Thursday, November 24, 2005

Green butter and the Art of Sandwiches

Today, November 24th …

The word “sandwich” first appeared on this day in 1762, in the journal of the historian Edward Gibbon.

“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”

Tradition has it that the sandwich was “invented” by John Montague, Fourth Earl of Sandwich, to enable him to eat at the gaming table. Another culinary myth I am afraid, perpetuated from a single gossipy mention by a travel writer of the time. Montague was variously Postmaster General, Secretary of State, or First Lord of the Admiralty between 1753 and 1782, busy, and not known to be a gambler.

Montague’s name may have attached to the sandwich, but “bread and meat” has been around as long as there has been bread, and meat – which is long before cutlery and plastic food wrap. It was the original transportable dinner, and at its worst still has that murky association with the desperate search for food on the road.

Anthony Trollope must have suffered, for he wrote:

“The real disgrace of England is the railway sandwich - that whited sepulchre, fair enough outside, but so meagre, poor, and spiritless within, such a thing of shreds and parings, with a dab of food.”

Caterers could do epicurean sandwiches instead of sepulchral if they read “The Gentle Art of Cookery” (1925) by those elegant ladies Leyel and Hartley:

“ … many hostesses who offer their friends indifferently cooked but pretentious lunches could, with far less trouble, gain an epicurean reputation if they were content with the simplicity of wine and sandwiches.

They give 38 variations starting with this one:

Green Butter
Well wash and bone two ounces of anchovies. Boil a large handful of very green parsley, just cover it with water and leave the lid off the pan it boils in. Boil for about five minutes then immediately put the parsley under the cold water tap. Strip the parsley from the stalks and chop it very fine (a parsley cutter costs only a few pence and saves a lot of time). Beat the parsley, the anchovies and a quarter of a pound of butter together into a paste, and pot it. This will keep for a week.

Naturally, they recommend champagne as the proper accompaniment.

Tomorrow … A co-incidence of princesses.

No comments: