Have you ever played that conversation game in which you have to say which book (you are only allowed one) you would want if you were shipwrecked on a desert island? A wilderness survival manual would probably be a good choice, but I would probably decide in favour of the Oxford English Dictionary (am I allowed all volumes?) There is a world of information and fun in the OED.
As a matter of fact, there is a great deal of cooking information in the greatest dictionary in the world. Cook books are not uncommonly cited as sources for word-usages – sometimes the first known usage. This seems to happen particularly in the case of food and dishes ‘foreign’ to Britain. One example is The Belgian Cook Book, a compilation of recipes provided by Belgian refugees to England during World War II. It is the source of the first reference given by the OED to Croque-monsieur – which is, after all, only a posh Continental version of cheese on toast, a concept already very familiar to the English. I give you the complete recipe from which the reference is taken: I have placed the phrase selected by the editors of the OED in italics.
Cut out some rounds of crumb of bread, of equal size, with a tin cutter; or, failing that, with a wine-glass. Butter all the rounds and sprinkle them with grated cheese — for preference with Gruyere. On half the number of rounds place a bit of ham cut to the same size. Put a lump of butter the weight of egg into a pan, and fry with the rounds
in it, till they become golden. When they are a nice color, place one round dressed with cheese on a round dressed with ham, so as to have the golden bread both above and below. Serve them very hot, and garnished with fried parsley.
Rather interestingly, under the primary word “hash”, the first reference for “hashed brown potatoes” is given as appearing in The Complete Cook Book, by Jennie Day Rees (Philadelphia, 1900.) I would have expected an earlier instance than 1900 (as “hash browns,” the word appears in 1917)– so if you find one, please let the editors of the OED know.
The definition of “hashed browns” is “chiefly U.S., a dish made of cooked potatoes, chopped (often pressed together to form a cake) and then fried until brown.”
Here is the full recipe from which the reference is taken:
Hashed Brown Potatoes.
One large boiled potato chopped fine; grease a pan with one tablespoonful of butter and press the potatoes into it with the palm of your hand. Dust with a little salt and sprinkle over the top one tablespoonful of finely chopped parsley. Place in the oven and when brown fold like an omelet and serve.
The OED even includes a definition of Lobster Newburg. It is, as you know, “lobster cooked in a thick cream sauce containing sherry or brandy.” The first supporting references is The Century Cook Book by Mary Ronald (New York, 1895.) Here is the complete recipe:
Lobster à la Newburg.
One and a half cupfuls of boiled lobster meat cut into pieces one inch
1 tablespoonful of butter.
¾ cup of Madeira or sherry.
1 cupful of cream.
Yolk of two eggs.
1 truffle chopped.
¼ teaspoonful of salt.
Dash of cayenne or paprica.
Put the butter in a saucepan; when it has melted add the lobster meat, the chopped truffle, the salt, and the pepper; cover and let simmer for five minutes; then add the wine, and cook three minutes longer.
Have ready two yolks and one cupful of cream well beaten together; add this to the lobster, shake the saucepan until the mixture is thickened, and serve immediately. This dish will not keep without curdling, and should not be put together until just in time to serve. The lobster may be prepared and kept hot. The rest of the cooking, from the time the wine goes in, requires but five minutes, so the time can be easily calculated. If the mixture is stirred the meat will be broken; shaking the pan mixes it sufficiently. This is a very good dish, and easily prepared; but it will not be right unless served as soon as it is
cooked. The quantity given is enough for six people. Crab meat may be used in the same way.
I don’t suppose for one minute that you will go to the Oxford English Dictionary for cooking information – but you could. I do hope however that you enjoy the idea!
The oldest recipe I have located, titled "Brown Hashed Potatoes" was published in 1835 in a Minnesota magazine (there were 2 versions). Recipes appear throughout the 1800s.
Thanks, Joe! I was pretty sure there would be earlier recipes as they appear on so many menus in the nineteenth century. It looks like the editors of the OED did not spend much time on American sources; I guess the entry has not been updated for quite a while.
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