Wednesday, May 23, 2012


If the BBC and various PR flunkies are to be believed, this year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of the sandwich.  Now, you and I know this is nonsense.   As I have ranted elsewhere, John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, didn’t invent the sandwich because it didn’t need any inventing. The idea of putting things between slices of bread is too bleedin’ obvious to need an inventor, and even if it did, the ancient Romans and Rabbi Hillel the Elder got there long before the old English aristo.

But let’s not carp. Undoubtedly Sandwich did put his name to the thing, which in many ways is the real surprise, and I enjoy a celebration as much as the next man.  In honor of this largely imaginary anniversary, the BBC website had a multiple choice quiz – just seven questions, some of them as lame as “What was the John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, doing when he ordered his manservant to bring him cuts if beef and slices of bread so that he could continue uninterrupted and eat with his fingers?” 1) Playing cards, 2) Writing love poetry, 3) Practicing fencing moves.  I realize the BBC may not have a very high opinion of its readers, but honestly!

Fortunately they called upon Sam Bompas, a good man, a great friend of this website, and now described by the BBC as a “Foodsmith.”  He used to be a "Jellymonger."  He said the Earl was eating with his fingers "when cutlery was de rigueur ... Eating of record at the time was service á la française where all the food went on the table at the same time and there was an elaborate ritual of carving, aided by troops of servants.  What you have with the sandwich is the shock of informality. He was a daring man to eat in such a way coming from his social background."

“The shock of informality” – man, I wish I’d said that.

Anyway, in order to join in the celebratory fun, I spent 6 dollars on a tiny item titled The Sandwich Book (above), and really it’s more of a pamphlet than a book, measuring about 3 inches by 6, just 16 pages long and unillustrated except for the image on the cover.  There’s no date of publication though the prose style has a nicely dated feel, “Here, in handy form, is a varied collection of recipes for making sandwiches.  The large cook books may contain a few recipes of this kind, but for quick reference and convenience, and a large number of recipes to select from, this little book will be found especially valuable in every home.”

It contains 86 recipes, including the rice sandwich, the Johnny Bull (that’s boiled beef and macaroni), Love in A Cottage (that’s cottage cheese and salad), and my favorite of all - A Boy’s Dream.  I am not, as they say, making this up.  The recipe reads, “A Boy’s Dream is relished by all sweet-toothed mortals.  Equal parts of diced banana and pineapple are mixed with strawberry jam and spread between buttered slices of bread.” You know, I have a feeling that boys’ dreams aren’t what they used to be.


  1. Do you know Woody Allen's "Yes, but can the steam engine do this?"?

    1. Hi Bruno - I had read the Woody Allen, but had forgotten all about it. The problem with inventing anything about the good Earl of Sandwich is that his life was so extraordinary it's hard to come up with anything that competes - Member of Parliament, a colonel in the army, First Lord of the Admiralty, had a mistress who was murdered by a rejected suitor, and by most accounts a member of the infamous Hellfire Club.