The Earl Didn’t Invent It (Duh).

The standard story for the origin of the sandwich goes something like this:

“In 1762, an English Noble named John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, was on a gambling spree when he got hungry.  He didn’t want to fold his hand, so he instructed a servant to place a piece of roast beef between two slices of bread.  He could eat with one hand and play with the other.  Thus the birth of what today is the most popular meal in the western world” (Brown, Alton. I’m Just Here for the Food. New York: Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, 2002. p 72).

While Mr. Brown’s book is incredibly informative and I heartily recommend to anyone who wants to understand more about the mechanics of cooking and transference of heat to food, on this topic, he’s just plain wrong.

Anyone who wants the skinny on the real origin of sandwiches should track down a copy of the Summer 2004 issue of Gastronomica, in which Mark Morton divulges the true story behind sandwiches: they have been a common peasant food since quite possibly the dawn of bread; they just lacked a clever name to refer to them and were known simply as “bread and meat” or “bread and cheese.”

As evidence, Mr. Morton provides an exhaustive review of old literature and the number of times the phrases appeared thusly vs. the scant number of times the words were reversed to “meat and bread” or “cheese and bread” and concludes that the phrasing refers to what is a natural meal, especially for those who don’t have the luxury of always being able to sit and dine.  yet somehow, one rich guy eats the same thing in the company of his peers (who if they were paying any attention probably would have noticed their servants dining in a similar manner) and the whole concept gets named after him.

And really, that’s just a view of the western world of cooking.  What about all the folks in the new world who were making flatbreads out of maize and using them to wrap up other foods?  A) these were types of sandwiches that existed well before 1762 and B) the breads got named in Spanish as tortillas, not in the native language of the Aztecs who were making them.  Once again, the language by which we know a phenomenon has little to do with those who invented the item.

But then again, we all know that there’s nothing new about classism.

One Response to “The Earl Didn’t Invent It (Duh).”

  1. Ace of Clubs Says:

    If believing Alton Bown is wrong, then I don’t wanna be right. :)

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