Monthly Archives: August 2008

Cucumbers

Cucumbers, center stage.

Cucumbers, center stage.

In the United States, when one speaks of “gourds,” the thing that seems to come most readily to mind is something inedible that shows up in centerpieces around Thanksgiving time. But the gourd family is large and varied, and it includes a number of very edible members, including melons, squash, and cucumbers.

Cucumbers are among the world’s oldest cultivated vegetables. Archaeologists have found evidence of cucumbers growing around human dwellings dating to 7750 BC.—and that places cucumbers pretty close to the dawning millennia of agriculture—at least until the next big dig finds something earlier, as seems to be the case these days, with increased interest in and research of early foodways. But at present, it looks like we’ve been intentionally growing cucumbers for nearly 10,000 years. Continue reading

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Filed under culinary history, Food, History

Welsh Eggs

If you say “Welsh” when speaking of food, probably the first thing to come to mind is Welsh rabbit, a tasty treat that usually consists of toast topped with a cheddar sauce flavored with Worcestershire sauce and dried mustard. Of course, a few of you will have thought “Welsh rarebit.” But interestingly, “rabbit” is the older name of the dish. There are also Scottish, English, and Irish rabbits, all featuring in some way cheese on toast.

The Oxford English Dictionary dates the emergence of the term “rabbit” in this connection to 1725. It places “rarebit” 60 years later. So even though “rabbit” is older, “rarebit” is certainly well established.

There is some debate as to why the name “rabbit” was used for this dish, as well as why “rarebit” was later introduced. The most likely explanations, according to historians, are that “rabbit” was introduced in the same way we might use “steak” when speaking of something not made of meat, such as a “tofu steak.” However, it is unknown whether this was used as a slur against the Welsh, who might have been too poor to get a rabbit for dinner, or a stiff upper lip among the Welsh, making light of adversity during a time of want. As for “rarebit,” that was apparently just a way that the Brits could make it sound more upper crust once the dish became widely popular. (And how could cheese and toast not become popular—cheap enough for the poor and flavorful enough for the gourmets—unbeatable combination.) Continue reading

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Filed under Food, History, Language, Recipes