Published May 29, 2013 - Last Updated January 22, 2021
As with most of our favorite foods, the club sandwich cannot be pinned down to one specific origin story. There are several possible “first” club sandwiches. One popular tale involves the kitchen of a New York casino called the Saratoga Club; in another story, a man raids his pantry after a night out and accidentally “discovers” the club sandwich. What’s interesting about these early tales is that they only call for two slices of bread, unlike the three or four layers we’re accustomed to today. The double-decker version of the club sandwich was first called a “Club House” sandwich; simple versions of the recipe were published as early as 1894. One early recipe appeared in The Neighbourhood Cook Book, a charity fundraising cookbook first published by the Council of Jewish Women in Portland, Oregon in 1912.
Yes, you read that right– the Council of Jewish Women included bacon in their cookbook, as well as ham and copious amounts of shellfish. There are a couple of possible explanations for the appearance of bacon in an early American Jewish cookbook. Around the turn of the century, the Reform Judaism movement was in full swing. In 1883 the first four Reform rabbis were ordained in North America; their matriculation was celebrated with a banquet of shellfish, frog’s legs and ice cream. Reform Judaism rejected the traditional reasoning behind keeping a kosher diet; by the early twentieth century, most American Jews were not strictly kosher (although the open consumption of treif foods like pork and shellfish was not widespread). Reform Judaism was the first movement to embrace a more relaxed view of the kosher laws. It’s possible that the ladies who compiled this cookbook were part of the Reform movement; it’s also possible that non-kosher recipes were included in order to sell the book to a wider audience. It was, after all, published for charity. Whatever the reason, the recipe for chicken “club house” sandwiches with bacon can be found on its pages.
Over time this basic sandwich concept came to be known as simply the “club,” regardless of how many layers of bread were used. In 1928, Florence A. Cowles created more than 17 different versions of the club sandwich, including a Russian club that carried a 5 course meal between six slices of bread. And in 1930, the club found itself in the middle of a heated political debate when the House of Representatives submitted a $30,000 bill to Congress to fund their restaurant’s club sandwich ingredients (ahh, how little has changed in Washington). In protest, an Ohio congressman rose from his seat, waving two club sandwiches and exclaiming that they were just not worth that much money.
Nowadays, a club sandwich is most often made with 3 slices of bread, turkey and/or ham, bacon, tomato, lettuce, mayonnaise and sometimes cheese. Here I’ve created a kosher club sandwich by using smoked salmon, lettuce, tomato and capers. It’s sandwiched together with a luscious homemade spread of cream cheese, Greek yogurt and dill. This version is a lot healthier than a regular club sandwich– the Greek yogurt lightens the spread, and the salmon is packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Plus who doesn’t love the flavor of smoked salmon with cream cheese? Serve it as a whole sandwich, or cut it into quarters for a more bite-sized treat. Either way, this is a club I definitely want to be a member of!
The Neighbourhood Cookbook (1912). The Council of Jewish Women, Portland, Oregon.
Fishkoff, Sue (2010). Kosher Nation. Schocken Books, New York, NY.
Wilson, Bee (2010). Sandwich: A Global History. Reaktion Books Ltd, London, UK.
Thanks for stopping by! I am fascinated by the story behind the food – why we eat what we eat, how the foods of different cultures have evolved, and how yesterday’s food can inspire us in the kitchen today. Read more...