Several theories were mooted, but no conclusions reached. As I always hope will happen, a reader offered another idea to the mix (read it at the end of the post, here), which is confirmed by the Oxford English Dictionary. A ‘Benedick’ is ‘A newly married man; esp. an apparently confirmed bachelor who marries’, the usage coming from a character of that name and situation in Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing. It is interesting that this is the spelling used by Ranhofer in his recipe, the earliest I have found for the egg dish to date. Perhaps (and it is admittedly a long-shot theory) the dish was considered to be appropriate for a bachelor breakfast?
One of the other theories mooted was that the name relates ultimately to the Benedictine order of monks, and specifically to their Lenten dish of salt cod with white sauce. The most famous delicacy associated with the Benedictines is, of course, the liqueur of the same name. It is assumed, and often stated as fact, that the beverage was ‘invented’ by the Benedictine order based at the Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy. The story, I am sad to say, is only as true as a good advertising agent needs to make it.
Once upon a time there was indeed a Benedictine abbey at Fécamp – but this was a casualty of the French Revolution in the late eighteenth century. Monastic orders have always been associated with medicine – producing remedies using ingredients grown in their extensive herb gardens, along with expensive imported spices. TheBenedictine order at Fécamp was no exception. Unfortunately their manuscript book of recipes was lost when the monastery was destroyed. A man called Alexandre Legrand, who is said to have been related to the original aristocratic owners of the area, supposedly discovered the lost manuscript in the mid-nineteenth century. He did not recreate an ancient Benedictine remedy, but, working with a chemist, interpreted one or more of the formulae in the manuscript and developed the liqueur we know now.
There are said to be 27 different ingredients in the beverage, but the exact recipe is a closely guarded secret known only to three people at any one time. Naturally, there have been, and continue to be, many attempts to copy the liqueur, but the company works hard to protect its product, to the extent that it maintains a museum – the ‘Hall of Counterfeits’ at its plant in Normandy.
The word ‘Benedictine’ of course cannot be copyrighted, and there is nothing to stop anyone using it, so long as they do not attempt to pass off their alcoholic blend as the real thing. You can, for example, make a Benedictine ‘essence’, if you wish, and think you have identified the flavouring ingredients correctly. Should you wish to do so to flavour your home-made chocolates, you can follow this recipe, from the Manual for the essence industry (1916) – assuming you are not breaking any liquor laws in your place of residence of course. Oh! and you will need to scale down the quantities for home use!
Essences for Filling Confections with the Taste of Liquors and Cordials.
Macerate 5 lb of the drugs with 10 lb proof spirit, allow to stand for a week, then express off 6 lb extract. Then add the volatile oils to the residue, add 10 lb water, place in the still, and distil off the whole alcohol content, then add water to bring the distillate to about 17o underproof, filter with the aid of infusorial earthy to remove the terpenes, and rectify the filtrate to a yield of 4 lb. which then mix with the expressed extract to the final yield of 10 lb. After allowing to stand for a few days, filter the essence if it is not quite clear.
Tonka Beans 1 ¼ oz
Calamus Root 4 oz.
Thyme Herb 4 oz.
Mace 4 oz.
Cinnamon Bark 4 oz.
Cloves 4 oz.
Arnica Flowers 6 ¾ oz
Angelica Seed 10 oz.
Musk Mallow Seed 10 oz.
Angelica Root 1 lb
Balm Leaves 1 lb
Oil of Coriander 7 dr.
Oil of Cardamom 7 dr.
Oil of Peppermint 1 ½ oz.
Oil of Lemon 4 oz.
Quotation for the Day.
I think a man ought to get drunk at least twice a year just on principle, so he won't let himself get snotty about it.