Friday, August 11, 2006

Welsh Rabbit.

Today, August 11th …

If you had been aboard the Red Star Line vessel “SS Zeeland”, somewhere between Antwerp and New York on this fine late summer day in 1907, what would you have chosen from the luncheon menu?
Smoked Salmon Soused Mackerel
Ox Mouth Salad Spring Onions Sliced Tomatoes
Fresh Salmon, Mayonnaise
Potage Lyonnaise Olla Podrida
Fresh Mushrooms on Toast
Ribs of Beef
String Beans
English Mutton Chops
Onions in Cream
Broiled Spring Chicken and Bacon
Spaghetti Neapolitan
Baked & Boiled Potatoes
To Order (15 Minutes): Steaks, Welsh Rarebit
Roast Beef Mutton Ham Veal Chicken Brawn
Ox & Lamb Tongue Corned, Smoked & Spiced Beef
German & Bologna Sausage Leberwurst

Vermicelli Pudding Devonshire Dumpling, Hard Sauce
Vanilla Ice Cream Pastry

CHEESE: Neufchatel Swiss

Welsh Rarebit for me. Or should that be rabbit? Why has cheese on toast got such an odd name? The inordinate fondness of the Welsh for cheese had been accepted for centuries, so the Welsh connection is obvious.

As for the rabbit/rarebit debate, which is it? The OED traces Welsh Rabbit to 1725, sixty years before “rarebit”, and the eminent lexicographer H.W.Fowler stated in no uncertain terms “Welsh Rabbit is amusing and right. Welsh Rarebit is stupid and wrong." End of discussion.

Which leaves two questions: why rabbit for cheese, and why rabbit to rarebit? There are enough theories on which to base a PhD, but here are the pick:

Question 1. Undoubtedly it is a joke. Either as an ethnic slur (the Welsh are too poor to buy or too stupid to catch real rabbit), or an ironic joke by the Welsh themselves to indicate their good humour in times of adversity.

Question 2. “Rabbit” sounds like “Rarebit” if you say it in a posh English accent (such as no doubt the guests aboard this ship would have affected). In other words, is it an example of genteelisation by pronunciation?

Hannah Glasse (1747) avoids any suggestion of ethnic slurring by giving recipes for Welch, Scotch AND English RABBITS.

To make a Scotch Rabbit.
Toast a piece of Bread very nicely on both Sides, butter it, cut a Slice of Cheese, about as big as the Bread, toast it on both Sides, and lay it on the Bread.

To make a Welch Rabbit.
Toast the Bread on both Sides, then toast the Cheese on one Side, lay it on the Toast, and with a hot Iron brown the other side. You may rub it over with Mustard.

To make an English Rabbit.
Toast a Slice of Bread brown on both sides, then lay it in a Plate before the Fire, pour a Glass of Red Wine over it, and let it soak the Wine up; then cut some Cheese very thin, and lay it very thick over the Bread; put it in a Tin Oven before the Fire, and it will be toasted and brown presently. Serve it away hot.

[Chapter II of Welsh Rabbit is HERE]

On Monday: Italian Cake Day.

Quotation for the Day …

From Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary (1911): RAREBIT n. A Welsh rabbit, in the speech of the humorless, who point out that it is not a rabbit. To whom it may be solemnly explained that the comestible known as toad-in-a-hole is really not a toad, and that riz-de-veau à la financière is not the smile of a calf prepared after the recipe of a she banker.


Bonnie said...

Hello Fellow Foodie!

Thank you for this topic, you have given some great insight to a debate that has waged in our kitchen.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Bonnie, thankyou for looking in. I love the Welsh Rabbit story -there is so much that could be written on the topic, I hardly knew where to start or stop. I think I might make a special collection of recipes for it. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Well hello Old Foodie. Really like your blog, very in depth. I will now be a devotee.GG

The Old Foodie said...

Hello garrulous gourmet - thanks for enjoying the site!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I am not amused!

From the house rabbit

Unknown said...

It's amusing that the venerable Ms. Glasse attempts to defuse the discussion of ethnic slurs, and in the process uses the "-ch" spelling of "Welsh."

Richmonde said...

A Welsh Rabbit is obviously a Bombay Duck or Poor Man's Goose.

Jon said...

I was diverted to this site in a search for more rare bits of the great Windsor McCay, wondering if the rarebit of which his dreamers dreamt was the same thing as Welsh rabbit-- which , of course, it is. Thank you for such an entertaining and informative blog-- and especially for the authentic recipes, which Wikipedia's good article did not include. I will certainly bookmark this site and return often.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Jon - I like to think of my site as a diversion, so please do keep coming back!

Anonymous said...

While investigating Lewis M. Norton's patent (1810) for Pineapple Cheese, I came upon this page. Love it, thanks for the explanations and laughs.

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks, Anonymous. Glad you found me and I do hope you visit regularly.