Feast and Phrase

Gastronomy in the world of words.

Category: Gastronomy and Language (Page 1 of 2)

Imam Bayildi 3

Aubergines, a fainting imam, and imam bayıldı

Sometimes, there’s nothing better than simple food done really well. I would use an example from life, but the one which keeps popping into my head is actually from Pixar’s Ratatouille: Remy the rat cooks up the titular ‘peasant dish’ for ruthless critic Anton Ego, making it so delicious that Ego is momentarily flung back into his childhood, remembering how his mother served him the same thing.

The story of imam bayıldı follows a similar theme – minus, of course, the talking rat chef!

imam bayıldıImage from Flickr user Dobrin Isabela. The featured image for this article is from Flickr user Joan Nova.

İmam bayıldı is a Turkish dish consisting of an aubergine stuffed with a spiced mix of onions, tomatoes, and garlic, prepared with plenty of olive oil. The name is pronounced ‘im-aam bah-yuhl-duh’ rather than ‘im-am buy-ill-dee’ – Turkish has a dotted and undotted version of the letter ‘i’, and the dotless ‘ı’ is actually pronounced as ‘uh’. As you can see, the dotted ‘i’ is also dotted when capitalized to avoid confusion.

(The dotted ‘i’ has caused some confusion with my website, because the font I use doesn’t have the capitalized version, so I’ve had to put most of this article’s title in lowercase. Just in case you were wondering…)

Translated, ‘imam bayıldı’ literally means ‘the imam fainted’. No, the stuffed aubergine is not supposed to represent an unconscious imam! There are instead a variety of stories to explain how the dish got its name.

Olive OilOlive oil is not only key to making imam bayıldı, but is also key to how it got its name – at least in one version of the story. Image from Pixabay.

The most common story, in the Ratatouille vein, is that an imam was served this dish and found it so delicious that he fainted. Another tells that the imam fainted when he found out that his wife had used up all the olive oil in the house to make the dish. In one account, the imam didn’t even get to taste the dish – having just finished a lengthy fast, the mouth-watering smell was enough to make him faint. A fourth explanation is that the imam was overcome with shock at how expensive the dish was and passed out. Given the simplicity of the ingredients, this seems a little hard to believe! Maybe olive oil was more costly back then…

If you ever find yourself looking for a vegan or gluten-free dish, imam bayıldı ticks both boxes and is definitely one to consider (though you might like to serve it alongside something that has a good source of protein). Make it as tasty as the legendary original and you can also cause your guests/yourself to faint with delight!

RatatouilleRemy’s ratatouille from the film Ratatouille. Image from Fictional Food.

To finish, a fun fact: the fancy ratatouille which Remy prepares in the film is based on a real-life version of the dish known as ‘confit byaldi’ – the name being a nod to imam bayıldı. The dish appears to have been created by French chef Michel Guérard back in the 1970s; American chef Thomas Keller developed it further to create the version featured onscreen.

Confit ByaldiConfit byaldi, as prepared by Crystal Watanabe at Fictional Food.


Ten More Pasta Shapes

Following up from last week’s look at ten pasta shapes and the meanings behind their names, here are ten more pasta shapes to complete the list!


PappardelleImage from Flickr user Alpha.

These broad ribbons of pasta are often served with heavy sauces, and the name is said to fittingly derive from the Italian pappare: ‘to gobble’, or ‘to stuff oneself’. Or as we say here on the Internet (and in general life), ‘Nom, nom, nom’.


PenneImage from Pixabay. The featured image for this article is from Flickr user Christian Cable.

Easily one of the most popular pasta shapes, ‘penne’ is the plural form of the Italian penna, meaning ‘quill’, ‘feather’, and (not surprisingly) ‘pen’. Would it be possible to dip penne pasta pieces in ink and write with them?


RavioliImage from Pixabay.

This one is slightly tricky. John Ayto suggests in his Diner’s Dictionary that the term is the diminutive or ‘small’ form of the Italian rava (‘turnip). ‘Ravioli’ would therefore translate as ‘little turnips’ and may have originally referred to some sort of small meat and turnip pie. It might also come from rabiole, which in the dialect of the Italian city Genoa means ‘leftovers’ or ‘bits and bobs’.


RigatoniImage from Flickr user jeffreyw.

These lined pasta tubes take their name from the Italian verb rigare, meaning ‘to score’ or ‘to groove’ (no, not musically).


RotelleImage from Wikimedia Commons.

‘Small wheels’ is the translation of this Italian name, though this Pasta Shapes Dictionary (there’s a dictionary for everything, isn’t there?) gives it as ‘Wagon Wheels’, which reminds me of a certain lunchbox snack…


SpaghettiImage from Pixabay.

We’ve had little tongues, little ears, little turnips, and little wheels. Now we have ‘little strings’ or ‘thin strings’, from the Italian spago, meaning ‘string’. The word ‘spaghetti’ may bring up many fond and delicious memories for most of you, but all I remember is Kevin Malone’s suggestion from the US hit show, The Office.


StrozzapretiImage from Flickr user fugzu.

Fancy eating some ‘choke-priest’ pasta? In different parts of Italy, it is also known as strangoloprevete and also strangugliaprieviti, both of which make the dark meaning slightly clearer (or at least the strangling part). Quite how this variety of pasta got its name is a mystery. One suggestion is that priests had a reputation for being fast-eating gluttons, but had difficulty getting this pasta down and choked. A less sinister explanation is that it refers to the shape of the priests’ collars (which were presumably a little tight).


TagliatelleImage from Flickr user Markus Reinhardt.

More ribbons – this time deriving their name from the Italian verb tagliare: ‘to cut’.


TortelloniThis is mushroom and truffle tortelloni. Image from the Flickr account of Restaurant Alexander Den Haag

Five-minute tortelloni was a household staple during exam time at university, and I tried just about every type available at the supermarket. What’s the difference to tortellini? Both have the same basic shape, but tortelloni is larger and generally has vegetarian fillings, while tortellini is smaller and usually has meat fillings.

I should probably have mentioned this near the start, but the ‘-ini’ ending refers to a smaller variety of pasta, while ‘-oni’ refers to a bigger variety!

As for the name, it comes from tortello, meaning ‘small cake or fritter’ (torta is ‘cake’). So technically speaking, tortellini is a ‘small small cake’, and tortelloni is a ‘large small cake’. My brain hurts now.


VermicelliI don’t think this was the image you were expecting. Nom, nom, nom? No, no, no. Image from Flickr user Allan Henderson

Finishing the list and continuing the trend of little things, vermicelli is ‘little worms’. You know who ate worms thinking they were pasta? Mr Twit, that’s who. Except he thought he was just eating spaghetti.

There you have it: ten more pasta shapes and the meanings behind their names. And if you’ve been traumatised by that ‘vermicelli’ image, maybe some spaghetti?

Spaghetti 2Image from Pixabay.

Much better.


Ten Pasta Shapes

For many, pasta shapes and sauce pairings are something to be religiously observed, while others throw all rules out of the window because they ‘haven’t tried the ones that look like bowties and really want to’. Some people are proud penne-lovers, while others will swear by spaghetti.

Whatever your preference, there are said to be some 350 different varieties of pasta from which to choose should you wish to mix things up a bit (to be honest, I imagined there would be more). Here are ten different pasta shapes and the meanings behind their names.


CannelloniImage from Flickr user Francis Bijl.

If I asked to you say the first phrase that popped into your head when I said ‘cannelloni’, there’s a good chance it would be ‘spinach and ricotta’. ‘Tube’ is a much less likely answer, though this is actually what the name means. These ‘large tubes’ of pasta ultimately take their name from the Latin canna, meaning ‘tube’ or ‘reed’, which is also the source for the English words ‘canyon’ and the military ‘cannon’.


ConchiglieImage from Flickr user The Marmot.

This ‘shell’- or ‘conch shell’-shaped pasta works very well in soups, or when stuffed with meat, cheese, or vegetables. It’s also a lot less crunchy than real shells. Assuming you cook it properly. I don’t eat shells. No, really.


FarfalleImage from Pixabay.

While shaped like bowties, ‘farfalle’ is actually the plural form of the Italian farfalla, meaning ‘butterfly’. This word can be used to refer to actual bowties in the same language, though Italians also call the bowtie a papillon, which is the French word for a butterfly.


fusilli-747030_1920Image from Pixabay.

In Italian, a fuso is a ‘spindle’. ‘Fusilli’ are ‘little spindles’. Probably my personal favourite on the list (to eat!).


Gemelli (2)Image from Flickr user Mercury Jane.

Shaped like two identical strands twined together, ‘gemelli’ pasta appropriately takes its name from the Italian for ‘twins’.


LasagneImage from Flickr user Lachlan Donald.

In Italian, lasagna refers to the type of pasta, while the plural form lasagne refers to the dish made with multiple lasagne sheets. The name derives from the Roman ‘cooking pot’ known as a lasanum; this coming from the Greek lasanon – a ‘pot with feet’. It has also been suggested that lasanon meant ‘chamber pot’. I’m not sure Garfield would approve.


LinguineImage from Flickr user digipam.

Lingua means tongue – ‘linguine’ are ‘little tongues’. Not the most appetising image!


macaroni-911164_1920Image from Pixabay.

Back to Greek for the ultimate origin of this word: makaria means ‘food made from barley’. In the 18th century, ‘macaroni’ was used as a term for fashion-conscious young men who copied European styles and trends, which included eating the dish of the same name – then seen as appealingly foreign. ‘Yankee Doodle’ started out as a British song mocking colonial Americans for being badly dressed simpletons (or ‘doodles’). Sticking a feather in a hat and calling it ‘macaroni’ can be interpreted as a poor attempt at imitating the style of Britain’s macaronis.


OrecchietteImage from Flickr user Caspar Diederik.

Continuing the theme of body parts, ‘orecchiette’ means ‘little ears’. Mix them with your linguine and you’re one step closer to an edible face. Don’t eat real people’s faces. That’s cannibalism.


OrzoImage from Flickr user culinarycara.

Orzo is the pasta-doppelganger of rice. But the name is from the Italian for ‘barley’. Whaaat?! (I guess it is also shaped like barley grains.)

That confusion may have been too much to handle, so we’ll take a break for now.
Ten more pasta shapes coming your way next week!


Raclette at Borough Market

London’s Borough Market is a heaven for food lovers, but deciding what to eat is hellishly difficult. During my first visit last weekend, I seemed to loop endlessly around the stalls in a bid to make up my mind.

‘If in doubt, Meriadoc, always follow your nose,’ advises Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring. At first this seemed like the worst advice, because my nose wanted to go everywhere at once. Retreating to the free samples of Croatian fig jam and proper virgin olive oil, I realised that one smell had stood out above the rest: the irresistible flame-melted smell of raclette.

Raclette 2Half-wheels of raclette melt away under gas flames.

‘Raclette’ refers to both a cheese and the dish in which it features, hailing from the French and Swiss sides of the Alps – most famously, Switzerland’s Valais region. To make the dish, a wheel of raclette is cut in half, and the flat surface is melted with a fire or grill before being smoothly scraped onto a serving of potatoes, gherkins, and pickled onions. A good sprinkling of black pepper is all that is needed on top before you tuck into a plateful of salty, smoky, gooey goodness.

Raclette 3The melted cheese easily slips onto the plate.

Watching raclette being prepared is utterly mesmerizing. I could have stood for a good while breathing in the atmosphere of melting cheese that surrounded the stall, eyes fixed on the half-wheels as they sizzled away under gas flames. Most satisfying of all is the ease with which the hot cheese slips with the knife onto the plate. ‘Raclette’ comes from the French racler, meaning ‘to scrape’, but this suggests a bit of work is involved. Raclette, on the other hand, is effortless.

Quinoa Chifa

Chifa: Peru’s Chinese Fusion Cuisine

When a country wins ‘World’s Leading Culinary Destination’ four years in a row, you know it’s definitely time to pay attention. And a visit. Maybe several visits.

Peru has held that title since 2012 thanks to its wide-ranging and varied cuisine: everything from spicy seafood stews and citrus-cured ceviche to wholesome Andean soups and anticuchos skewers. Not to forget the colourful range of corn, potatoes, beans, and peppers, or much-praised but somewhat controversial quinoa. Guinea pig (known as cuy) and alpaca also appear on the menu!

CevicheCeviche: raw fish cured and flavoured with lemon juice, chilli, and onions (eaten cold). Photo from Flickr user Krista.

Mixed in with all that is ‘chifa’: Peruvian-Chinese fusion cuisine. The names of some of the most popular dishes are themselves fusions of Spanish and Chinese words, such as arroz chaufa (stir-fried rice) and sopa wantán (wonton soup). In both cases, a Spanish word is followed by one from Chinese.

I know what you’re thinking: “What’s so special about stir-fried rice and wonton soup? I can get that from the takeaway round the corner!” Even if they are fusions by name, arroz chaufa and sopa wantán understandably come across as fairly ordinary.

Chifa 2Chifa, with ‘arroz chaufa’ in the foreground. Photo from Flickr user Pablo Matamoros.

While all the ‘classic’ Chinese dishes are offered, Chifa is distinguished by the way it mixes Asian and South American cooking styles and ingredients. Diners may encounter Peruvian chita fish steam-cooked with sillao (soy sauce), or juanes prepared with Chinese spices. (Normal juanes consist of rice, egg, chicken, and olives wrapped and cooked in leaves of the Calathea lutea plant – Peruvian tamales eaten on the Feast of San Juan, or Saint John.)

Lomo saltado, widely regarded as a traditional Peruvian dish, features beef stir-fried with potatoes and ají chilli peppers. It is even possible to get guinea pig rolls with sweet and spicy sauces (though pet-lovers may pass!).

Lomo SaltadoLomo saltado – photo from Flickr user Patty Ho.

Chifa developed from the mid-1800s onwards, when Peru saw a large influx of workers from China, most out of Guangdong Province (formerly known as ‘Canton’). Although the first Chinese restaurant opened in Lima during the 1920s, Cantonese cooking was already making a name for itself. As the number of restaurants grew, chifa became very much a part of Peru’s gastronomical scene.

Quinoa ChifaChifa at Aguas Calientes. This appears to use quinoa or kiwicha (amaranth grains). Photo from Flickr user erin.

What about the word itself? It turns out ‘chifa’ derives from the most appropriate Chinese words of all: chi fanin translation, ‘to eat’.

Mince Pies

Mince Pies Through Time

A German colleague was recently telling me about her confusing first try of a mince pie. Tucking in with savoury expectations, she was stunned to find that they were sweet. She described with flailing arms how reality briefly fell apart, exclaiming, ‘Why would you call them mince pies!?’

Mince Pies 3Mince pies and mulled wine. Image from Flickr user Nick Webb.

For a good few centuries, mince pies were just that – pies filled with minced meat. They have an ancestor in ‘chewet or chewette pies: small in size, these medieval specialities had fillings of chopped meat or fish and were baked or fried. ‘To mak chewettes of beef tak beef and cutt it smalle’, instructs the 15th century Noble Boke off Cookry. In general, beef was a very popular filling, and it was common to enhance the flavour with dried fruit and spices.

Mince pie’ (in the meat sense of the term) has its first recorded use in the next century. French Schoole-maister, a French and English conversation guide from 1573, has the line ‘O Lorde, he hath supped up all the brothe of this mince pie.’ Increasingly eaten at Christmas time, mince pies came to be associated more and more with the festive season. So playwright Thomas Dekker writes in his 1604 pamphlet, Newes from Graues-end:

‘Ten thousand in London swore to feast their neighbors with nothing but plum-porredge, and mince-pyes all Christmas.’

What a feast that would have been…

Mince PiesA more homely feast of mince pies in front of the television. Image from Flickr user Simon Cocks.

Mince pies were also called ‘shred’ pies or ‘shrid’ pies, likely referring to the shredded meat inside them. Not surprisingly, ‘Christmas pie’ was another term which was used. During the 1600s, suet started to accompany or take the place of beef, with the sweet-and-spicy dried fruit addition becoming more prominent.

By the Victorian period, recipes for mincemeat largely left out the actual ‘meat’. Only suet remained, giving the mince pies that we know today. Suet may now be replaced with vegetarian alternatives.

Mince Pie FillingHome-made mince pies with their fruity filling. Image from Flickr user Ben Aston.

As Leah Hyslop writes, there have been various theories for why mince pies came to be specifically eaten at Christmas time, with none being particularly certain. For all that, it is clear that while the sticky fillings inside mince pies have changed over time, their name has well and truly stuck.

Bunny South Africa

A Bite of Bunny Chow

I’ll begin by ending your confusion: this is not a piece on the word history of rabbit food. (I’m not even sure how that would work.)

‘Bunny chow’ is not ‘rabbit food’. Apart from the name, it has nothing to do with rabbits. It doesn’t contain rabbits either – though I suppose that depends on your filling of choice! It is, however, downright delicious.

A classic South African grab-to-go speciality, a bunny chow (often more simply referred to as a ‘bunny’) is a hollowed-out section of bread loaf containing meat or vegetarian curry.

Bunny ChowBunny chow in tiger bread (which does not contain tigers). Taken from the Twitter page of Bunnymans Bunnychow. The featured image for this article is from Flickr user fabulousfabs.

The filling is scooped up using pieces from the crusty outside while the inside soaks up juices and flavour. The remaining bread can be eaten up much like an ice-cream cone. Edible container and no washing up? Yes please!

Now enjoyed throughout the country and worldwide, bunnies are believed to have originated with the Indian community of Durban in the mid-20th century. They were supposedly created for plantation workers as a portable alternative to the vegetable dishes and roti (Indian flatbread) which they had for lunch.

They may also have been made as a takeaway option for people who were not allowed to eat in restaurants due to apartheid laws. Meat was added later, as the popularity of the dish spread.

Serving bunny chowEating bunny chow at home. There are many pictures bunny chow being ‘plated up’, with the popular street food being served in sit-down restaurants. Image from Flickr user Amanda Wood.

There have been various suggestions for the origin of the name. The most common is that ‘bunny chow’ may come from bania, a term for a Gujarati merchant caste. This took on the general meaning of ‘Indian shopkeeper’ in South Africa – even if the individuals in question were of another social class. Presumably, the ‘chow’ (or ‘food’) sold by these people came to be known as bania chow, and later, ‘bunny chow’.

Another account tells that the dish was invented at a specific restaurant in Durban as a takeaway option for non-white customers. The owner was called Bhanya, therefore, ‘Bhanya’s chow’.

Some say that bunny chow is named after the banyan trees of Durban, under which it was first sold by street-side sellers. ‘Banyan chow’? Perhaps.

GandhiMahatma Gandhi was part of a Bania caste in Gujarat. Even so, it is highly unlikely that he indulged in bunny chow. Image from Pixabay.

My first and only encounter with bunny chow was on this very day one year ago. Wandering through Southampton’s fairly un-Christmassy Christmas Market, I came across a stall for ‘Bunnymans Bunnychow’, and asked the obvious question of whether it contained any rabbit. The staff explained everything very enthusiastically, but probably added me to a secret below-the-counter tally of people who ask ‘the rabbit question’.

Bunnymans Bunnychow Southampton 1
The Bunnymans Bunnychow stall I came across at Southampton Christmas Market a year ago today.

I gleefully carried off a ‘Vegi Delight’, filled with a meat-free chilli and topped with sour cream and a crunchy garlic bread slice. Incredible.

Bunnymans BunnychowOne ‘Vegi Delight’ bunny ready to go!


Benjamin Franklin Beer

Ben Franklin: ‘The Drinkers Dictionary’

While previously writing about Benjamin Franklin’s interest in food, I remembered a piece which, far from simply being mentioned in passing, deserves its own article. In the 6 January 1737 edition of his newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Franklin published ‘The Drinkers Dictionary’: a list of 228 different phrases for ‘being drunk’, known to be circulating in taverns at the time. Have a read!

Nothing more like a Fool than a drunken Man.          Poor Richard

‘Tis an old Remark, that Vice always endeavours to assume the Appearance of Virtue: Thus Covetousness calls itself Prudence; Prodigality would be thought Generosity; and so of others. This perhaps arises hence, that, Mankind naturally and universally approve Virtue in their Hearts, and detest Vice; and therefore, whenever thro’ Temptation they fall into a Practice of the latter, they would if possible conceal it from themselves as well as others, under some other Name than that which properly belongs to it.

But DRUNKENNESS is a very unfortunate Vice in this respect. It bears no kind of Similitude with any sort of Virtue, from which it might possibly borrow a Name; and is therefore reduc’d to the wretched Necessity of being express’d by distant round-about Phrases, and of perpetually varying those Phrases, as often as they come to be well understood to signify plainly that A MAN IS DRUNK.

Tho’ every one may possibly recollect a Dozen at least of the Expressions us’d on this Occasion, yet I think no one who has not much frequented Taverns would imagine the number of them so great as it really is. It may therefore surprize as well as divert the sober Reader, to have the Sight of a new Piece, lately communicated to me, entitled



He is Addled,
He’s casting up his Accounts,
He’s Afflicted,
He’s in his Airs.


He’s Biggy,
Block and Block,
Been at Barbadoes,
Piss’d in the Brook,
Drunk as a Wheel-Barrow,
Has Stole a Manchet out of the Brewer’s Basket,
His Head is full of Bees,
Has been in the Bibbing Plot,
Has drank more than he has bled,
He’s Bungey,
As Drunk as a Beggar,
He sees the Bears,
He’s kiss’d black Betty,
He’s had a Thump over the Head with Sampson’s Jawbone,
He’s Bridgey.


He’s Cat,
Cherry Merry,
Wamble Crop’d,
Half Way to Concord,
Has taken a Chirriping-Glass,
Got Corns in his Head,
A Cup too much,
He’s heat his Copper,
He’s Crocus,
He cuts his Capers,
He’s been in the Cellar,
He’s in his Cups,
Non Compos,
Loaded his Cart,
He’s been too free with the Creature,
Sir Richard has taken off his Considering Cap,
He’s Chap-fallen.


He’s Disguiz’d,
He’s got a Dish,
Kill’d his Dog,
Took his Drops,
It is a Dark Day with him,
He’s a Dead Man,
Has Dipp’d his Bill,
He’s Dagg’d,
He’s seen the Devil.


He’s Prince Eugene,
Wet both Eyes,
Cock Ey’d,
Got the Pole Evil,
Got a brass Eye,
Made an Example,
He’s Eat a Toad and half for Breakfast,
In his Element.


He’s Fishey,
Sore Footed,
Well in for’t,
Owes no Man a Farthing,
Fears no Man,
Crump Footed,
Been to France,
Froze his Mouth,
Been to a Funeral,
His Flag is out,
Spoke with his Friend,
Been at an Indian Feast.


He’s Glad,
Booz’d the Gage,
As Dizzy as a Goose,
Been before George,
Got the Gout,
Had a Kick in the Guts,
Been with Sir John Goa,
Been at Geneva,
Got the Glanders.


Half and Half,
Top Heavy,
Got by the Head,
Got on his little Hat,
Loose in the Hilts,
Knows not the way Home,
Got the Hornson,
Haunted with Evil Spirits,
Has Taken Hippocrates grand Elixir.


He’s Intoxicated,
Going to Jerusalem,
Been to Jerico,


He’s a King,
Clips the King’s English,
Seen the French King,
The King is his Cousin,
Got Kib’d Heels,
Het his Kettle.


He’s in Liquor,
He makes Indentures with his Leggs,
Well to Live,


He sees two Moons,
Seen a Flock of Moons,
Rais’d his Monuments,


He’s eat the Cocoa Nut,
Got the Night Mare.


He’s Oil’d,
Eat Opium,
Smelt of an Onion,


He drank till he gave up his Half-Penny,
Pidgeon Ey’d,
As good conditioned as a Puppy,
Has scalt his Head Pan,
Been among the Philistines,
In his Prosperity,
He’s been among the Philippians,
He’s contending with Pharaoh,
Wasted his Paunch,
He’s Polite,
Eat a Pudding Bagg.


He’s Quarrelsome.


He’s Rocky,
Lost his Rudder,
Been too free with Sir Richard,
Like a Rat in Trouble.


He’s Stitch’d,
In the Sudds,
Been in the Sun,
As Drunk as David’s Sow,
His Skin is full,
He’s Steady,
He’s Stiff,
He’s burnt his Shoulder,
He’s got his Top Gallant Sails out,
Seen the yellow Star,
As Stiff as a Ring-bolt,
Half Seas over,
His Shoe pinches him,
It is Star-light with him,
He carries too much Sail,
Been too free with Sir John Strawberry,
He’s right before the Wind with all his Studding Sails out,
Has Sold his Senses.


He’s Top’d,
Tipium Grove,
Double Tongu’d,
Topsy Turvey,
Has Swallow’d a Tavern Token,
He’s Thaw’d,
He’s in a Trance,
He’s Trammel’d.


He makes Virginia Fence,
Got the Indian Vapours.


The Malt is above the Water,
He’s Wise,
He’s Wet,
He’s been to the Salt Water,
He’s Water-soaken,
He’s very Weary,
Out of the Way.

The Phrases in this Dictionary are not (like most of our Terms of Art) borrow’d from Foreign Languages, neither are they collected from the Writings of the Learned in our own, but gather’d wholly from the modern Tavern-Conversation of Tiplers. I do not doubt but that there are many more in use; and I was even tempted to add a new one my self under the Letter B, to wit, Brutify’d: But upon Consideration, I fear’d being guilty of Injustice to the Brute Creation, if I represented Drunkenness as a beastly Vice, since, ’tis well-known, that the Brutes are in general a very sober sort of People.

[Note: I have seen ‘The Drinkers Dictionary’ in various sources and have taken this from the archives at The History Carper, making minor corrections using the version found in Shaun Usher’s 2014 book, Lists of Note.]

We can easily recognise certain signs of drunkenness: ‘he sees two Moons’ and ‘seen a Flock of Moons’ link nicely to the whole phenomenon of seeing double. There are words which almost appear to be forerunners – ‘hammerish’ for instance, of the modern ‘hammered’ – and those still in use, like ‘tipsey’ and ‘intoxicated’. In the 15th century, if something was ‘intoxicate’, it contained poison or was made poisonous; the verb ‘intoxicate’ meant ‘to poison’. The sense of ‘making someone drunk’ has its first written evidence around the end of the 16th century.

The_Pennsylvania_Gazette_-_1729-9-25_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_20203The Pennsylvania Gazette: Page One of the first copy printed after Franklin took over publication in 1729. Located via Wikimedia Commons. The featured image for this article is taken from Flickr user Rhys A. The quotation ‘Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants to see us happy’  is popularly attributed to Franklin, but there is no evidence to indicate that it originated with him.

Some terms are very culturally specific. ‘Been to Barbadoes’ reflects the island’s reputation as a colonial producer of rum from the 1640s onwards – several tourist websites celebrate it as the very ‘Birthplace of Rum’. ‘Been to France’ and ‘seen the French King’ paint images of the country’s lavish 18th century court lifestyle, something Franklin himself came to experience in later years. On the other hand, ‘Been at Geneva’ likely refers to ‘genever’ or ‘jenever’, the juniper-flavoured spirit from the Netherlands also known as ‘Dutch Gin’. ‘Genever’ comes from genièvre; ultimately iuniperus, Latin for ‘juniper’. ‘Geneva’ is a folk corruption of the word, and ‘gin’ is a shortened form. It seems that to have ‘been at Geneva’ is to have ‘been at the gin’.

gin-488184_1280‘Gin’ is the shortened form of ‘genever’, a juniper-flavoured spirit from the Netherlands. Image from Pixabay.

Looking at Biblical connections, someone who has ‘had a Thump over the Head with Sampson’s Jawbone’ will definitely have a splitting hangover: one equal in severity to superhuman Samson’s destruction of 1,000 Philistines using only a donkey’s jawbone in Chapter 15 of Judges. I assume that anyone ‘contending with Pharaoh’ is ready to take on the big man (and the universe in general) with full drunken overconfidence – here compared to Moses’ struggle against the Egyptian oppressor of his people in Exodus.

615px-061.Samson_Destroys_the_Philistines_with_an_Ass'_Jawbone‘Samson Destroys the Philistines with an Ass’ Jawbone’, as illustrated by Gustave Doré in Doré’s English Bible (1866). Located via Wikimedia Commons.

There are various nautical phrases collected under ‘S’: ‘seafaring’, ‘he’s got his Top Gallant Sails out’, ‘he carries too much Sail’, and ‘he’s right before the Wind with all his Studding Sails out’. These could be compared to the modern concept of having ‘three sheets to the wind’. As made clear on The Phrase Finder, ‘sheets’ are not sails, but ropes used to hold the sails in place. The image of a boat with sails out of control, tipping around as a drunken sailor might do, was in use during the 1800s.

drunk-sailors-32977_1280These drunken sailors are definitely ‘seafaring’. Image from Pixabay.

Some phrases are just plain strange. Where on earth did ‘nimptopsical’ come from? You tell me! ‘Oxycrocium’ was ‘a salve made with saffron’. Given that the original meaning of ‘plaster’ is a synonym for ‘salve’, The Drunktionary has suggested that ‘oxycrocium’ might be an elaboration on ‘plastered’. However, the use of ‘plastered’ in this sense is only recorded from 1912 onwards. While ‘plastered’ may have come about from the medical definitions of ‘plaster’ –  to ‘apply a remedy to’ or ‘to soothe’ – ‘oxycrocium’ could be an unrelated earlier word which conveys the same idea and was included in the dictionary for its curious spelling. My favourite is ‘he sees the Bears’, which sounds like the furry equivalent of Dumbo’s ‘Pink Elephants’ scene. Much like that mildly terrifying animated sequence, it is probably more suited to standing for a drug-induced trip than drinking too much – much like ‘eat Opium’.

BearStarting to see the bears. Or at least one of them. Image from Flickr user beadyface.

While Franklin published the work, there is some debate as to whether he was the author. Even so, ‘The Drinkers Dictionary’ doesn’t fail to entertain, with terms from the familiar to the downright bizarre.

Tonka Beans

A Tonka Bean Mystery

Yesterday’s Celebrity MasterChef final left its audience with a head-scratching conundrum after former Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt made a tonka bean and vanilla soufflé under the guidance of Michelin-starred chef Angela Hartnett.

headscratcherThe likely expression of most viewers when the arcane ingredient was announced. Image uploaded by johnny_automatic at Openclipart. The featured image for this article is from Flickr user Fred Benenson.

There were amusing sprinkles of confusion and speculation on Twitter:

Tonka Bean Tweets 2

I too made a link with Tonka trucks, then blurted out, ‘Back it up like a tonka bean. ¡Dale!’ in a weird homage to Pitbull’s line from the 2011 Jennifer Lopez hit, ‘On the Floor’.

Tonka Truck 1978A Tonka truck from 1978. Located via Wikimedia Commons.

Of course, no particular connection exists between tonka beans and Tonka trucks. The legendary brand was founded in Minnesota during the mid-1940s as ‘Mound Metalcraft’, a gardening equipment company. Following a business acquisition, they began making toy vehicles and changed their name to ‘Tonka’, taken from Lake Minnetonka. In the Native American Dakota language, mni is ‘water’, while tonka, tanka, or taåka is ‘big’. Minnetonka is therefore ‘Big Water’.

Lake MinnetonkaThe ‘big waters‘ of Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota. Picture from Flickr user edkohler.

Tonka beans are the seeds of the leguminous South American tree Dipteryx odorata. Around an inch in length, they are like blackish almonds or large raisins to the eye, with a scent similar to vanilla, if somewhat spicier. Shavings can be used to infuse dishes, with the whole product also being soaked in alcohol to extract its flavour.

The name derives from the term for the bean in Guyanese Creole. Its ultimate meaning is not known, but English variants in the eighteenth century included tonga, tonqua, and tonquin, as in this early example:

‘The tonquin beans are said to grow in a thick pulp, something like a walnut, and on a large tree.’

John Gabriel Stedman, Narrative, of a five years’ expedition (1796).

Tonka Beans JamieAnneTonka beans, photographed by Flickr user jamieanne.

In the Arawak tongue of the same region, the word is cumaru, which gave rise to ‘coumarin’, the name of the aromatic compound found in the seeds, chemical formula C9H6O2. Obtained in a crystallized form, this is used by the perfume industry when creating fragrances. High concentrations of coumarin can cause liver problems; food sources of the substance have been outlawed by the United States Food and Drug Administration since 1954, though two notable exceptions include cinnamon and liquorice. Ike DeLorenzo argues in a piece for The Atlantic that an individual would have to consume some 30 tonka beans in order to fall ill, with one providing enough shavings to flavour up to 80 plates of food – nutmeg has a similar toxicity. For all this, the exotic tonka remains a popular alternative to vanilla, used in sweet and savoury dishes alike.

Case closed.

Wellington and Napoleon 2

Waterloo 200: Wellingtons and Napoleons

The first half of Feast and Phrase’s Waterloo 200 special examined historical accounts of what soldiers ate during the campaign. In the second, it’s time for mains and desserts: wellingtons, napoleons, and other edible associations with two of history’s military masterminds.

The Duke of Wellington’s name has been used for many things. In 1840, the New Zealand Company bestowed it on their small North Island settlement, honouring the commander’s support of their business. That became the national capital in 1865, and has remained so ever since. Antique lovers can buy ‘Wellington chests’ – drawers with locking covers, designed for military use when travelling. Most well-known of all are ‘wellington boots’ or ‘wellies’: initially knee-length leather footwear, now synthetically produced for a rainy day. Coming from them is ‘give it some welly’, that delightful expression for ‘giving a bit more force to something’.

It might feel logical to assume that puff pastry ‘wellingtons’ – whether filled with beef, fish, beans, or even tofu – follow the same tradition, but the matter is unclear. Despite a lack of evidence, various sources have claimed that ‘beef wellington’ is so called because the Duke was fond of eating it, or because of the pastry’s supposed resemblance to a wellington boot (this second reason, as journalist Leah Hyslop rightly adds, ‘depends on the cook in question being outstandingly awful’).

Carrot WellingtonCarrot wellingtons in the Narcissa Restaurant, NYC. Photo by Flickr user T.Tseng.

An early written reference to a dish bearing this name may be found in The Los Angeles Times of 28 October, 1903: ‘Fillet of beef, a la Wellington.’ However, this seems to be something else entirely, calling for the meat to be consumed with chutney. A record of the pastry version can first be seen in a New York dining guide from 1939:

Tenderloin of Beef Wellington… Larded tenderloin of beef. Roast very rare. Allow to cool and roll into pie crust… Slice in portions and serve with sauce Madire.’

                        Diana Ashley, Where to dine in Thirty-nine (1939).

Beef wellingtons as known today appear to have come from the United States; Hyslop notes food writer Theodora FitzGibbon’s suggestion that they may have had Irish precursors which crossed the Atlantic. More certain than any guessing after origins is that their inclusion in the ground-breaking American publication Mastering the Art of French Cooking led to a surge in popularity from the 1960s onwards. The Oxford English Dictionary gives earlier examples of recipes ‘à la Wellington’ which were named after the Duke. Two ‘Wellington pudding’ desserts stand out: one from 1827, featuring plums; the other from 1881, with ‘puff paste’ and ‘some apricot jam’.

Beef WellingtonBeef wellington. Photo uploaded by Flickr user Elsie Hui.

Earlier still are written mentions of ‘Wellington Apples’large cooking apples with a pale yellow exterior. These were brought to London around 1820 by one Richard Williams, who had received them from the Leicestershire Gopsal Hall estate ‘under the name of Wellington’, which quickly became widespread. This variety is more commonly referred to by its initial name of ‘Dumelow’s Crab’ or ‘Dumelow’s Seedling’, after the 18th century farmer who bred them, Richard Dumelow. Insistence on this occurred from the very beginning. Williams sent samples to the Horticultural Society, which, viewing the whole renaming affair as most improper, expressed its displeasure:

‘This Apple affords another instance of the impropriety of giving new names to fruits already named. […] There can be no doubt as to the propriety of restoring its original name, by which it is so extensively known in the neighbourhood where it was first produced.’

           In Transactions, of the Horticultural Society of London, Volume IV (1822).

640px-Royal_Horticultural_Society_(4624387791)A commemorative plaque for the founding of what is now known as the Royal Horticultural Society. It was the Horticultural Society of London to begin with, gaining a royal charter and its present name in 1861. Image located via Wikimedia Commons.

There are several fruity links to Napoleon’s name. ‘Napoleon Bigarreau’ is a type of cherry with white flesh – a ‘magnificent cherry, of mammoth size’, as an 1864 copy of The Canada Farmer testifies. Robert Hogg’s Fruit Manual of 1860 lists a ‘Napoléon’ pear, now quite uncommon. Other titles for it include Gloire de l’Empereur (‘Glory of the Emperor’) and Captif de St. Hélène (‘Captive of Saint Helena’); a fitting reflection of Bonaparte’s rise and fall. Described in the same work is the ‘Emperor Napoléon’, a large gooseberry with smooth red skin.

Longwood HouseLongwood House: Napoleon’s home on the British island of St Helena during his captivity from 1815 until his death in 1821. Photo by Flickr user David Stanley.

 ‘Napoleon brandy’ is ‘brandy thought to be of great age or merit’. The Oxford English Dictionary provides a line from Cole Porter’s 1934 hit song, ‘You’re the Top’, which carries that sense of immense worth: ‘You’re the top! You’re Mahatma Gandhi. You’re the top! You’re Napoleon brandy.’ For all that, don’t be fooled – the next example is from wine writer Creighton Churchill, who states in a 1967 book that ‘‘Napoleon Brandy’ ranks high among some of the more transparent promotional myths of the industry.’ Such an opinion is seconded in the Cambridge World History of Food: cognac can get better with around 50 years of aging, but anything more is unlikely to have an effect. Brandy lasting from the Napoleonic era is apparently nothing more than a legend; were it to exist, it would not be palatable.

‘Mille-feuille’ pastries (termed so because of their many layers; mille feuilles being French for a thousand leaves) are also called ‘napoleons’ in various countries of the world, such as the United States and Romania. The early 1900s saw the creation of an Iranian ‘napoleon’, which was a mille-feuille baklava with rosewater flavouring. None have any relation to the Emperor; the word is a corruption of Napolitano, ‘pertaining to Naples’, either indicating that the delicacy originally came from the Italian city or was named out of respect for its pastry-making renown.

Mille-FeuilleA mini mille-feuille with vanilla bourbon. Image from Flickr user puce576.

Considering the previous article’s focus on what soldiers ate, it would be appropriate to explore Wellington and Napoleon’s own dietary habits. As touched on before, a lack of supplies affected commanders and troops alike, and both missed home comforts. Returning to England in 1814 after six years away, the Duke is said to have ordered ‘an unlimited supply of buttered toast’ at the Ship Inn, Dover. An acquaintance, George Robert Gleig, wrote of his routine at home as follows:

‘His general habits, to which he adhered to the last, may be thus described. […] At seven he dined. The Duke ate but twice a day, at breakfast and dinner. Though not a large feeder he ate fast, and had an excellent appetite. He was never given to much wine, and in later years found it advisable to cease from the use of it altogether. But the hospitalities of his table were generous.’

George Robert Gleig, The Life of Arthur, First Duke of Wellington (1862).

Duke of WellingtonThe Wellington Statue by Matthew Cotes Wyatt (1846). Originally on the Wellington Arch in London, it was moved to Round Hill, Aldershot, in 1885. Image from Flickr user Fotorus.

Bearing in mind that conflict situations do not exactly allow for leisurely meals, it is hardly surprising to find out that Wellington was a fast eater, and even less so to learn that Napoleon was the same:

‘Napoleon eat and slept according to the time, circumstances and situation in which he found himself; […] “Doctors,” said he to Antommarchi, “have the ordering of the table; it is but fair that I give you a description of mine; this is how it is arranged, one dish of soup, two of meat, one of vegetables, a salad when I can have it, compose the whole. I take half a bottle of claret much diluted, and a little pure at the end of dinner. For the rest I eat quickly and masticate little, for my meals do not take much of my time. You do not approve of that, but in my situation what is the advantage of mastication?”’

In The Table Talk and Opinions of Napoleon Buonaparte (1870).

Jacques-Louis_David_-_Napoleon_Crossing_the_Alps_-_Schloss_ChThe famous painting, Napoleon Crossing the Alps, by French artist Jacques-Louis David (1800). This is a noteworthy piece of propaganda – Napoleon actually crossed the Alps on the back of a mule! Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Historical author Shannon Selin points out that Bonaparte was incredibly fond of liquorice, eating it so frequently that it may have been responsible for discolouring his teeth. Such was his love of the stuff that he insisted on drinking nothing but liquorice water when dying. One can only speculate whether he might have enjoyed Napoleon cherries and pears, and it is intriguing to imagine the Duke tucking into a beef wellington were he alive today. Would Bonaparte have seen the appeal of Napoleon brandy? Quite possibly – though he may also have put it aside for another glass of liquorice drink.

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