Belated birthday cheer, John Montagu; you may not have been sharp at cards, but you were hungry, and that's all that mattered.
The fourth earl of Sandwich would have been 290 a couple of weeks ago, November 3. In less politically strident years, we here at Intrepid Media would have trumpeted his birthday as National Sandwich Day, but we were paralyzed with anticipation for free ice cream (Ben & Jerry's), free coffee (Starbucks) and free donuts (Krispy Kreme) on Election Day.
Our president-elect has gone on record as preferring pizza as his favorite food, especially from a little hole-in-the-wall take out place in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. But good pizza is a finesse dish; a deeply satisfying sandwich is within the culinary grasp of nearly anyone. I'd wager the White House chefs can whip up an egg salad-on-pumpernickel that could stand against the finest European croque monsieur.
(And if you doubters still need proof that Obama isn't a Muslim: that appears to be ham on seeded rye.)
But we have the next four years -- or more -- to analyze what the President's diet says about him.
This is about me. And you. And that sandwich you just had, or will have, today.
While prepping this article, I did a search to find some dubious statistic about how many sandwiches are consumed by Americans each day. The only answer I found suggested 300 million, which, coincidentally, is roughly the same as the nation's population. One sandwich per person per day? But then I realized I made myself two grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. And then I considered that "Super Size Me" guy, eating an Egg McMuffin for breakfast, a Filet-O-Fish for lunch and a Big Mac for dinner; that's three in a row. An overachiever could really push the limits and grab an ice cream sandwich for dessert.
What would Montagu think of his legacy, born of impatience as he perhaps rode a hot streak at the table? His name (or, realistically, that of the small port town in Kent, UK) has passed into everyday usage, as both noun (the eponymous consumable) and verb (to enclose a thing between two other things).
In truth, vast corporations owe their fortunes to his grumbling belly and casual fastidiousness. Without sandwiches, there would be no Subway or McDonald's. "The greatest thing since sliced bread" would instead be THE greatest thing. Why else would we have Wonder Bread -- or Oscar Mayer's b-o-l-o-g-n-a -- but to feed millions of kids each day? Would there be Oreos?
Would Elvis have been Elvis without fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches?
(Well, yes...there just would have been less of him.)
I bet one of your first food memories is of a sandwich. Maybe that badge of childhood, the PB&J. Was it grape jelly or strawberry that you liked best? And how long before you were making them on your own, without Mom's help? Sandwiches are child's play, particularly with the advent of squeeze bottles. Grab a slice of bread. A splut of jelly, a splat of peanut butter. Fold it over. Nom, nom, nom.
By the time I was eight or so, and spurred on by the ingenious Dagwood Bumstead, I was branching out. I dropped PB&Js for peanut butter, bacon and cheddar on wheat toast. A simple sandwich of meat and cheese transcended mediocrity with the addition of a slice of pickle, or a layer of potato chips stuffed inside.
Now that I can cook -- I mean really cook, it's all about panini. I make pork roasts just so I can make Cubanos. Seems like I've always got caramelized onions and goat cheese on hand when there's some extra grilled chicken in the fridge, ready to be slipped inside a focaccia and pressed on the griddle.
But sometimes it's as simple as PB&J on a raisin bagel, or -- like today -- as old school as grilled American cheese on Wonder bread.
So thank you, good Earl. Your unwitting contribution to the world's menu remains elegant in its simplicity, and efficient in its convenience.
Now - you want that wit' Wiz, or wit'out?
If the media is the eye on the world, Russ Carr is the finger in that eye. Tune in each month to see him dispersing the smoke and smashing the mirrors of modern mass communication. The world lost Russ on 2/7/12, but he lives on.
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11.19.08 @ 7:40a
People get really upset when I discuss my favourite sandwich: peanut butter, honey and anchovies on whole wheat. I "invented" this delicacy in 1968, which might give you a hint as to the chemicals which led me to do so. For the rest of you with inclinations to love the juxtaposition of sweet and salty, this is perfection itself.
11.19.08 @ 9:30a
Just think about sandwich consumption, worldwide? In Vietnam, the sidewalk carts often have a fried lightly-spiced pork on a French baguette, spread with a triangle of laughing cow cheese, with lettuce and tomato. That sandwich alone is almost worth the $1000 in airfare. John Montagu is bigger than the Beatles!
11.19.08 @ 12:37p
I just ate a sandwich. Turkey and swiss on homemade white bread. I wouldn't say it's my favorite, but it's tasty.
11.19.08 @ 12:52p
Wonder Bread! Someone still eats Wonder Bread. One of the disappointments of my young life was when Wonder Bread went from a dough mix to a batter mix. My father worked for Wonder Bread/Hostess for 35 years and the whole family rejected the batter bread in favor of variety breads from other bakeries--sourdough, whole wheat, rye--when the process changed. My father's claim to Wonder Bread fame: he devised (and patented for the company) a way to clean the network of tubing that allowed the company to pour liquids (including liquid shortening) through a semi-automated system. I miss the days when the bakers would pour the ingredients into a giant mixer and then move the masses of sticky dough by hand into greased dough troughs ("trough" rhymes with "dough" in the bread-baking industry). I still prefer good solid, well-textured bread for my sandwiches. No soft, doughy stuff for me!
11.19.08 @ 4:18p
Stuck getting my car worked on today, I didn't get home in time to prep the sandwich I really wanted, and settled for ham and turkey on ciabatta. Tomorrow, though, I've got slices of stuffed pork loin, topped with some extra stuffing (spinach, onions, mushrooms, goat cheese) and pressed into a focaccia.
And of course in just over a week, there's leftover turkey on leftover dollar rolls, topped with leftover cranberry-orange relish...
11.19.08 @ 5:59p
When are we all invited for lunch, Russ? Ever think of opening your own sandwich delivery service? Of course, I guess I'm out of your delivery area and I certainly would not want to pay the delivery charges.
11.20.08 @ 10:39a
I made a pan bagna last week that was one of the best things I've ever eaten. Ciabatta loaf sliced lengthwise and filled with provolone and Swiss, lettuce, tomato, roasted red peppers, black olives, red onion, oregano and basil and crushed garlic, then drizzled with olive oil, wrapped in foil and weighted down in the fridge for two hours under a 12-pack of soda. To. Die. For.
11.20.08 @ 2:30p
I can't read these comments right before lunchtime. Now I'm starving. Juli -- yum!
11.21.08 @ 6:06a
I want to share with you something which is only tangential to this discussion. Back in about 1946, there was a news story about how the Soviet Union had conducted a nutritional study to find the least expensive and most easily prepared healthy diet in case they ever had an emergency like World War II again. They found that Russian black bread and cabbage soup would do the trick. So my grandmother made cabbage soup and, since there was no Russian black bread to be found in Chattahoochee, Florida, in 1946, we had toasted Merita whole wheat bread, which is what we ate usually, and it was quite delicious. I'm not sure exactly how long I'd ENJOY such a diet, but it was mighty tasty for the few days the cabbage soup lasted.
11.21.08 @ 7:39a
A running favorite sandwich in this house is a Turkey Mango Melt. Try 'em after Thanksgiving!
11.21.08 @ 11:56a
The Sonoma Cookbook looked so promising that I just ordered it.
11.21.08 @ 2:44p
Sandra's comments about nutrition and state-developed diets reminded me of the Shelf Stable Sandwich prepared for the military, and featured in the documentary "Sandwiches that You Will Like. Akin to a Hot Pocket, these super sandwiches can stay fresh on the shelf for 3+ years, with no degradation of quality. Troops apparently give them high marks for taste and texture.
The rest of the documentary is pretty fun, too -- a travelogue of regional and local sandwich specialties.