April is National BLT Month.
The bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich with mayonnaise, often served as a triple-decker sandwich on toast, is one of America’s favorite sandwiches (and a U.K. favorite, too).
While toast, bacon and lettuce have been enjoyed at table since Roman times, two of the other ingredients took a bit longer to come together.
The oldest of the five ingredients is bread.
The art of using yeast to leaven bread was mastered by the ancient Egyptians. Loaves of bread presented more culinary opportunities than flatbreads.
Then came lettuce.
Lettuce was first cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, who turned it from a weed into a food plant as early as 2680 B.C.E. It was taken to Greece and Rome, and by 50 C.E., many types of lettuce were grown there.
Next, the bacon.
Wild boar meat was cured be smoking, salting and drying since Paleolithic times. (The Paleolithic, also known as the Stone Age, extended from 750,000 B.C.E. or 500 B.C.E. to approximately 8,500 B.C.E. [source]).
Pigs were domesticated from wild boar as early as 13,000–12,700 B.C.E. But there was nothing identifiable as modern bacon.
The modern bacon we know and love began to appear in the mid-1700s.
Previously, the word “bacon” referred to all pork, then the back meat, then all cured pork. British farmers who noticed that certain breeds of pig had much plumper sides, engendered a movement so that “bacon” was finally distinguished as the side of pork, cured with salt.
Here are the history of bacon, and the different types of bacon.
Tomatoes were brought to Europe from the New World at the end of the 16th century. But not as food.
The original tomatoes were like yellow cherry tomatoes. Considered poisonous (they’re members of the Nightshade family), they were enjoyed as houseplants.
Tomatoes weren’t eaten for two more centuries, and then only because of a famine in Italy in the early 1800s.
They arrived in England in the 16th century (see the history of tomatoes).
At the same time, there was no mayo for the BLT. The original mahónnaise sauce was invented in 1756, but it was not until years later that it evolved into what is recognized as modern mayo.
The great French chef Marie-Antoine Carême (1784-1833) lightened the original recipe by blending the vegetable oil and egg yolks into an emulsion, creating the mayonnaise that we know today (the history of mayonnaise).
But no one had invented the sandwich.
It took John Montagu, Fourth Earl Of Sandwich, to invent the eponymous food in 1762 (history of the sandwich).
A marathon gambler, he would not leave the gaming table to eat, so asked for meat and a couple of pieces of bread. He could throw dice with one hand and eat with the other, no knife or fork required. (Sushi was invented for the same reason.)
The first sandwiches were gambling food: something easy to eat without utensils. Fancier sandwiches evolved, but it took more than 100 years for someone needed to invent the club sandwich.
The invention of the club sandwich.
While tea sandwiches with bacon, lettuce and tomato were served during Victorian times, a search of 19th and early 20th century American and European cookbooks points to the club sandwich as the progenitor of the BLT.
According to Food Timeline, most food historians concur that the club sandwich was probably created in the U.S. during the late 19th/early 20th century.