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Food and drink: All sandwiched in

Back to school, back to work, and back to sandwich basics

Up in the mornin' and out to school

The teacher is teachin' the Golden Rule

American history and practical math

You study' em hard and hopin' to pass

Workin' your fingers right down to the bone

And the guy behind you won't leave you alone

Ring ring goes the bell

The cook in the lunchroom's ready to sell

You're lucky if you can find a seat

You're fortunate if you have time to eat

Back in the classroom open your books

Gee but the teacher don't know

How mean she looks...

Chuck Berry pretty much had it right in his '69 rockin' classic, School Days. And with those back-to-school blues just on the horizon, at the very least we can hope that you - or your kids - will find a seat and have enough time to eat, mean ol' teacher or not.

With kids back in school and moms and dads back to work, that means lunch is back to the brown paper bag - or the reusable, 100-per cent-recycled insulation, PVC-free, lead-free, fair labour/fair wage, high performance lunch bag with Miss Kitty's pretty face plastered on the outside. Whatever the sack, sad or not, inside it one day, one way or another will be a sandwich.

Myth has traditionally maintained that we have the fourth Earl of Sandwich, of Sandwich, Kent, to thank for this convenient little foodstuff. However, in reality, our dear earl is but a namesake. He had absolutely nothing to do with inventing the "sandwich" although his name has stuck well, indeed.

By this 18th century, misremembered account, the reference is strictly to food placed between slices of bread. However, I can't help but think that, like so many practical inventions - pot holders, walking sticks, yogurt - it didn't have a singular origin and, rather, popped up serendipitously in any number of eras or locations.

How about a morsel of tenderly roasted lamb wrapped in a piece of naan bread by an ancient mountain dweller in what we now call Kazakhstan, or on the plains of Persia? Or a chunk of chicken stewed with chipotle peppers and nestled in a fresh corn tortilla by a Concho mother in pre-colonial Mexico? And how about early steak tartar "sandwiched" between the saddle and the horse's back by Mongol horsemen as they rode to tenderize the meat? Don't these count as sandwiches in one form or other, earl or no?

Not according to U.S. law, which has ruled that a sandwich must include two slices of bread - something to do with non-competition clauses and new sandwich shops.

One of my favourite sandwiches, a good hearty club sandwich, made with cold, sliced roasted chicken - not turkey, thank you very much  - bacon, lettuce, tomato slices and tons of real mayo, not that Miracle Whip stuff, was the favorite of former King Edward VIII of England and his wife, Wallis Simpson. She apparently took great pride in preparing same.

James Beard once complained vociferously of two things regarding club sandwiches. One, that they should never ever be made with turkey, as noted above. And, two, that they should never be made with three pieces of bread - a strange aberration that arose God knows where and when, but seems to have plagued the poor towering club sandwich ever since. Even its name has been bastardized, for more often than not it's called a clubhouse sandwich. Tch, tch.

But back to the boarder view of the world of sandwiches, soon to be found scattered, half-eaten on school playgrounds, traded for better fare in school cafeterias, or unceremoniously dumped, untouched, into overflowing school garbage cans loaded with enough discarded calories to feed 27 Peruvians in the high Andes for a year.

Sandwiches were once so popular a mainstay, at least in America, that Florence A. Cowles wrote a cookbook devoted to them - Seven Hundred Sandwiches . Gads. That will get you through several school years with no repeats. Larousse Gastronomique, by comparison, has maybe 20 listed.

It, the Seven Hundred Sandwiches , featured the likes of lettuce sandwiches, summer sandwiches and bacon sandwiches - good for camping because you can cook the bacon over a campfire and, of course, salted bacon would not spoil without refrigeration. It also recommended the adaptive baconion sandwiches, bacon all dressed up with sliced onions. Not to be pooh-poohed.

Onion sandwiches, also not to be pooh-poohed, were a favourite of my mother's this time of year when onions are fresh, firm and juicy. You have to use white bread, butter both slices thickly, preferably with fresh unsalted butter, spread a thick layer of thinly sliced sweet - note the operative word "sweet" - onion, salt and pepper it liberally, and enjoy.

The White House Cook Book suggests watercress sandwiches, made with stale bread, well-washed and dried watercress mixed with finely chopped hard-boiled eggs, seasoned with salt and pepper and a slight sprinkling of lemon juice. Butter the bread. Press the sandwiches firmly together and cut off the (stale) crusts.

My mom also bequeathed me one of her oldest Americana cookbooks, circa World War II, and I can't believe the number of weird sandwich fillings it recommends. Sandwiches are like eggs - you can pretty much trust your instincts and mix up just about anything and they'll taste good.

I can't vouch for all of the following, but they definitely warrant a try. At least they might get you out of the glue(ten) when it's time to throw a lunch together in the early a.m. next week. Good luck!

Lily Wallace's take on the great American sandwich filling:

• Chopped dates mixed with an equal amount of peanut butter or cream cheese, seasoned with salt and sprinkled with lemon juice.

• Chopped celery, apple, nuts and/or olives, in any proportion, and salad dressing.

• Cream cheese seasoned with anchovy paste.

• Cottage cheese with onions and cream or salad dressing.

• Tiny, well-browned sausages with a little grated onion.

• Tuna fish or salmon topped with slices of crisp bacon.

• Chopped raisins mixed with grated orange rind and sprinkled with lemon juice.

• Mashed, leftover beans mixed with diced crisp bacon, mustard and ketchup.

• Chopped green pepper mixed with chopped onion, chopped ripe olives and mayo.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer currently on a Leerdammer cheese and tomato sandwich kick.