I had a sudden thought about noodles the other day, in a rather vague sort of way. I have no idea what triggered the thought, except perhaps the sight of some duck in my freezer, combined with a desire for something light and spicy for dinner. What is really strange however, is that the very first recipe I stumbled across in my food-history internet wanderings a short while after this unbidden noodle-thought, was a recipe for potato noodles (which appears below, but don’t go there just yet.) As I have never met a potato I didn’t like (with the exception of soggy fries – which miss the point and are therefore inexcusable) I was immediately in love with the concept. I was also immediately struck with the question of “What, precisely, is the Difference (if any) between potato noodles and potato dumplings?”
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a noodle as:
“A long stringlike piece of pasta or similar flour paste cooked in liquid and served either in a soup or as an accompaniment to another dish; (more generally in U.S.) any style of pasta. Formerly also: a dumpling cooked and served in a similar manner … Usu. in pl.”
The etymology is also interesting, and does seem to confirm that there is, linguistically-speaking at any rate, no essential difference. The word seems to be an Anglicized version of the 16th century German word for the same thing, although in the OED’s own words “further etymology is uncertain.” Now we get to the fun part. Via various linguistic loops in and around various European languages, the OED opines:
“The semantic development may have been from a sense ‘swollen object’ to ‘dumpling’; although the former is apparently not explicitly recorded in dictionaries of German, the 14th-cent. late Middle High German instance (referring to an outgrowth on a tree) could be taken to show a specific development of a supposed general sense ‘swollen object’ (compare early modern German knödel ‘joint, small bone’ (early 16th cent.))”
I will never be able to un-read this. I will never again be able to eat, or even contemplate, noodles or dumplings without thinking of knotty arthritic joints and deformed trees. I now share my affliction with you, in the hope that crowd-sharing will dilute the impact of those nasty images. Sorry.
Here are the instructions for the potato noodles, as promised – plus a bonus recipe for another form of an edible swollen object.
Grate one dozen of boiled potatoes, add two eggs, a little salt, half a cupful of milk, enough flour to knead stiff; then cut in small pieces and roll long and round, one inch thick; fry in plenty of lard to a nice brown.
Albert Lea Enterprise (Minnesota) March 16, 1887
Boil as many large potatoes as you wish dumplings (to twelve dumplings, twelve potatoes). It is better to boil the potatoes the day before using. Boil them in their jackets, pare and grate them then add half a loaf of grated stale bread, a tablespoonful of melted butter or suet, a teaspoonful of salt, two tablespoonfuls of flour, half of a grated nutmeg, and part of the grated peel of a lemon, three or four eggs and a saucerful of bread which has been cut in the smallest dice shape possible and browned in butter or fat. Mix all thoroughly and form into round dumplings. Put them into boiling salt water and let them boil until done. As soon as they raise to the top of the water, take up one and try it, if cooked through the center remove them all. Serve with a fruit sauce, or heated fat, with an onion cut up very fine and browned in it. A sweet and sour is also very nice, made as follows: Boil vinegar and water together in equal parts and sweeten to taste. Melt a piece of butter in a spider, throw in a spoonful of flour, mix rapidly, then add a pinch of salt, and also add the boiling vinegar gradually to this, also some ground cinnamon and a pinch of ground cloves.
"Aunt Babette's" Cook Book. Foreign and Domestic Receipts for the Household. A valuable collection of receipts and hints for the housewife, many of which are not to be found elsewhere. (Cincinnati and Chicago, 1897)