CARMELA HAYES COLUMN: Humble jam sandwich is the source of memories

I was reminiscing recently about my dad and food and the humble jam sandwich came instantly to mind. Random I know, writes Carmela Hayes.

By Janet Bew (edited by)
Wednesday, 2nd February 2022, 5:59 pm
Updated Wednesday, 2nd February 2022, 6:14 pm
Jam sandwiches bring back happy memories for Carmela
Jam sandwiches bring back happy memories for Carmela

Now, when I say jam sandwich, I am not referring to a soft, artisan, freshly-baked sourdough bread with lashings of premium jam, I am referring to the jam sandwich I would prepare as a young child for my dad to take to work. I remember squishy ‘plastic’ white bread and a basic cover of sweet jam.

I would, on occasion, make my dad, Rocco, his packed lunch to take to his carpentry and joinery workshop in Bedford. He loved good food, especially if Mum was the cook, but ate his lunch purely for fuel and at speed. It’s not that he wanted to, it was because he was always busy and never found a moment to stop in the day.

That said, Dad did have his favourites. I always remember him loving the cheese and onion sandwiches that Mum would make for him (he’d also squish a few crisps into them for added texture), or the weekly frittata-layered panino, or the roasted pepper sandwiches in chewy Pugliese bread.

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These were all Pop’s favourites, paired with cheese and onion crisps, seasonal fruit, a bottle of water and a few chocolate bars that were either a Topic, Lion bar, Picnic, or Marathon (remember those?) Yum!

Throughout the winter, Mum would make soup for Dad to take in his vintage Thermos flask. The soups would be French onion soup (the sort you buy in sachets and add boiling water to). When I make my own, I add vermouth to the sticky sweet onions and yet even though mine didn’t come out of a sachet, if I close my eyes tightly enough, I can recall my dad sipping the soup from his dark green flask with its discoloured cream lid. Such a great memory.

Throughout my childhood, my mum, Solidea, spent a lot of time in London looking after my younger sister, Daniela, in Great Ormond Street Hospital. We would miss them both greatly and I know my dad missed the great food element too.

So, on the weeks and months that my mum and Little Pip, my sister, were away, I would be in charge of Dad’s packed lunch. Oddly, I don’t actually remember what we did for dinner!

Dad never cooked, even though in later life he mastered the most incredible spaghetti aglio e olio.

So may I introduce you to the dreaded jam sandwich, with a recipe from nine-year-old Carmela!

Ingredients & Method

2 slices of white bread (dad always called this bread ‘plastic’)

A scant amount of jam (strawberry, raspberry, or apricot)

Spread scant amount of jam to bread.

Push down the sandwich to secure (this often dented the bread).

Cut into four small squares (my dad fumbled as he ate such tiny squares).

Wrap tightly in foil and tell Dad that he had another jam sandwich for lunch.

He would come home and ask me how my school day was; I’d moan, as I hated school, and then proudly ask, ‘did you enjoy your lunch?

Dad would always say: “Yes, Big Pip. Just maybe add a little more jam next time.”

This was something we laughed about for years because I would add jam to the bread but scrape off excess. In fact, it was barely a jam sandwich! When Mum and my sister returned home, Dad never ate a jam sandwich again.

Since Dad passed away last autumn, I seem to be reminiscing more about our lives together and how food and drink shaped our lives. The jam sandwich is a bad example, I know, yet it’s one that we would recollect together so it became to be the food of the kings.

Now, once a week, I make myself a jam sandwich. This time with upgraded bread, homemade jam from our family farm and the memory of my papa to sit alongside me.