The sandwich is not an 18th century invention. People across the world had already been eating snacks of bread and cheese, or bread and meat, for many hundreds of years. But it was during the Georgian era that the sandwich gained its name and became a recognised dish in its own right.
So what is the story of the sandwich? It starts in the mid 18th century with a piece of gossip about a Member of Parliament and his curious eating habits.
One of the earliest textual references to the rumour can be found in Pierre-Jean Grosely’s Londres, which first appeared in 1770. A guide to the people, customs and traditions of London, it was based on his Grosley’s own experiences of the city during a visit in 1756:
Extract from Pierre-Jean Grosley’s three volume work Londres gives one of the earliest references to the sandwich.
A State minister spent 24 hours in a public gambling game, constantly occupied to the point that, during these 24 hours, he only lived off a few slices of grilled beef, which he had served to himself between two pieces of toasted bread, and which he ate without quitting the game. This new dish gained favour during my stay in London: it was christened the same name of the minister who had dreamt it up to save time.
Grosely’s anonymous minister was none other than John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich.
Whether the rumour was true or not, it certainly gathered momentum very quickly. People began asking for their bread and meat ‘the same as Sandwich’ and soon the snack itself became known by the minister’s name.
The appellation was the source of some amusement for satirists, who adopted the term to allude to the Earl’s complicated love life. In this cartoon of 1788, the Earl is shown ‘sandwiched’ between two admiring females:
‘A Sandwich’: an 18th century satirical cartoon.
Sandwich died in 1792 but his name survived him as the term for this bread-based snack. By the time William Kitchiner was composing his Cook’s Oracle the name ‘Sandwich’ had well and truly stuck. Here are Kitchiner’s suggestions for some satisfying sandwich fillings:
Ideas for sandwich fillings, transcribed in our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle.
Materials for Sandwiches
Cold meat or poultry, potted or savoury ditto, ditto cheese, or grated ham or tongue, German sausages, hard eggs pounded with butter and cheese. Mustard, pepper and salt as necessary.
Next time you tuck into your lunch, spare a thought for the 4th Earl of Sandwich…