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Article: The Sandwich Tray

The Sandwich Tray -
duchess of bedford

The Sandwich Tray

" was all in harmony; and as everything will turn to account when love is once set going, even the sandwich tray..."
Mansfield Park

Tradition holds that the Sandwich was born sometime around 1765 when "A minister of state passed four and twenty hours at a public gaming-table, so absorpt in play that, during the whole time, he had no subsistence but a bit of beef, between two slices of toasted bread, which he eat without ever quitting the game. This new dish grew highly in vogue, during my residence in London: it was called by the name of the minister who invented it."*

That Minister was, of course, John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. There is doubt as to whether this was the actual origin, though no one seems to be too keen on disproving the Earl. It is just as possible, however, that he requested this favorite dish while spending hours at his desk with papers of State rather than at the gaming tables. He was a busy man, known for his early rising, with duties as Politician, Naval Administrator, Duke of Bedford, Lord of the Admiralty, Secretary of state, and patron of Capt. James Cooke (who named the Sandwich Islands--Hawa'ii-- in his honor.)

At a time when dinner was the large meal of the day (served at 4 p.m.) and lunch not yet invented, it would make sense that a busy man would need some sort of pick-me-up in the late morning or early afternoon. Unfortunately, this popular story does not account for the mention found in Edward Gibbons' (author, scholar and historian) journal on November 24, 1762:

"I dined at the Cocoa Tree....That respectable body affords every evening a sight truly English. Twenty or thirty of the first men in the kingdom....supping at little tables....upon a bit of cold meat, or a Sandwich."

This quote gives credence to the theory that the sandwich was actually invented by cooks at London’s BeefSteak Club in 1762. This was a popular Gaming Club that met at the Shakespeare Tavern and claimed such famous members as Hogarth, Garrick, the Prince of Wales and the Dukes of Clarence and Sussex. Then again, who's to say that Sandwich wasn't also a member and Grosley had his dates wrong?

The real Heroine of the Sandwich story, is, of course, Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford who popularized afternoon tea, and with it the sandwich tray composing a variety of cakes, savories and small sandwiches.

Today's sandwiches have evolved from the early 'Bread & Beef' into everything from Peanut Butter and Jelly to towering Club sandwiches and Grinders. In the end, it doesn't matter when they were invented or where. We can smile at the stories and then sit down to lunch, ordering "...the same as Sandwich."
*Grosley's Tour to London, 1765 

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