The History of the Sandwich

So this is it. The first ever sandwich. 


In 1762, Edward Gibbon wrote down that 'Twenty or thirty of the first men in the kingdom... supping at little tables, upon a bit of cold meat, or a Sandwich'.(1) This first mention in written word of the bready snack relates to Earl Sandwich, the fourth Earl, John Montagu, who used to ask his cook to being him a piece of cold meat between two slices of bread because he didn't want to stop playing cards when he was hungry. This way, he could eat as he played, with the bread acting like a two-part, edible plate to the cold meat inside. 

Of course, there is debate over this. One historian says that the sandwich was more likely to have been created while the Earl was at his long hours of work rather than play - and others bring up the long-standing tradition of the Medieval Trencher - the plate made out of bread, that would often be eaten along with the meal. (2) Was it so far a stretch to think that someone would ladle up the trencher with meat and then add a slice of bread on top for a portable supper? 

In any case, the sandwich - or Sandwich, if we're being proper about it - is now huge business. In the UK we eat four billion ready-made sarnies a year (3) and the first one was thought to have been sold by Marks and Spencer in 1980. They've been a favourite for a portable picnic lunch, a work snack and a tea party treat for more than 150 years. By 1850 there were over 70 sandwich sellers working in London and in 1861 Mrs Beeton offers a number of sandwich recipes in her Book of Household Management, including Egg and Chutney and also Cucumber Sandwiches. There's also a curious recipe for Curry Butter to complement a sandwich, but that's for another discussion.(4)

The original sandwich would have been certainly, to our eyes, very plain. Just some roast or salt beef sliced cold, and placed between two slices of bread. Now we've progressed to buttered bread with crunchy fresh shredded lettuce, a juicy sliced tomato, maybe some slow-fried onions and condiments ranging from chutneys to horseradish to mustard to brown sauce. 

Definitely a long way from its humble and spontaneous beginnings. 

Sources
(1) MacMillan Dictionary, Sandwich. Accessed 27 July 2020.
(2) Wikipedia, Sandwich. Accessed 27 July 2020. 
(3) British Sandwich Week, Statistics. Accessed 27 July, 2020. 
(4) WikiSource, Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management page 1117. Accessed 27 July 2020. 


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