A PORTABLE FEAST

The tricentennial of the birth of John Montagu will occur next year on November 13. Make your plans and reservations now to attend one or more of the memorial celebrations that are sure to be held around the world, including the unveiling of plaques at appropriate sites like McDonald’s and Subway restaurants and possibly a royal lunch at Windsor Castle.

John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich in Great Britain, lent his name, quite unintentionally, to today’s immensely popular hand-held meal.  The earl was a notorious gambler and one evening, in order to avoid interrupting a card game, he told his cook to prepare a quick, easy to handle meal that wouldn’t cause a misdeal or mess up the kitty. The cook obliged by handing him a cut of meat between two slices of bread.

Later when the cook asked for orders from the other players, they watched the happily munching Montagu and replied, “Just repeat the Sandwich order.”  So, for the first time, there were sandwiches and (poker) chips all around.

Of course the earl and his cook didn’t invent the sandwich. Our ancestors had been eating meat since the dawn of history and had created bread recipes at least 30,000 years ago.  The combination of meat and bread was inevitable and probably happened  thousands of years before that card game.  Peanut butter and jelly, paninis and wraps were later important advances.

The sandwich label was applied again when British explorer Captain James Cook discovered an archipelago in the Pacific and named it the Sandwich Islands in honor of Montagu who was then the First Lord of the Admiralty.  The islanders eventually murdered Captain Cook and soon began to refer to their homeland as “Hawaii”.

The surname “sandwich” has prevailed although there are now dozens of given first names including hoagie, submarine, gyro, Philly cheese steak, BLT,  French dip, Monte Cristo, reuben and Dagwood.

I remember oddball sandwich combos I observed in lunch rooms at school and work.  I used to kid my friend Dick about his Hershey Bar on rye and he, in turn, mocked my Bermuda onions and sardines on pumpernickel with a side order of Tums. Do you have a favorite weird sandwich?

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