If my life is indeed a picnic, like the cliche says, I’d argue that it’s specifically a late-1800s picnic – stressful, frequently overpacked, and requiring me to wake up a lot earlier than I’d like.

At least, that’s how these “relaxing” Victorian outings often were for the women stuck with food preparation. 1883’s Practical Housekeeping demands that, when picnicking, women “be up ‘at five o’clock in the morning’ to have the chicken, biscuits, etc., freshly baked.” Mrs. Owens’ Complete Cookbook and New Household Manual, meanwhile, lists several types of foods that should be brought, from baked beans to canned deviled ham – and she also notes that “Bouillon tablets are just the thing, provided there is hot water.” Because one thing that is totally not a pain in the butt to eat at a picnic is soup broth. And oh, we haven’t even gotten to the other picnic… More…

Portable, quick, satisfying, cheap and requiring neither plate nor cutlery, the sandwich is the most universal of all fast food, the archetypal hand-held snack. With the exception of people who don’t eat bread, for whatever reason, all of us eat sandwiches – and in an unusually wide range of contexts. They are eaten by school children and High Court judges, by soldiers and pacifists, by busy call-centre workers and leisurely picnickers. They are eaten in hospital wards, in prisons, in the lounges of four-star hotels and at the kitchen table. The sandwich is simply the quickest way of making a meal. We may speak and dream of other foods; we may pontificate on banquets and gastronomy; but a lot of the time, if we are honest, what we are really eating is sandwiches.

“Sandwiches in the twenty-first century,” writes the food historian Andrew F. Smith, “are… More…