Life as a sandwich.


It would be rare for most of us to go through life without, at one stage or another, having become intimate with a sandwich. The earliest memories that most of us might have of a sandwich probably dates back to very early childhood. In my own case, I became aware not just of a sandwich but a whole loaf of the ingredients that sandwiches are mainly made of, bread. It was given to me by a German soldier during the last few days of WW2. He was stationed below street level in a cellar in the street we were living in. It was welcomed by my mother like a gift from heaven. We were starving. I feared that the German soldier’s gift of bread might well have been his last action. It happened in Rotterdam.

After that memorable event, and food returning in a more normal manner that the sandwich became a huge part of our lives. And really, it hasn’t stopped so far. There would be few days that this type of food would not be consumed by me today. I still have vivid memories of my mother making huge piles of sandwiches, each day without a let up, except on Sundays when we did not go to one school or the other. With six children and a husband, the making of sandwiches wasΒ  a major task which in those times usually fell on the woman of the house.

It was difficult to keep making sandwiches that would satisfy the hungry child and again from memory, it also depended a bit on our financial situation. When money was short, my mum resorted to a simple but generally well liked sandwich, and that was the simple sugar sandwich. A smidgeon of butter and plain white sugar thinly spread and embedded in the butter. A delicacy, still fondly remembered. Another favourite would be the biscuit sandwich. I can’t remember ever having had the luxury of meat on a sandwich. At best, it would be cheese. It wasn’t sliced cheese but a soft variety that could be spread as thin as possible, just to give a mere hint of taste. Peanut butter was my favourite but that did not come cheap!

I am not sure if people still take sandwiches to work. Cafes are now more in vogue and with more money, the home-made sandwich by mum seems to be fighting a rear action. However, the creative side of making sandwiches has made enormous improvements. Some cafes are making delicious sandwiches with combinations that defy gravity, so appealing behind the glass counter, one feels they could take off.

Of course, in the old day when kids took sandwiches to school and well before the advent of air conditioning, many sandwiches during the stifling heat of mid-summer, would get a bit blowsy, stale and smelly. WasΒ  it BarryΒ  Humphries, who when as a schoolkid he would shout out after someone had farted, ‘who opened their lunchbox?’ In those early days, Australian mums would make the much revered banana sandwich, and with the coming of preservatives, the devon sandwich would slowly start making its entrance in the hallowed grounds of the public schools.

And then of course, many schools as an aid to raising funds would open tuck shops. The sausage roll and meat pie made their entries, but that is for another story.

It just never stops.

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40 Responses to “Life as a sandwich.”

  1. leggypeggy Says:

    I have a sandwich most days. That or leftovers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. auntyuta Says:

    Ah, this reminds me of our ‘Abendbrot’ in the early 1950s in Berlin:
    My two younger brothers and I would get four slices of very cheap rye bread each. We ‘buttered’ our bread with some margarine. As a topping the three of us would share either 125 gr of liverwurst or one very cheap camenbert cheese. It was always only either or. I hated the liverwurst. But there was no alternative. These were very lean times for us. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 4 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I can’t remember liverwurst making its entrance during my Dutch schoolyears. I think that came much later. I love liverwurst and I must get some today.
      Living on my own I have to be careful not to buy too much as I don’t like wasting food or throwing it out.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. berlioz1935 Says:

    Thanks for this post it recalled so many memories. Beginning with the German soldier. We loved the German military bread (Komissbrot). Every time my father came home on leave he brought home the sandwiches he had been issued as travel provision. We called it ‘hasenbrot’. It was simply divine and had cold meat toppings we only knew from time past. It was old great but know yourself we never throw anything away.

    My great aunt, whose birthday is today, made me sugar sandwiches as you prescribed.

    I took sandwiches to work till the last day of my working life.

    Keep the memories coming.

    Liked by 4 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I never went to school here but all my brothers and sister did. My mother would get up early and slave away at making those piles of sandwiches. I always took sandwiches to work but once a week I would shout myself a meat pie and a bottle of Fanta.

      I also treated myself to Graven A cigarettes. My earnings I gave to my parents to help pay the mortgage. I wonder how many children at work would help the parents to pay off the mortgage?

      Liked by 2 people

      • berlioz1935 Says:

        Craven A was the cigarette or chewing gum we got in the steel works when we done another production world record. The Blast Furnace No 4 was on of only of it’s type (the other one was in Canada, both of Japanese design) and as it was new a production record was achieved frequently.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Therese Trouserzoff Says:

    Hi Gez.

    I really appreciate how your visual art has infiltrated your writing. And the economy that you drive out of so few words carries with the winds of memory the sights, tastes and indeed the textures we carry with us our whole lives.

    I have said many times that notwithstanding my Mom was a wonderful parent, she was an appalling cook. My school lunches – which persisted until I was 9 (when Mom went off to paid work to remove the abject from our poverty), morphed into the nutritionally disastrous but wonderfully tasty tuck shop food at school.

    In those first four years of school, as a semi-blind wimpy kid with asthma, I endured the further indignity of Mom’s cut lunches. She created what Dad referred to as “soggy sandwiches”. Proving that the contemporary practice of separating the sliced tomatoes from the actually buttered (whiter than white) bread is a good idea. This allows Tristan and Arabella to remove the tomatoes from their plastic containers and assemble the sandwich in real lunchtime, adding some buffalo mozzarella, basil and a touch of cracked pepper and Himalayan pink salt.

    When Mom went off to paid work, I was given free reign to buy lunch from the tuck shop (if the cash held up after a drop into the lolly shop on the way to school). But self-discipline (never my long suit) paid off with the purchase of wonderful flaky pastry meat pies and in winter cocoa served at about 1,000 degrees centigrade in white porcelain mugs that had to be about a centimetre thick. The challenge was to blow on these to get to the temperature down to something drinkable within the 20 minutes of morning tea.

    I am certain some kids used to buy cocoa just to warm their hands through their knitted gloves. In those days there was still a thing called frost in suburbia.

    And there was the morning tea – either pink-iced finger buns or vanilla slices that bore more than a passing resemblance to bars of sunlight soap – also with pink icing.

    These tuck shops – roundly condemned in modern times for nutritional vandalism, were in my post-war childhood, making up for a lot of austerity (obviously not in your league, Gez) for which our parents apparently wanted to atone.

    Rampant obesity wasn’t a thing because there was another peri-war phenomena called physical culture aka running around like headless chooks and cycling everywhere.

    But rampant tooth decay WAS an unpopular companion in the days before fluoride and I still have some of my original fillings some 50 or so years later – thanks to the artistry of Mr McKenzie and the judicious renovation of Dr Spencer.

    I have rediscovered recently some other delights like Fry’s Cream Bars (imported from the UK) and bullets (liquorice encased in chocolate) that are no longer sold on per unit cost (which was 10 for a penny) – so cruel on the shop keeper ! “I’ll have a shillings worth please” (stand and watch the shop keeper count out 120 !!).

    I have also heard that the redoubtable Polly Waffle will be making a come-back – inevitably in a diminished form, imported from some bastion of cheap labour – like the UK.

    Best I sign-off now, Gez. Sorry for writing a comment that’s longer than your article (see how powerful your prose is – you made me do it).

    I’m off in a selective childhood memories reverie, with the peace behind the closed suburban blinds only occasionally interrupted by black and white replays of horse racing and other alcohol-fuelled domestic violence – after the ersatz violence of World Championship Wrestling, and Saturday afternoon’s the Roller Game.

    Liked by 6 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Gee, Trouserzoff,

      There is a lot there, enough for an entire conference as Fawlty Towers would say. As I get older all those sorts of memories keep me occupied for hours. Who wants that depressing news when we have endless supplies of our own making, to enjoy?
      Perhaps TV was much better all those years ago. My dad loved the Flintstones and he would never miss it.

      My favourite was Bonanza, which incidentally, also featured into my first introduction to sex. One thing I also remember is the monotonous drone filtering to the outside world of commentator’s cricket scores, during hot summers when walking home from the rail-station. I could not figure out what it was till I asked and was told the grim truth about ‘cricket.’

      Sunday afternoons were killers in suburbia. The stillness and simmering heat above the petunias and rockeries. My only relief, walking to the rail-station and get my weekly ‘workman’s’ ticket. Shops were closed and apart from a flea ridden mongrel-dog scratching itself and the blowing in the wind of a lost Sunday paper, it was deadly.

      You wrote a brilliant piece, Trouserzoff. Thank you for the brilliant words.

      I too, still enjoy most of my original Dutch teeth and assume the visiting dentists at Dutch schools must have done a pretty good job so long ago. Even the sugar sandwiches did not rot my teeth. Today, I am not a fan of sweets and try avoid cakes and ice creams, soft drinks.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Therese Trouserzoff Says:

        Spot on observation about those dozy summer Sundays.

        It was, as you suggest, life-sapping – under asbestos cement fibro houses with no insulation and no air-conditioning (which, I suspect at that time probably cost more than the house to buy and still more to run).

        As you probably recall, I lived at East Hills – which was then at the end of the railway line, terminating just before the George’s River. The government built the line to ferry troops to and from the Holdsworthy Army Base before and and during the war.

        East Hills had been a traditional picnic ground at the bend in the river since the 1910s but by the time we were living there the river was starting to get too polluted to swim in – and so the Council thoughtfully removed the shark nets as a very effective means to curtail the practice. Except for new migrants unfamiliar with the. cranky ways of the bull shark in brackish water – despite the scary cartoon signs.

        To swim, we had to catch the bus all the way to Bankstown municipal pool to mix our own urine with that of thousands of others. Not an immensely attractive place to be bullied by large hairy kids short on Anglo manners.

        Fortunately the Council eventually built another municipal pool at Revesby – thoughtfully placed far away from all public transport – well near the railway line but not the station. So if the heat was unbeatable, one had to adapt – which brings me to cricket.

        Cricket is really an acquired taste* – and when there is no other nourishment, one must inevitably acquire it. Fortunately an English family moved in next door. They had two sons – one my age and the other two years younger. I used to love to bowl the younger slow spinners which he had no choice but to hit over the fence – which …. this is an important fact for you, Gez, in backyard cricket is six runs and out. And the batsman had to retrieve the ball. Watching him get reliably pissed off was as much fun as I could imagine. Even his older brother appreciated that.

        Apart from the occasional game of table tennis on a collapsible masonite table Dad built us, as you say, not even a tumbleweed moved. I do remember with fondness that this was also watermelon time and great fun was had by all to the endless chorus of cicadas roaring in the gum trees. When the adults were playing cards on a Saturday night (probably to give Mom a break by keeping Dad out of the Bowling Club bar), we boys used to retreat to the garage and play with our combined Scalextric toy car racing sets – under clouds of kerosine-based Mortein which also gave us the boyhood pleasure of destroying millions of mozzies and watching them fall from the shy.

        Ah, the Flintstones – were brilliant, were they not. And the Jetsons. The sex in Bonanza must have gone over my younger head. I think I was fascinated by the monstrous Hoss Cartwright (and his equally monstrous teeth!) and Little Joe – what a contrast. And I missed the actor who played Ben Cartwright’s puntastic stage name – Lorne Green. Which our lawn – with the exception of fine crops of bindiis – certainly wasn’t in the summers of the late 1950s

        * I have since lost my taste for cricket, but I never had any for Football. I could not figure out why anybody would go voluntarily and take on the high probability of actually being hurt. Bandaged or plastered limbs and crutches at school on Mondays were not emblems of bravery to my mind – they were advertisements for being stupid.

        Cripes ! I did it again Keep ’em coming old fella πŸ™‚

        Liked by 2 people

      • gerard oosterman Says:

        Well, Trouserzoff,

        I tried to acquire cricket taste but I failed. At one stage there as a fundraising at the Bradman Cricket museum and everyone there was a cricket tragic. Someone assumed I was too, and I did not let on it all went way above my head.
        Would you believe it, the chief cricket expert and organizer there was so impressed by my hazy and vague answers, he made me a cricket ambassador for life and he allowed me to organize tours of this museum.

        I go there now daily to visit friends at this museum. One elderly bloke invited me to sit with him and through him I met many others including very nice soft and kind females and none of them talk to me about cricket. I was down and lonely before and through this bloke I am now happy again looking forward to every new dawn.

        My mother during those freezing winters in Revesby made friends and often they would take off to the Bankstown Square shopping mall, which was heated. They would just sit there and knit while in a warm environment. One of the biggest surprises for my parents were the bitter cold of winters in the western suburbs. Dad bought a kerosene heater named ‘Fireside’. The trick was to keep the wick well-trimmed because if it was uneven the kerosene would smoke and the whole family would get a whopping headache.

        This brings me to the subject of the addiction to headache powders that was very common in housewives whose husbands would drink half their salaries. In order to survive they would try and keep things afloat by working piece work in factories. In those early years almost all factories had slot machines selling those headache powders. I was curious why it were mainly women who would put in their coins and take out the headache powder which would immediately be consumed. The problem was that in those days, those powders were laced with phenacetin and when it finally dawned on the medical world that this ingredient caused world wide kidney failures, mainly among women addicted to them, that this chemical was withdrawn.

        Yes, there is a lot there, Trouserzoff. So much to ponder and ruminate about.
        You are brilliant at recalling those long lost years and if it wasn’t for your sharp recall, so much would end up in dust and totally forgotten. It was such a rich period the fifties and sixties. Who would have thought?

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Robert Parker Says:

    I’m still “brown-bagging it” at work, lunch is sandwiches or leftovers, and some fruit, yogurt, and it’s a pretty nice meal. My wasteful luxury lately: I put lettuce in a separate plastic “ziploc” bag, to add to the sandwich just before I eat it, so it’s not soggy. But I re-use the lettuce bag, so not a total waste.
    My sister bakes black bread for my dad, from a German recipe, but minus the sawdust of the war years.

    Liked by 3 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Brilliant, Robert. ‘Waste not want not’, even though the world now is in a perilous state because we seem to have lost the art of endless consuming.
      I too re-eat whatever has not been eaten and even when found at the recesses at back of the fridge, it will get rescued and eaten.
      Limp carrots; into the curry with a chopped up but sprouting onion.
      I used to make our own bread when still living on the farm and we had a BB cottage.
      I often cook ahead and divvy the curry up in little containers and freeze them for the future.
      It is a good life!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Sandie Says:

    As kids with family of 6 kids we also had weird sandwiches. I made sandwiches every work day for my husband to take to work and not until the end did he tell me that he HATED jam sandwiches. Oh dear!

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      In my adult life I drew away from peanut butter. I used to love it as a child but something happened! Perhaps some childhood drama, who knows.
      I love peanut sauce and a spicy Indonesian dish, Gado gado.
      I don’t mind a jam sandwich, Sandy. Feel free to make me one when we get together!


  7. doesitevenmatter3 Says:

    This brings back good memories, Gerard!
    We (8 of us kids in the family) ate a lot of sandwiches…I remember bologna, cheese, PB&J, egg salad, canned tuna, PB and banana, etc. πŸ˜€
    And sandwiches were cheaper than the school lunch, so we took sandwiches and couldn’t buy the school’s hot lunch.
    I snorted at the “who opened their lunchbox” story! πŸ˜› πŸ˜€
    Did you ever eat a cracker sandwich? I haven’t, but I’ve heard they used to make those in diners or truck stops. πŸ™‚
    HUGS!!! πŸ˜€
    PS… “Life is like a sandwich! What you put in-between the slices is up to you.
    Is your sandwich tasty or sour?” -Allan Rufus

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      We were of eight too and my poor mum, I can still see her bending over the pile of sandwiches. She had worked out a good system. Buttering all the bread firsts and then making the individual sandwiches. She always knew our preferences and had the paper bags with our names on it.
      We did not have tuck-shops in Holland. Kids used to come home for lunch. In Australia it is different and I suspect most kids now ‘order’ their lunches at school. A serious problem of overweight, often a result of making bad dietary decisions.
      There is the hallowed cucumber sandwich.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. SaaniaSparkle πŸ§šπŸ»β€β™€οΈ Says:

    Nice blog


  9. Will Hemmen Says:

    Hello Gerard, I like the old memories. We also had sandwiches. Because there was no money for sandwich with meat or cheese we often had them with sugar, Delicious, fresh white bread with sugar. Maybe once in a year with a “speculaasje”. My grandchildren on Curacao go to school every day with sandwiches in their lunchboxes.
    But I see a lot of older boys and girls going to a shop in lunchtime to buy cookies and sauceces and so on. Mostly bad food

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, the same here, Will. The art of children going to school with sandwiches in their bags is slowly fading. Sugary soft drinks and KFC fat laden chicken nuggets, sausage rolls are now all the go.

      Mind you, i sometimes don’t mind a sausage myself, but through a brilliant skinny gene, my weight obstinately refuses to get much above 65 kilos. In fact take away almost seems to make me loose weight. Perhaps they contain some miracle laxative in my own case.


  10. rangewriter Says:

    Sandwiches. I love/hate them. There are only 2 that are worthy of eating when made with typical American spineless bread: the infamous PBJ. (peanut butter & jelly) Or grilled cheese. But if I have the treat of real bread with a spine and a crust, I almost prefer to eat just the bread. All the other fancy stuff people put between the slices I prefer to eat off a plate. I’m weird. I’ve heard stories of depression era eating tricks that involved a crust of bread and lard. My mother loved butter so she ate butter with bread, rather than bread with butter. I’m not a fan of butter unless it’s melted into something. I guess tomato sandwiches are a thing. I admit, I do like a bacon, lettuce, tomato sandwich now and then. But just a good hunk of walnut levain or focaccia, yum. Just give me the bread, maam.

    Seriously, we are so lucky these days. Bread is always plentiful. I think even homeless people can access bread.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, Real bread is now easy to come by and most shops do sell foreign breads as well as home made mixed grain varieties. In our days we used to buy Latvian black bread. It was solid, tasty and really fed you.

      The German soldier I wrote about gave me a solid black bread in 1945.

      I buy the multigrain which stays fresh even after a few days. Filling I generally stick to cheese, tomato and salami. Rarely any jam.
      Lard and bread was during the depression years I think.

      My mother used to sometimes fry stale bread in some kind of lard. I loved it.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. freefall852 Says:

    As for school sandwiches, all I can say is that a solid filling of fritz and “Rozella” tomato sauce w/well buttered bread was worth two cats-eyes or one tombola!….that or a couple of lollies of acceptable value!

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Lollies were always given in Holland by smart grocery shops to try and get the kids hooked who would pester mum into shopping at shops who were the most generous with lollie giving.

      Once a year we give sweets to kids on bon-fire night (Halloween) associated with Guy Fawkes. Some years ago this events was used to try and get kids to get away from lollies, so, from the goodness of my heart I put out a bucket of fresh snappy celery stick for the kids when they knocked on the door with their threat of ‘tricks or treat.’
      Not a single celery was taken!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. shoreacres Says:

    Just now, the vine ripened tomatoes are in season, and so I’m indulging (maybe even over-indulging) in my favorite: bacon and tomato on wheat toast, with mayo. I don’t bother with the lettuce: the BT is good enough for me.

    When I was young, my great treat was using cookie cutters on white bread to create diamonds, hearts, spades, and clubs for my mother’s bridge club sandwiches. We’d fill them with a nice egg salad, or cucumber, or ham salad, or pimento cheese. They were cute as could be, and I got to eat the crusts! For the lunchbox, the sandwiches were usually peanut butter and jelly, or lunchmeat with cheese. I remember an olive loaf that was tasty as could be: a kind of bologna with green olives included.

    At home, it was grilled cheese or grilled bologna. Then I grew up, and met the Monte Cristo: ham and cheese (usually Gruyere) dipped in an egg batter and either grilled or deep fried. There’s a certain restaurant in Sausalito that made it to perfection, adding a dusting of powdered sugar and fresh raspberry compote. Perfection!

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, Linda. Bacon and tomatoes are pretty good and with the addition of a nice farm egg, even better. My neighbor opposite gives me farm eggs. I think her boyfriend has a farm somewhere. I give her a flowering plant in return.

      I should take more care in my sandwich making and this morning I bought a basil plant. The addition of basil makes a lot of difference and one gets the benefit even before the cheese and basil sandwich reached the open mouth.

      In pasta too, a bit of fresh basil makes perfect. I could probably write a post on basil alone. Helvi always had a basil plant on the kitchen window’s sill. We tried growing them but it was always a bit of a hit and miss. Often nurseries grow herbs in ideal conditions to make them look just perfect, but no sooner do we plant them and insects or grubs waiting around the corner turn up jubilantly in order to graze them down.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Forestwood Says:

    I had sugar sandwiches at school, made for me by my mum, to my horror.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Curt Mekemson Says:

    PB&J. That’s one of the sandwiches I remember eating most often as a child, Gerard. That and baloney. Egg and tuna salad were a step up but smelly. Didn’t stop me from liking them. I also remember meatloaf sandwiches and hot dog sandwiches. The latter were another favorite.And then there was the rare sandwich made out of cow tongue. πŸ™‚ Peggy and I still eat sandwiches, almost every day for lunch! Interesting about the German soldier. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  15. thetinypotager Says:

    I love your WW2 story x

    Sandwiches every day here. Different fillings every day. With soup or toasted if the weather is cold πŸ™‚

    My grandmother used to give her children (including my mum) sugar sandwiches for lunch …. which couldn’t have been great for their teeth πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Geri Lawhon Says:

    My fiance grew up on PB&J and still loves it now that he is much older. Great post, now I will have to decide what sandwich to have for lunch.


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