I’ll Have What He’s Having! First Helping: A Brief History of the Sandwich

During the 18th century a certain Englishman liked to gamble. This bloke was John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. This guy had the jones so bad that he was rumored to have gambled for 24 hours straight on occasion. During one marathon session in 1762, the Earl must have been flopping the nuts because his hunger was damn well not going to interrupt his hot streak. Sadly, this was before the day of the scantily clad cocktail waitress and the Earl had to take matters into his own hands. He summoned his manservant to fetch him two pieces of bread, meat and cheese (this was also prior to the invention of shrimp cocktail). Having been educated at Eton and Cambridge, the Earl was no dummy. He promptly placed the meat and cheese between the two pieces of bread, so as to not to get the playing cards greasy. Others saw what he was having and recognized the utility of it and began to order “what Sandwich was having.” Thus, the sandwich was born.

Apparently naming things after the 4th Earl of Sandwich was all the rage in the 18th century. Intrepid British explorer James Cook, discoverer of Australia, named the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) after the 4th Earl. After seeing the popularity of the sandwich many jealous descendants of the Earl have staked their claim to his fortune and tried with varying degrees of success to create their own eponymous sandwich. These include: Prince Hoagie of Spropshire, Grand Duke Hammancheese of North Umberland, Lady Fingers of Essex, Principe Pastramionarye of Cornwall, Tsar Knuckles of Russia and the ubiquitous Kaiser Roll in Germany. As upper crust families (pun firmly intended) are wont to do in an attempt to increase their power and fortune will have strategic marriages. In the most famous sandwich-related nuptials, one Prince Thomas “Peanut” McButter of Scotland married a well-bred lady from the Jelly Family of Wales.

While naming food after noble ruling class, generals and emperors (e.g., Beef Wellington and Napoleon) was the European way of doing things, the up-start Americans have taken a different approach. With America’s ideals of democracy and equality, sandwiches were given the names of ordinary people rather than nobility. The Reuben is reportedly named after a humble Omaha, Kansas grocer named Reuben Kulakofksy. According to our sources, the ingredients of this sandwich were compiled by the members of Reuben’s weekly poker group. The Sloppy Joe is a tribute to the average “Joe” and not named after any particular Joe.

Almost three hundred years after its invention, the Brits are no less enamored with the sandwich. They have latched so hard on to the sandwich that it is darn near their national dish. Case in point: There is a week-long festival dedicated to “butties or “sarnies,” as sandwiches are sometimes called there. Here is the schedule of events from a 2005 Sandwich Week taken from the official web-site:

• 10th May – We will be discovering the nation’s favorite sandwich through a survey sponsored by Marks & Spencer. (“Mark and Sparks” for those in the know.)

• 11th May – We will be focusing on the variety of occasions when cheese can fill the gap in sandwiches for occasions from picnics to lunch boxes.

(While the British have excelled at Navies and bespoke clothing, it appears they have not yet fully mastered the art of putting cheese on a sandwich. Our research has revealed that the people in Liverpool have been attempting to put the cheese on the outside of the sandwich and perpendicular to the bread.)

• 12th May – To highlight the versatility of sandwiches as meals for all occasions and at all times of day.

• 13th May – It’s healthy eating sandwich day when Boots will be focusing on the great tasting sandwiches now available for those who care about what they eat.

• 14th May – It’s Breakfast Sandwich Day and Brits are encouraged to go to work on one of Britain most cherished sandwiches – The Sausage and Bacon Butty.

 

Even though the sandwich is beloved in England little was done over the years to enhance the sandwich beyond its utilitarian genesis. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, Guv’,” we can hear them saying. This is borne out by Michelle, 40 Foot Buffet’s favorite Brit currently living in the States. Michelle reports growing up having sandwiches made of thin layers of ham, a smattering of butter, and, if you were feeling cheeky, maybe, just maybe, a thin slice of cheese. Upon arrival to the States, clutching her suitcase and with a head full of dreams, Michelle was taken aback, nearly frightened, by the amount of fillings and condiments that go into American sandwiches. One sandwich at Quizno’s nearly made her faint in horror. She has since recovered and can now tolerate two slices of cheese on a sandwich.

While we personally think British sandwiches are lacking, we will give our cousins credit where credit is due. Hovis, one of England’s leading producers of bread, has just introduced revolutionary crust-free bread. What makes this bread so special is that it is baked in such a way to prevent the crust from ever forming. This product, which was two years in the making, was created in response to demand from children who do not like to eat the crusts of the bread. According to the Manchester Evening News, this new bread was developed under the code name Project Curly, based on the myth that eating the crusts makes one’s hair curly. Research carried out by Hovis indicated that 35% of mothers are asked by their children to cut the crust off the bread, which wastes 45% of the loaf of bread.

Finally, the nation as a whole has begun to recognize advancements in the sandwich arts. As part of Sandwich the week, awards called The Sammies are given out. There are over 20 of these awards, in categories including Technical Excellence, Sandwich Designer of the Year, Workplace Sandwich Provider of the Year, New Sandwich Accompaniment of the Year, and the Sandwich Industry Export Award. The winner in the New Sandwich of the Year Innovative Category was Beef, rocket, dill and horseradish mayonnaise pretzel croissant. The most interesting of them is Sandwich Photographer of the Year. Does mean there are sandwich centerfolds?

Crusts or no crusts, we Americans have not been so genteel about what we put between two slices of bread. Part 2 we will explore the shaping of American sandwiches.

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