven.

Resources
1. April is National Grilled Cheese Month
2. New York Magazine Selections for Grilled Cheese Sandwiches around the city
3. Grilled Cheese Gobblers
4. Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with a Difference
5. Roasted Eggplant & Red Bell Peppers Grilled Cheese Panini
6. Grilled Cheese with Fig Jam, Fontina, and Arugula
7. Onion Chutney Grilled Cheese Sandwich @ Closet Cooking
8. Grilled cheese and basil polenta

4 Nibbles:

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

I do wonder if Welsch Rarebit was the ancestor of the modern grilled cheese? It was essentially toast covered with combination of melted cheese and beer and was a "working man's lunch."

~~Louise~~ said...

Hi T.W.

Thanks so much for visiting.

I did come across that possibility in a few of the "older" cookbooks I glanced through. Sort of a "working man's" fondue on toast.

Chris said...

Love reading through old cookbooks. Thanks for linking to my Grilled Cheese with Fig Jam, Fontina, and Arugula! Have a great weekend. :)

~~louise~~ said...

Thank YOU for sharing, Chris!

Drop by anytime:)