I am fond of custard (you can take a girl out of England… and all that), so naturally homed in on the phrase ‘Bummer’s Custard’ when it popped uninvited into my Google field of view one day recently. A less well-known brand than Bird’s perchance? A name for custard made especially for tramps or hoboes? A custard to compensate for a bummer of an outcome in something or other?
The recipe appears in two or three cookbooks of the 1909-1912 period, then seems to have sunk without a trace – or so it appears from my brief investigation. The real mystery however, lurks in the recipe itself.
Take half a pound of Roquefort cheese, divide into three equal parts. Rub up one-third with olive oil, one third with Worcestershire sauce, and one third with cognac. Mix all together until it is of the consistency of custard, and add a dash of cayenne. This is delicious served on hot toast or crackers.
Two hundred recipes for making salads with thirty recipes for dressings and sauces, Olive Hulse, Chicago, 1910
In other words, it is the custard you have when you would really rather be having Welsh Rabbit, or vice-versa. How strange is this? And from whence did the strange name originate?
Another recipe book has it:
Bummers Custard Sandwich.
Take a cake of Roquefort cheese and divide in thirds; moisten one third with brandy, another third with olive oil, and the other third with Worcestershire sauce. Mix all together and place between split water biscuits toasted. Good for a stag lunch.
The Up-to-Date Sandwich Book,1909
Peripheral mysteries to the naming are (i) why would anyone use three bowls to mix this? (ii) what makes it so suitable for a stag party?
Quotation for the Day.
When men reach their sixties and retire, they go to pieces. Women go right on cooking.
The Soil Association Conference was held at The Bird's Custard Factory this year. I didn't realise it had such an interesting history!
This is, of course, pure conjecture, but quite a few intems at that time were more or less gender specific, "A lady should not eat cheese or touch the decantors".
Roquefort cheese ("stinky" and foriegn)
brandy ("hard likker")
olive oil (foriegn)
Worcestershire sauce (strong flavor)
All things no delicate lady would eat.
And therefore "good for a stag lunch".
And three bowls-- well, no one cared if they made extra work for the scullery maid.
The OED gives one definition of Bummer as: An idler, lounger, loafer. Oregonian (Portland USA).
(i)It can be difficult to add liquids to cheese so perhaps it is easier (without mechanical means)to mix separately then mix all together.
(ii) It would be a substantial lining to the stomach before drinking a large quantity of alcohol. More so than the glass of milk which used to be prescribed.
This is pure conjecture, but it was felt at the time that ladies should confine themselves to
delicate dishes, light in texture, and without any strong smells or flavors.
Roquefort cheese is "smelly" and foriegn. Brandy is distilled liquor. Worcestershire sauce is highly flavored. Not only would ladies not eat this, it was in questionable taste for a man to eat it in front of a woman. So, like cakes with strppers in them, this mixture would be "good for a stag lunch".
Some good ideas there, folks - thanks. I think you may be right about the stinky unladylike cheese dish. And definitely there would not have been an issue about using multiple dishes if there was a scullery maid looking for something to do ...
Any more ideas on the name?
I propose that the name has to do with political "bummers". It appears to have been slang for local political ruffians who engaged in vote-fixing, harrassment, extortion, bribery and otherwise nefarious machinations. I found several references in the late 19th century New York Times. Here is my favorite:http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9A02E2DB143FEE3ABC4151DFB166838B699FDE&scp=4&sq=bummer&st=p
"Vote the bums out!" would be a related phrase. I surmise that the method of mixing was originally in some way symbolic of the bummers' activities -- breaking up reform movements, dividing and conquering, mixing things up. Seems a little vague, but I really think it's a possibility. Maybe originated with a particular "bummers" episode in some city, where they tried to set three different ethnic groups against each other -- Italians (olive oil), Irish? (Worcestershire sauce), some other group (who's known for drinking brandy?).
Ford - that is a fantastic analysis! I eagerly await the development of this idea!
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