Did you know that August is National Sandwich Month? Seeing how roast beef sandwiches are what we do, it’s a month that we’re happy to celebrate at Bill & Bob’s Famous Roast Beef. In honor of National Sandwich Month, we’re going to take a look at the history of the sandwich. We’ve covered the history of the roast beef sandwich in particular, but we wouldn’t have that if sandwiches weren’t already a popular food.
Roast beef sandwiches owe their existence to some surprisingly ancient history.
The Earliest Sandwiches
Before we started putting food between two slices of bread, many cultures already used flatbreads as an easy way to serve food. Flatbreads in various forms are staples of the cuisines of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, African, and Asian cultures. In fact, the wrap-style sandwiches that we enjoy today are culinary descendants of these traditional flatbreads. We even have references to these flatbreads in classical literature. In the Aeneid, which tells the story of the origins of ancient Rome, the Trojans receive a prophecy from a harpy: they will not find their new home until they are so hungry that they eat their tables. When they arrive in Italy, the Trojans eat a meal served on flatbreads. Once they finish the other food, they’re still hungry, so they eat the flatbreads. They realize they have “eaten their tables” and therefore have found their new home.
The Move into the Middle Ages
Using bread as a plate is a practice that was carried into Medieval Europe. Thick slabs of stale bread called “trenchers” served as plates. After the meal, the food-soaked bread was soft enough to eat. Poorer people would eat the bread, while wealthy people would feed it to animals or give it as alms.
The Earl of Sandwich
You have probably heard of the Earl of Sandwich, specifically the 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu. He was an 18th-century English aristocrat who loved to gamble. He didn’t want to leave his card game to eat, so he asked for salted beef between two slices of toasted bread. He could then eat while he played without getting grease on his cards. His peers thought this was a great idea and named it the “sandwich” after him. A later biographer tried to downplay the Earl’s gambling habit by claiming that Montagu first had a sandwich at his desk. Whether or not it’s true, that’s not the version of the story anyone remembers, however.