Friday, August 25, 2006

Ya' learn something old every day

For dinner tonight I decided to make something I haven’t made in, oh, fifteen or twenty years, a Welsh rabbit. In that I haven’t made one in a long time, I looked up a recipe. Did I reach for any of the dozens of cookbooks in the house? Of course not, I googled for it, and the first hit I got looked good enough. (Both the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster have, to Google’s dismay, pronounced google to be a perfectly good verb, lowercased; who am I to argue?) Dinner was delicious.

Cleaning up the kitchen I noticed that the recipe I printed out was titled Welsh Rarebit. I thought I had googled for Welsh rabbit, and I remarked at how clever Google was to know that the two terms are synonymous. (It turns out I had typed rarebit after all, and Google merely returned what I had asked for. Oh well.) My wife said she was sure she had never heard anyone call the dish rabbit and had only heard rarebit. A trip to Google Fight showed that both terms are in current use. Dictionaries treat rarebit as a variant of rabbit. (The history of the term is interesting; it’s a precursor of our modern battles over politically correct speech.)

Anyway, I continued to explore and happened upon this page, where I learned a couple of interesting old facts. The first is that the modern American version of the dish is rather sissified, a cheese-flavored cream sauce with a few other ingredients tossed in for flavor. The rightpondian original was pretty much melted cheese softened with a bit of ale and some seasoning. I’ll have to try it that way next time.

The second old thing I learned was that in the days before stoves, when cooking was done on the hearth, the implement used for broiling the top of something like a Welsh rabbit was a salamander, so called because it rather looks like one (as you can see on the page linked above).

Why is this interesting? It’s interesting because the commercial broiler used in restaurant kitchens is also called a salamander, a name that never made any sense at all to me until I went googling down the rabbit hole this evening.

Ya’ learn something old every day.


Susan Jones said...

Burvis, my pet rabbit, did not approve of this post.
Burvis said, and I quote:
"Karma baby, karma is why you got rarebit"

Dick Margulis said...

Whisper something in Burvis's long, floppy ear for me, Susan: "hasenpfeffer"; that should shut the little furball up.

Rabbit never threatened Burvis's ancestors. My understanding of the history of the term (unconfirmed by modern etymological resources) is that it was a slur directed at the supposed poor marksmanship of whichever country's hunters you happened to be deprecating (the Welsh, the Irish, and so forth). Rarebit was introduced in the Victorian Era as a euphemism, so that polite people could discuss the dish without casting aspersions on the Welsh.

Nick Belardes said...

cheese toast, anyone?