Where did they get that name from?

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 25th August 2014
By Mark Savile The English language is notorious for borrowing words from other languages, adopting phrases, and coining new terms and names that have become so ingrained in our vocabulary that we don’t think twice when using them. This happens across all aspects of life, but is never more obvious than when it comes to food and the language of gastronomy. Just think of the humble café, meaty goulash or creamy tikka masala. Yet these are obviously foreign terms imported into the language. This article will seek to explain the more obscure origins behind some of the food stuffs that we all unwittingly consume without a moment’s reflection.

Eton MessEton mess credit to BBC food

A British summer favourite of crushed meringues, strawberries and cream, the link between Eton Mess and its namesake college is clear, and the dessert is served at the "Fourth of June" celebrations and at the annual cricket game between Eton College and Harrow School. According to legend, it came about through an unfortunate encounter between a rather fine strawberry pavlova and an excitable Labrador dog! The resulting crushed ‘mess’ was deemed fit enough to eat, and the dog unintentionally invented a new pudding. This is, I’m afraid to disappoint, an old wives tale. What’s more, I can’t imagine the dignified people of Eton tucking into strawberries and meringue that had been sat on by a hound and was undoubtedly topped with dog hairs! A more sensible explanation is that the pudding was sold in Eton College’s tuck shop and its ungainly appearance led to it being baptised as a mess.  

Pavlova - Credit to the TelegraphPavlova

Another popular meringue-based dessert came to be named after the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova for whom a chef in Wellington, New Zealand created the dish. The dancer visited Australia in New Zealand as part of a world tour in 1926-7, the first world tour ever by a ballet dancer.  Sadly it wasn’t as simple as that. Much debate and rivalry ensued between Australia and New Zealand over the origin of the fruity pudding, with experts even up to this day still disputing the nationality of the chef. However, some 83 years later the Oxford English Dictionary tried to settle the argument once and for all, stating that the first written record of the recipe came from New Zealand years before the recipe appeared in Australia – Australia’s most prominent pretender to the title of pavlova inventor dates as late as 1935. This may not however stop the debate from continuing. It was not the first time that a celebrity had been honoured with a dessert named after them; in fact naming food after prominent people has been a tradition for centuries. Other examples include French chef Auguste Escoffier inventing the Peach Melba to celebrate a concert in London by Australian singer Dame Nellie Melba, and the Omelette Arnold Bennett which we will explore later on.

SandwichSandwich credit to Startups.co.uk

That unassuming combination of bread, cheese and salad, amongst other fillings, has become an institution the world over. Although the first written record of the sandwich was in 1762 and related to the Earl, the concept of placing ingredients on or between slices of bread existed centuries beforehand in other parts of the world. Yet, the coining of the name ‘sandwich’ is attributed to John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, or rather to his companions who, on seeing him ask a servant to bring him meat between two  slices of bread, were heard to shout orders of "the same as Sandwich", according to the British Sandwich Association. Apparently he was a big fan of playing cards and so this food was perfectly suited to allow him to eat meat without getting grease on the deck. Ingenious, and little did he imagine the billion pound industry that 250 years later would carry his name. Imagine if he had been the Earl of Shaftsbury or Pembroke!  

Waldorf Salad- Credit to Simply RecipesWaldorf Salad

If you’re not a fan of walnuts then this one might not be for you, but this salad composed of apple, celery, lettuce, walnut and mayonnaise is a feature on menus across the land. The dish takes its name not from its creator or a celebrity but rather from the Waldorf Hotel in New York City, where it was first put together by Oscar Tschirky between 1893 and 1896. Reportedly it was an instant success and is still eaten today, although its moment in the limelight was definitely its infamous appearance on Fawlty Towers. Despite not appearing on the menu, an American guest demands to be served a Waldorf salad, and the usual chaos develops when Basil asserts that the kitchen is "out of Waldorfs".  

French Fries

These chips might sound like they come from just across the channel, but don’t let the erroneous name trick you, this is not an open-and-shut case. Historical accounts have it that in the 1600s Belgian peasants would fry small fish from the River Meuse, and when it froze over they turned to the potato that the Spanish Conquistadors had discovered in the New World and transported back to Europe. Their slicing and frying of the potato eventually caught on hundreds of years later, and confusion between the French-speaking Belgians and the French themselves led to the misnaming. However, we can’t rule out the French claim. A French army officer named Parmentier was prisoner in Germany during the Seven Years’ War (1756-63) and fed on potatoes. Rather than be put off for life – like school children and angel delight – he returned to France and promoted the humble spud to such an extent that even King Louis XVI, and Queen Marie Antoinette (of the infamous but much disputed “Let them eat cake” quip) were introduced to it. It took 20 years for potatoes to become popular, but once they did the Parisians could not get enough of them, with Tuileries gardens turned into potato patches and chip vendors on every street corner.  In 1802, US President Thomas Jefferson ordered “potatoes served in the French manner” from the White House chef who was, conveniently, a Frenchman. When they became popular in the USA the “French fried potatoes” became more easily known as French fries. Uncertainty remains over the origins, but one thing is sure: the Belgians are the largest consumers of fries per capita in Europe.  

Eggs benedict

Eggs benedict Eggs benedict, that yummy mixture of poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce served on an English muffin with bacon on top. The perfect way to start the day you might say. If you thought that French fries had complicated origins just wait till you hear this. Remember Oscar Tschirky of the Waldorf salad? Well the story is that Lemuel Benedict, a Wall Street stock broker, sauntered into the Waldorf Hotel in 1894 feeling horribly hung-over morning and ordered "buttered toast, poached eggs, crisp bacon, and a hooker of Hollandaise" as a cure, and the creation was given his name. More likely is that Mr Tschirky had learnt of this dish during his previous job working with Chef Charles Ranhofer at Delmonico’s. This breakfast fare does appear in Ranhofer’s cookbook of 1894, and he supposedly rustled it up for Mrs. LeGrand Benedict, a regular at restaurant who had tired of the menu. Other claimants include Commodore E.C. Benedict whose mother is said to have owned such a recipe or that it came from France where it was called “œufs bénédictine”. Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management contained a "Dutch sauce, for benedict" which might also have given rise to the name.  

Quiche Lorraine credit to the GuardianQuiche Lorraine

I’m sad to break it to you, but this dish is not named in honour of your favourite daytime TV presenter. The bacon and cheese tart actually hails from the Lorraine region of France, where it is entrenched in the local and national cuisine, and is a familiar sight at summer picnics and family gatherings in the UK. It dates from centuries back when the region was actually part of Germany, where they used different pastry dough to the French and filled the base with egg and cream custard, not the gruyere or emmental cheese that we are now used to. Interestingly, the word "quiche" derives from the German "kuchen," which means cake.  

Omelette Arnold Bennett - credit to The Passionate CookOmelette Arnold Bennett

During a stay at the Savoy Hotel in London, the English novelist Enoch Arnold Bennett wanted a fluffy, open omelette with his favourite ingredients inside. To the author’s delight the restaurant chefs managed to perfect it, mixing smoked haddock, Parmesan cheese and cream, whilst he composed his book Imperial Palace, amusingly enough set in the Savoy Hotel. He was so elated and enthused by the dish that wherever he travelled he would ask for it to be served. The 'Omelette Arnold Bennett' has never left the Savoy’s menu since – so why not go and try it and see what Mr Bennett was so wild about!      

Black Forest - credit to BBC Good FoodBlack Forest Gateau

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. No need to excuse me, that is actually the original German name for this dessert. Chocolate cake, whipped cream and cherry layers, with chocolate cake, whipped cream and cherries added on top – what could be better! Most of the flavour comes from the alcohol added into the whipped cream which gives the cake its name, Schwarzwälder Kirschwasser, which literally means ‘Black Forest cherry schnapps’. This like it or loathe it gateau, with its sour cherry flavour, is named after the cherry brandy rather than the forest itself, although it originated from the Schwarzwälder area of Germany in the late 1500s.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 25th August 2014

Where did they get that name from?