Of Earls and Sandwiches

The usually-dependable Ask Yahoo! gives a wrong answer today. When answering the question “What is the origin of the word ‘sandwich‘?”, they give the following tidbit of trivia:

The food item has little to do with the town, but with John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich. In fact, the first Earl of Sandwich (Edward Montagu) really wanted to call himself the Earl of Portsmouth, but for some reason, decided on Sandwich instead.

John Montagu didn’t shrink from enjoying life. It’s said that he was a corrupt, devil-worshiping sex fanatic who enjoyed gambling (he would have liked Vegas). The origin of the snack is attributed to his asking a waiter for meat between two slices of bread so he wouldn’t have to put his hand of cards down. Was he lazy or smart? Probably a little of both.

In actuality, meat and/or cheese on bread has been around since ancient times. As pointed out in the Encyclopedia of Food and Culture – “In fact, Montague was not the inventor of the sandwich; rather, during his excursions in the Eastern Mediterranean, he saw filled pita breads and small canapes and sandwiches served by the Greeks and Turks during their mezes, and copied the concept for its obvious conveninece.”

So why does the legend remain? Well for one, Montagu made it popular for the dish to be eaten by the upper class. From the gentleman’s clubs the finger food migrated into genteel society events such as a supper food for late night balls or finger food at low tea.

Plus, the legend has a bit of rebellous romance to it, what with Montagu being so involved with gambling, that he couldn’t be bothered to worry about a cooked meal.

But, officially? Montagu did NOT invent the sandwich. He merely popularized it amongst the upper crust – so to speak.

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