About 75 years ago, someone got the bright idea of serving soup and a sandwich together and calling it a meal. The Campbell Soup Company had nothing to do with it, but they knew a good thing when they saw it and ran ads with pictures of rosy-cheeked children coming home after an afternoon of snowball fights to find a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich waiting for them on the kitchen counter.
“It was a natural inclination to pair them together,” says John Faulkner, director of brand communications at Campbell.
Although it might have seemed like a culinary revelation at the time, soups and sandwiches had been around for years. In the Middle Ages people ate what were called “sops,” which consisted of pieces of bread soaked in broth. Even earlier, before there was bread, grains were cooked in various concoctions to make soups. The breakthrough in sandwiches came in 1762 when John Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich, was so engrossed in his card game that he refused to take a food break. When he asked for something to eat, a quick-thinking cook slapped a couple of pieces of cold beef between two slices of toast and handed it to Montagu. With a sandwich in one hand and cards in the other, the Earl of Sandwich carried on with his game.
Not surprisingly, putting food between bread took off in hundreds of directions, not all of them with bread (think quesadillas, wraps and hoagies) and not necessarily two slices (think open-face and double deckers). It was inevitable that some would be grilled, and in the 1920s, when processed cheese and sliced bread became affordable, grilled cheese sandwiches were the rage. In World War II, Navy cooks made them by the hundreds.
—By Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnham, Mass.