Were you ever, as a child, sent to buy a loaf of bread, and were unable to resist gnawing off one of the crusty crunchy corners on the way home? I was, and I did. I was reminded of it when I came across a definition of the phrase ‘kissing crust’ recently. I always understood the ‘kissing crust’ to be the soft part of the crust of a loaf of bread that happens when two loaves touch in the baking. The OED agrees with me on this, which is always nice. The great lexicographer Samuel Johnson agrees too, in his famous dictionary of 1755, and I am also delighted that the great man and I see eye-to-eye on the issue.
Dictionaries do not always agree however, and according to the Glossary of Northamptonshire Words and Phrases (1854), what I was chewing off as I meandered home with the bread was in fact the kissing crust, which it defines as “the bottom crust, or the small crusty nob at the corner of a loaf.” Perhaps occurring where the bottom of the loaf is extra-crusty from where it “kisses” the oven floor”? The very opposite idea indeed!
That is not all! Another work (Howitt’s The Rural Life of England, 1838) has “ … the rich curly kissing-crust, that hangs like a fretted cornice from the upper half of the loaf.”
The OED does add that the kissing crust can also be ‘the under-crust in a pudding or pie’. Perhaps because it is soft and sloppy? It gives as support for this a quotation from the story of Nell Cook, in The Ingoldsby Legends, by Richard Harris Barham (1840’s) – “A mouldy piece of kissing-crust as from a Warden-pie”.
I stick to my opinion that the OED, Sam Johnson, and myself are correct on the kissing crust, but there is no reason why I cant be inspired by the warden pie idea. Wardens are olden-day pears, used mainly for cooking, but there is also no reason why I cant give you a slightly more modern version of the pear pie.
From Domestic economy, and cookery, for rich and poor, by a lady (1827)
Bake the pears, with a little water, and a good deal of sugar, under a coarse paste; or put them into the oven or bain-marie, or upon a hot hearth, in a well-covered baking-pan, and leave them till they soften; cut in quarters, and core them; sheet a dish, dress them in, strewing them with cloves, cinnamon, and lemon, or orange zest: they may be coloured in the first doing with beet-root, or cochineal; or they may be made to retain their white colour by lemon-juice.
Pears require zest and wine, as they are very insipid; therefore, acid apples are put into the juice, or quinces, a little rough wine, brandy, or lemon-juice. Every thing is good when properly managed : they require a great deal of sugar, but care must be taken not to overcome them.
Quotation for the Day.
Will fortune never come with both hands full
But write her fair words still in foulest letters?
She either gives a stomach, and no food, -
Such are the poor in health; or else a feast.
And take away the stomach, - such the rich,
That have abundance, and enjoy it not.
William Shakespeare, King Henry IV.