Since Victorian times, the dignified and daring women of sidesaddle riding have been immortalized in literature, art and volumes of history as the image of equestrian elegance. Even more recently, interest in the sport has been revitalized and romanticized by the likes of Lady Mary Crawley riding alongside her handsome Turkish flirtation.
However, historical references to the practical and important sidesaddle sandwich, and case in which it is enclosed, are few and sometimes vague. In fact, tracing the snack’s story from trailside treat to official tack appointment is a bit like a wild goose chase, or perhaps a fox chase, riddled with rumors and plagued by inconsistent documentation. A closer look reveals that the tale of this simple sandwich is intertwined with the history of the pioneering women who chose to ride aside in the 19th century hunt field and carry on the tradition in shows today.
The athletic and undeniably fashionable women meticulously dressed in towering top hats and sleek riding gloves, precariously perched with perfect posture represent the Victorian vision of sidesaddle that endures today. But most scholars agree that the origin of this style of riding dates back to the 1382 marriage of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia, who used this technique to journey across Europe to meet her betrothed. Over time, Good Queen Anne’s style spread through England. Though at that time women’s access to horseback was still controlled by societal structures that nearly always ignored safety in favor of propriety, riding aside made it possible for ladies to canter in the company of men and later to join in the foxhunt.
Considered an extremely “ancient sport,” foxhunting’s more modern interpretation has roots dating back to 15th century England with female participation reaching full stride a few centuries later in the 1860s. In an article titled “Vixens of Venery: Women, Sport, and Fox-Hunting in Britain, 1860 – 1914,” author Erica Munkwitz argues increased female involvement was due to better saddles as well as evolving concepts of womanhood. She writes, “Female riders worked carefully and conscientiously to join hunt fields. Riding sidesaddle, these ‘ladies of the chase’ demonstrated that women could ride well over country without losing their essential femininity.”
Victorian era paintings of sidesaddle riders capture just that—essential femininity. The women in Heywood Hardy’s popular 18th and 19th century foxhunt scenes seem unruffled as they leap over brooks or idle patiently while men pursue a kill. Their habits hardly seem to move, and their hair is perfectly coifed, as they remain perfectly poised embodiments of grace. What his masterpieces don’t so obviously demonstrate is the danger or demand women endured while on the chase.
Put simply, this pastime favored by the upper class was not for the faint of heart. Though aside riders are always described as “ladies,” they were, and are to this day, fierce competitors. Joining the foxhunt meant navigating difficult terrain, risking a fatal fall or otherwise staying strapped to your horse from early morning until nightfall. Such a strenuous sport had to be fueled by something filling yet convenient, food that could be eaten on the go and, for the ladies of sidesaddle, eaten without dismounting. The sandwich was the perfect solution. It became a staple snack for both men and women engaged in foxhunting, and later an important part of the tack appointments for women in show.
Something To Sustain
As commonplace as the sandwich would become, its story is somewhat mysterious. Culinary constructs of meat between bread have existed since the ancient Greeks, yet the invention of the modern day sandwich is often credited to John Montagu, an avid card player and the fourth Earl of Sandwich in the mid-1700s. As legend has it, in 1762 Montagu was reluctant to leave the table of a 24-hour card game, but was in desperate need of some nourishment. William Sitwell, author of “A History of Food in 100 Recipes” writes of Montagu, “He needed something to sustain him that would not require him to move to the dining room. It was vital that what he ate would enable him to hold his cards and stay in the game but not look inelegant.” His companions approved of this innovation and requested, “what Sandwich was having.” Though the sandwich would develop a reputation as a food that the upper class only ate while indulging their vices—gambling for men and gossiping for women—or any activity requiring a free hand, over time it was enjoyed simply for convenience, especially when riding.
Penny Denegre, a Master of Foxhounds of the Middleburg Hunt, even offers an alternative take on the sandwich’s origin story. “The origin is from the Earl of Sandwich, and he was a foxhunter,” she says. “He was trying to figure out how he could carry a meal in his hunting coat pocket. So when he was out for six hours, he had a meal fashioned so he could eat it on the back of a galloping horse.” The exact context of the Earl of Sandwich eating the first sandwich is uncertain, but it is indisputable that the food was popular enough among equestrians that it soon became routine.
For use during the foxhunt, the sandwich case could be strapped to aside or astride saddles. Like the saddles, the canteens were different for men and women. Jeannie Whited, former treasurer of the International Side Saddle Organization explains, “What gentleman would carry is a leather box that is about the same size as the ladies hunt canteen…but only has the sandwich case in it, so he gets to carry a larger sandwich. He also has a separate flask…so they get to carry a bigger sandwich and more booze.” The ladies’ sandwich case, known as a hunt canteen, holds both the flask and the silver sandwich box, which meant daintier sandwiches and less libation. There is even a unique case called a “piggy back” where the flask sits behind the sandwich box instead of next to it.
From Field To Show
Though it is unclear when, and perhaps more interestingly exactly why, the sandwich case or hunt canteen became a part of the official getup for women in sidesaddle shows, Callie Fulmer, a long time aside rider, suggests an idea. “They made this little case for your sandwich and your flask, and ultimately what starts to happen is these things get codified,” she says. “When you see that transition into the show arena from actual hunting then you start to have to have a standard. Part of the way we decide when we are looking at a line of 10 or 15 elegantly turned out, beautiful horses…is how much detail can we get them on. Where can we really say, ‘This person put in all the effort. ”And often, the judges do really consider the sandwich and sandwich case when doling out or docking points. According to Denegre, a twelve-time national sidesaddle champion, “Twenty-five percent of the sidesaddle under-saddle classes are on appointments. So if you have the wrong sandwich, that can move you back a place.”
Having the right sandwich means having a historically correct sandwich, of which clear references can be hard to find and fall into the category of food folklore. Article VI “Rules Pertinent to Hunter Classes” of the U.S. Equestrian Federation standards guidelines states under the heading “Tack Appointments, 1. Sandwich Case – Must be combined sandwich case and flask. Sandwich case must contain a sandwich, wrapped and flask must contain sherry or tea.” As for the type of sandwich, “white bread, no crust, butter with white meat, either chicken or turkey…that’s what the ladies carry in order to comply,” says Denegre. She adds, “If you have a ham and cheese on rye, that’s going to knock you down.”
Jan Floyd, a rider and creator of instructional texts, describes the requirements in a little more detail in her article titled “Some Notes on Appointments.” She writes, “The crust is cut off, the sandwich is cut into four pieces and then wrapped in a small white linen napkin and placed in the sandwich box! (Always a fresh one please!)” Though Rose Marie Bogley, a former rider and show judge, would argue the wrapping is, “wax paper, it has to be wax paper.”
The wrapping and the simple ingredients are more practical than performance. Whited says, “The idea is you want something that won’t spoil.” Denegre remembers a video made by sidesaddle coach Sally Sexton who says, “No green sandwiches!” This tradition undoubtedly comes from the long days of hunting without refrigeration. The packaging is equally important to judges. Bogley adds that your sandwich case should be as spiffed up as the rest of your habit. She remembers a helper of hers buffing her sandwich case with great care and with winning results. During the show she recalls the judge saying, “Take a look at Rose Marie’s case; it’s so shiny you can see your face in it.”
While there are some textual references to sandwich standards, this niche community of sidesaddle women often rely on word of mouth, passed down through the generations. This tradition within a tradition creates space for occasional disagreement, but it also fosters a catalogue of sandwich anecdotes that all sidesaddle riders seem to have. “Everybody’s got stories,” says Whited recounting the tale of a friend with a laugh. “She just completely blanked that she needed a sandwich to put in her case. So she went scrounging around and came up with…some frozen waffles. So she took a quarter of her frozen waffle, wrapped it up and stuffed it in there.”
Denegre has an amusing story, too. “It happened to a friend of mine. She was getting dressed in her hotel room and she realized, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t have a sandwich.’ She was petrified…” Denegre continues. “She took a washcloth from the hotel bathroom—a white washcloth—she folded it up, wrapped it in the handkerchief and put it in her sandwich case. And wouldn’t you know, she got called out on top. She was standing in first place. The judge was beginning to judge appointments. She was sweating bullets. The judge came by, opened it, looked at it and quickly put it back, and she got away with it. She won a blue at The Garden with a washcloth.”
Though it is made of humble ingredients, the sidesaddle sandwich is an important part of the history of women and horses. For the pioneering ladies who braved 18th century foxhunts, the sandwich case contained a small comfort in the form of food, and, as Fulmer puts it, “liquid courage” filling the flask. And for the women who continue the tradition today, it’s also a way to stay connected to their equestrian predecessors who paved the way.
And don’t be fooled that these sandwiches are only for show. “We actually eat them!” Bogley says.
With that in mind, try my recipe for an upscale hunt lunch that stays pretty much within the rules, with a few delicious additions. I make a homemade Pullman loaf and slather it in herbed butter and top with juicy flash brined chicken breast. Make this snack for your next sidesaddle event, and bring on the judges. You’ll definitely receive full marks for flavor!
For the bread:
7 grams of yeast
3 ½ cups of flour
2 1/2 tablespoons of sugar
2 teaspoons of salt
1 egg, at room temperature
2 tablespoons of butter, at room temperature
2.8 ounces of cream cheese, at room temperature
1 ¼ cups of warm water
For the chicken:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 ½ cups of hot water
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of salt
1 teaspoon of sugar
2 – 3 fresh parsley sprigs
For the compound butter:
1 stick of unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of chopped parsley
1 teaspoon of chopped chives
To make the bread, mix together the flour and yeast in a large bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients to the flour and begin to blend on low speed. (You can use a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook or a hand mixer. I find the hand mixer gets the job done more quickly.)
Mix until the dough starts to come together and pull away from the sides of the bowl. This will take about 3–4 minutes. The dough will look like a shaggy mess and be very sticky. Dump it out on to a well-floured surface and knead by hand about 20 times.
The dough will begin to transform and will become springy and smooth. Transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp dish towel. Place in the warmest spot in your kitchen and let rise until doubled in size, approximately two hours.
While the dough proofs, you can brine the chicken. Whisk together hot water, salt and sugar. Let cool to room temperature. Place the chicken in an airtight container, cover with the water and add the garlic and herb sprigs. Seal the container and transfer to the fridge. Let the chicken brine for at least 30 minutes and no more than two hours.
You can also make the compound butter while you wait on the bread dough. Simply mix all ingredients and adjust seasoning to taste. Store in the fridge, but bring to room temperature before use so it is easy to spread.
Once the bread has doubled in size, turn it out onto a floured surface and shape it into roughly the same shape as your bread pan. Place the dough in your lightly greased bread pan and cover with the dish towel. If you are using a Pullman loaf pan, you can simply use the lid as the cover.
Return the dough to the warmest area of your kitchen and proof until the bread has nearly reached the top of the pan, approximately one hour. Preheat your oven to 375°F.
You can bake the chicken and bread at the same time as they require a similar bake time and the same oven temperature. Place the chicken on a tray lined with foil and pat off excess brine. Bake for 25–30 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces, until the chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165°F. Remove the chicken from the oven and let cool completely. Slice thinly and reserve.
To bake the bread, for the Pullman loaf pan, bake covered for 25 minutes, remove the cover and bake for an additional 10 minutes. For a coverless bread pan, simply bake for 30–35 minutes. The bread is done when it is golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Let cool slightly before removing from the pan to cool completely. When you are ready to assemble your sandwiches, slice bread in ½-inch thick slices, slather with herbed butter and top with thinly sliced chicken. Slice off your crusts, pack your sandwich case and enjoy!
Story and photos by Kaitlin Hill
This article first appeared in the October 2018 issue.