Ephemera

Some of the Wackiest Food Names, Decoded

April 13, 2016

Future English majors: Don't let anyone tell you that you should pursue a degree in anything else. Your English degree will give you a million things—the abilities to make an argument, to write gracefully, to look for hidden meaning. With your English degree comes a curiosity for and appreciation of wacky, bizarro, pseudo-poetic words.

Many of them have to do with food: When we come up with recipes, we nickname them, either to make them our own or to bestow them with some sort of grandeur. Grasshopper pie. Scrapple. Eggs mimosa.

Here are some of our favorites, decoded:

Grasshopper Pie

Grasshopper pie gets its name from a bright green cocktail. And that name, explains Eater, is credited to the New Orleans bar Tujague's, which supposedly invented the drink in 1919 (though it wasn't truly popularized until the 1950s and 60s) and still lists a Grasshopper—green crème de menthe, white crème de menthe, crème de cocoa, and heavy cream, with a brandy float—on its bar menu. (The "grasshopper" in the Grasshopper seems to just come from the glowy-green color. No actual grasshoppers are harmed in the making of this cocktail.)

Shop the Story

Some Grasshoppers—especially, according to Eater, in dairy industry-happy Wisconsin—skip from crèmes to mint-chip ice cream, which makes the transition from cocktail to ice cream pie a natural one. The crème de menthe usually sticks around in both the ice cream cocktail and the ice cream pie. (The pie also sometimes forgoes ice cream for a gelatinized whipped cream or marshmallow base.)

Scrapple

It sounds just like what it is: a tiny scrap. The Oxford English Dictionary claims that scrapple's etymology is simply that "scrapple" is a diminutive of "scrap," and the first recorded use in 1855, in a publication called the Rural New Yorker.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Anadama bread; Angels on Horseback (I'll take mine with anchovies - "angelenos" - thank you); Hangtown Fry; Chicken Tetrazzini; Slapjacks / flapjacks; Green Goddess dressing; Shoofly Pie (when I was a girl, my mother would sing, "Shoofly Pie and Apple Pandowdy make your eyes light up and your tummy say 'Howdy!'"); Charlotte Russe; Beef Stroganoff ;o)”
— AntoniaJames
Comment

Scrapple is a sort of farmer food, evolved out of the need to make use of every last bit: It is usually made of ground bits of pork—like the trim that would otherwise get made into sausages, as well as skin, tongue, and other offal—plus, usually, cornmeal, broth, and spices. The mixture is then pan-fried.

Coddler

If someone called you a coddler, you wouldn't be wrong to take offense. A "coddle" or a "coddler" is someone who coddles, or babies, oneself. But when applied to the humble egg, there's perhaps no better treatment: A lovingly, gently cooked egg, boiled inside a glass or porcelain cup, is creamy and soft. "Coddled" is a very fitting descriptor.

"Coddle" actually meant "boil gently" (16th century) before it meant "pamper" (around 1816). (Previous spellings include "quoddle"!) Many of the examples the OED cites include apples (for example, "Take your Pippins green, and quoddle them in faire water," from a 1655 publication by one T. T. de Mayerne), and some speculate that the verb "to coddle," meaning to boil gently, might be derived from an English variety of apple, the codling.

A Royal Worcester coddler. Photo by Museum of Royal Worcester

If that's the case, it makes even more sense that the egg coddler might come from Britain: It seems as though the first widely manufactured coddlers were made and sold by the England-based Royal Worcester china company in the 1880s. They're some of the best known coddlers (and largely available on eBay or Etsy, though no longer sold by Royal Worcester).

Eggs Mimosa

You know, those fluffy little bits of hard-cooked egg yolk, scattered across the top of your asparagus (or, occasionally, over other vegetables or hard-cooked, halved egg whites; this recipe calls for a sort of béchamel to be poured over the whites and the egg yolk to be sprinkled over the top). Yes, you could just call it "sieved egg," which would be true: That's what eggs mimosa are. But its comparison to the frothy yellow blossoms of the mimosa tree is strangely apt.

Mimosa blossoms—sort of eggy, right? Photo by Flickr/minus1349

When it started to be called eggs mimosa is uncertain, the New York Public Library's collection of vintage menus first includes "Salade Mimosa" on a 1939 menu from a Grand Hotel Royale. It seems to be French in origin.

Hushpuppy

"The name was supposedly acquired from being thrown to quiet the dogs," explains (helpfully) a 1981 pamphlet called Crawdaddy: A South Louisiana Food Glossary. A 1947 article in This Week Magazine further clarifies that hushpuppies are "a Southern fried bread like a miniature corn pone—but glorified," since they're "made with the white cornmeal of the South, smooth and fine as face powder."

According to Serious Eats, the "quiet, dogs!" theory is hooey, and "As far back as the 18th century, the phrase was used as a term for silencing someone or covering something up." The article goes on to explain that "hushpuppy" or "hush-puppy" has also been a name for gravy (specifically, it seems, ham gravy)—and that hushpuppies as we know them now were once called "red horse bread." The author of the article, Robert Moss, suspects—and this is the most convincing possibility in my own mind—that "'hush puppy' was simply a euphemism for stopping the dogs in your stomach from growling."

Steak Diane

You may know Steak Diane—especially if you ate at upscale steakhouses in the 1960s, when Steak Diane was all the rage. But who is Diane, you say? An excellent question. There are many dishes, all of them meaty (and often game-based), prepared "à la Diane," which suggests that they might be nodding to Diane (a.k.a. Diana), Roman goddess of the hunt.

The traditional Steak Diane is usually composed of thinly sliced steak, panfried and served with a creamy roux-based sauce (sometimes with Worcestershire, sometimes with cream, sometimes with Cognac, sometimes with truffles, as in the 1907 recipe some say to be the "original"—one by the French chef Auguste Escoffier); sometimes there are caramelized onions and mushrooms and lots of black peppercorns, too—it's the classic steakhouse dinner. But there were other things prepared as "Diane"—partridge, quail, chicken, and even fish.

Pandowdy

What is a pandowdy? Not a dance performed south of the Mason-Dixon line, as we once jokingly speculated—though if someone asked me to pandowdy, I would—but a fruit dessert that's essentially equal parts fruit (traditionally apples, says the OED) and topping (either biscuit or pie dough that you smash into, crème brûlée-style, halfway through the cooking so that the fruit bubbles up through it). Sometimes, as in this 1851 menu, it's called "pandowdy pudding."

The silly name is a headscratcher, though; the OED claims it's specifically a New England dish. A very basic interpretation could be that the "pan" comes from the root of bread—"pan" or "pain." And "dowdy," as in "shabbily or unattractively dressed"? Well, it is basically a broken-faced pie.

Melba

Peach Melba might be the most popular "Melba," but it isn't the only one. In fact, peach Melba, Melba toast, and Melba sauce are all named after the same Melba: one Nellie Melba, née Helen Porter Mitchell, an Australian opera singer (a soprano, to be exact). Nellie Melba was hugely famous during her lifetime (1861 to 1931), both in her native Australia and worldwide. "Melba," explains the OED, is actually shortened from "Melbourne," which is where Nellie was born and where she started her operatic career.

She was so beloved that dishes were named after her. (Escoffier, the fellow who's said to have first recorded a recipe for Steak Diane, is also said to be the inventor of Melba toast, named, of course, after Nellie.)

Eton Mess

Half of this name comes from—like "pandowdy," maybe—the dish's appearance. Eton mess is messy! Think a pile of whipped cream, meringue rubble, and smeary strawberries bleeding over the top of it all. Messy indeed.

But the Eton bit comes from its location (and has nothing to do with eatin'): Eton is a village in southeast England, and home to the famed Eton College, a boys' school, which is said to have invented it. Some say that a pup romping through a picnic at a Eton College cricket game squashed someone's pavlova; others say it's just a traditional cricket-game dessert. The judge is out on this one.

What's the funniest food name you can think of? Do you know the history of it? (And do you have any nicknames in your own family's roster of recipes?) Tell us in the comments.

14 Comments

ChefJune April 14, 2016
In new England, sprinkles are called "jimmies." No one seems to know why...
 
AntoniaJames April 14, 2016
From New England: Joe Froggers<br />Hermits - not sure if these are uniquely from New England, but the first time I ever heard of them was from someone who hailed from Hingham, Massachusetts; I understand that in New England they are sometimes also referred to as “hand-to-mouth hermits”<br />Stickies - another name for sticky buns<br /><br />Bishop - enjoyed in New England, but originally from England - for more on Bishops, see this: https://food52.com/recipes/15053-smoking-bishop and related “ecclesiastics” here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoking_Bishop<br /><br />Not a whacky name, but a typically straightforward one, as you would expect in New England - Bread Pudding is also known there as “Save-All Pudding” because, of course, the thrifty cook saves all her or his scraps of bread to make it.<br /><br />Other fun names:<br /><br />Johnny cakes<br />Jumbles<br />Hoecakes<br />Snicker doodles<br /><br />And a fun fact, that in New England, recipes were for many generations called “rules.” ;o)
 
Smaug April 14, 2016
Interesting, never heard of Joe Froggers as a food- there's a device used by carpet and linoleum layers to lay out doorways and such that goes by that name. I have a funny little book that has a whole chapter of eponymous food names such as "Sally Lunn", but the only really funny one is the Harvey Wallbanger.
 
ChefJune April 14, 2016
Antonia: do you know the story of Joe Froggers? They are my favorite molasses/gingerbread cookies, and I've adapted them from the original thick lily-pad-like rounds to rolled out children, trees, stars, etc at Christmastime.
 
AntoniaJames April 15, 2016
ChefJune, according to Lillian Langseth-Christensen, in her "Mystic Seaport Cookbook," Joe was an elderly African American gentlemen who lived a long time ago on Gingerbread Hill in Marblehead. "His name was Uncle Joe. He lived on the edge of a frog pond called Black Joe's Pond.<br />Uncle Joe made the best molasses cookies of anyone in town, and people called them Joe Froggers because they were as plump and as dark as the fat little frogs that lived in the pond.<br />Marblehead fisherman would give the old man a jug of run and he would make them a batch of Froggers. The fisherman liked them because they never got hard, and women packed them in sea chests for the men to take to sea.<br />Uncle Joe said what kept them soft was rum and sea water. But he wouldn't tell how to make them. And when he died, people said, that's the end of Joe Froggers." But there was a woman named Aunt Cressy, who said she was Uncle Joe's daughter, and Aunt Cressy gave the secret recipe to a fisherman's wife. Then half the women in Marblehead began making Joe Froggers. The cookies were rolled thin, as big as a dinner plate – 8 to 10 inches.<br />With a pitcher of milk, the Froggers became the town's favorite Sunday night supper. Boardman's Bakery, where the Gulf station is now [in 1970] located across from the Town House, sold them for a penny apiece." <br />These are also known, not surprisingly, as "Old Marblehead Cookies." ;o)
 
amysarah April 13, 2016
just thought of a few more: sub/hoagie/hero/grinder (depending on where you live), jimmies (sprinkles), a Napoleon (pastry), Bear's Claw, Sarah Bernhardt cookie, a Po'Boy sandwich.
 
henandchicks April 13, 2016
Just returned from Amsterdam, where sprinkles are called hagelslag (translation-hail storm). Given their popularity there, on bread at breakfast was where we had them, "hail" rather than "sprinkle" seems apt!
 
Smaug April 13, 2016
Bubble and Squeak-various sorts of Fool- Toad in the Hole-the Brittish and the American South seem to fight for supremacy on this one, but I'm betting New England has something in reserve.
 
Steve K. April 13, 2016
I don't know, what about buckles, grunts, coblers, and crumbles?
 
AntoniaJames April 13, 2016
Anadama bread; Angels on Horseback (I'll take mine with anchovies - "angelenos" - thank you); Hangtown Fry; Chicken Tetrazzini; Slapjacks / flapjacks; Green Goddess dressing; Shoofly Pie (when I was a girl, my mother would sing, "Shoofly Pie and Apple Pandowdy make your eyes light up and your tummy say 'Howdy!'"); Charlotte Russe; Beef Stroganoff <br /><br />;o)
 
amysarah April 13, 2016
The British win in this category: Toad in a Hole, Bangers, Spotted Dick, bacon butty, toast soldiers...off the top of my head.
 
Juliebell April 13, 2016
This was a fun article. Thankfully opera singers have come a long way since Nellie Melba.
 
ChefJune April 14, 2016
A long way how, Juliebell? Have you ever heard a recording of her? She was a wonderful singer.
 
Juliebell April 14, 2016
Caroline added a recording with her picture in this article, so clever! It may be the recording quality but she sounded just like the matrons that used to sing in the Marx Brothers movies. Now I'm giving away my age. I'm sure she was wonderful given her international reputation, no offense meant. Maybe I should have said recording technology has come a long way. Take a listen...