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Dec 16, 2008 04:17 PM

Great names but little fact

We've all heard about if you ask a Frenchman about "French Toast" or a Brit about "English Muffins" you get a blank stare. Seems, based on a recent thread elsewhere, there are probably a number of dishes that have either no basis in history, or that folks don't know the real history about. We have all heard how pommes frites or at least souffle potatoes came about from the chef to a French king, but iIsuspect many others have "iffy" routes and explanations.

A few that come to mind:

General Tso's Chicken
Beef Wellington
Anadama Bread
Apple Brown Betty
Waldorf Salad (that one might be true..but I bet others made something like it)
"Anything" Florentine (did they not grow spinach anywhere else?)

I wonder how some of these names got started, and how many other "bogus" ones have made it into culinary history?

So, chowies, you have 2 assignments:

1. Another "named dishes" that might not have any relevancy to history or might even have a good story, but little fact
2. Delineating the history to said "named dishes", ....fantasy is as good as fact. Actually documented named dishes get extra credit!

Time's up! Let's see how our contestants did!

(and to all of you........Happy Holidays! I mean this in fun and the spirit of the holidays)

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  1. I thought that English muffins were English, and that Brits don't call them English muffins because they simply call them muffins.

    15 Replies
    1. re: babette feasts

      Nope! And the Thomas of Liverpool thing is all made up. They have scones.....wonderful scones, but no English Muffins over there. Muffins are like ours.. I lived in the UK from 1989 -1994. Never once saw an English Muffin, even though I lived 20+ miles south of Liverpool.

      1. re: FriedClamFanatic

        English muffins are crumpets. Crumpets come in several varieties, but there are ones that are very similar to what we call English muffins.

        Similarly, French Toast is Pain Perdue, which I've had in Paris and Karslruhe.

        1. re: applehome

          Oh, foo. I was brought up in a very English home. A crumpet is an unbaked pastry with a smooth bottom and many holes on top. It is never split before toasting. After toasting - no one ever eats an untoasted crumpet - one applies butter and perhaps jam or marmalade to the top side, and enjoys.

          I have eaten English muffins. I have enjoyed English muffins. But I say to you, English muffin, "You, sir, are no crumpet".

          1. re: KevinB

            That's exactly how I eat my English muffins - toast, butter, jam... Just cause some American invented a way to make it crispy by baking it and then get 2-for-1 by splitting it, doesn't mean they're not related. I've had crumpets in my trips to the UK - I'd say they are related, and that the link is quite obvious. Now - if you can get an American to modify that hockey puck called blood sausage or those salty kippered herrings, we could all sit down to a proper breakfast!

            1. re: KevinB

              Agreed. I ate English muffins for breakfast all the time when I lived in London and they were called muffins. They were the kind you cut in half and put into the toaster. My flatmate sometimes got crumpets, and they were not the same thing at all.

              1. re: queencru

                ^ This.

                Muffins are cupcakes in America, right? We kind of call them muffins too now, but crumpet =/= muffin. Look up English muffin in Wikipedia, and that's what we call muffins.

                1. re: Soop

                  I thought American cupcakes = English fairy cakes??

                  1. re: Angela Roberta

                    Fairy Cakes and Petits Fours are similar, but Fairy Cakes are round like miniature American cupcakes:


                    Thank you John Inman!!

              2. re: KevinB

                English muffin is what holds together an egg mcmuffin (in Canada anyway). An English Muffin is definitely not a crumpet - are they related? sure but like granny smith and gala apples are related.

                1. re: KevinB

                  No one ever eats an untoasted English muffin, either. English muffins and crumpets are not the same, but they are quite similar. Obviously, the crumpet inspired the creationof the English muffin.

                2. re: applehome

                  french toast is called "pain doré" here in French Canada. Some restaurants use the term "pain perdu" when it is served for dessert, not for breakfast.

                3. re: FriedClamFanatic

                  Here (in England) until recently a muffin was always a white crusty yet soft and strangely flat bread roll, with (I believe) cornmeal on the crust. It was always served toasted and hot, with butter. It is nothing like a crumpet.
                  It also in no way resembles an American muffin, which is more like a cupcake. US muffins have now invaded the UK, and no doubt British kids today will never have had an 'English muffin' and will assume all muffins are loaded with blueberries or chocolate and come in a paper case.

                  1. re: Peg

                    Peg -- Here in the States an "English muffin" is nothing at all like the cupcake-y "muffin." Flat bread, smooth bottom and holes on top is a good description, not sweet, either -- oh and is a yeast bread.

                    Did somebody already post the wikipedia site?:
                    It cites Elizabeth David....

                    (and they do look like crumpets to me, although probably not as good)

                    1. re: Peg

                      Sorry, just read pegs post after my post. Needless to say, I agree.

                    2. re: FriedClamFanatic

                      i lived in the UK from 1998-2006 and at at that time (in the south, mind you--it could be a north/south difference) 'muffins' were English muffins and 'american muffins' were the things that could be mistaken for cupcakes. 'fairy cakes' had a particular recipe, involving no blueberries or chocolate chips. Crumpets were the same things americans called crumpets.

                  2. A few nights ago, a friend, at dinner, was telling me how Caesar salad was created. His version was that there were some Hollywood actors on location in a small town in Mexico. One night, after a long shoot, they went to the only cafe in town. The owner had nothing to feed them except some Romaine lettuce, a few eggs, some anchovies, etc, so he invents this salad. The actors were so taken with it that they named it after the owner. They then went back to Hollywood and told everyone about him and the salad became famous. I asked my friend if he really believed this story and he said he most certainly did. I think it's a food fairytale myself.

                    15 Replies
                    1. re: susabella

                      And I've heard it was at Caesar's Palace in NV. Wonder which is right?

                      1. re: susabella

                        Seems your friend's on to something, if you trust Ruth Reichl (I get the story mixed up with the invention of the margarita, also in Baja California in glamorous golden Hollywood years; Cobb Salad also has a good Hollywood story). I'd actually bookmarked this a while back:


                        "Weekend Edition Saturday, March 11, 2006 • Tijuana chef Caesar Cardini first whipped up the now-ubiquitous dish in the 1920s. Ruth Reichl, editor of Gourmet magazine, tells Susan Stamberg the story and explains what really makes it a true Caesar salad."

                        1. re: susabella

                          that sounds an awful lot like the story behind nachos...


                          1. re: mark

                            Mark -- Good one! I'm pretty sure I heard that on a Bourdain No Reservations on Mexico, too -- he maybe went to the original place?

                            Really interesting bunch of stories related to "borderlands" studies (popular academic field, that is), somebody should write a book....

                            1. re: mark

                              Agggh! I was gonna say that one :)

                              1. re: Soop

                                It's probably the story of a lot of things. It's exactly the same way Buffalo wings were invented.


                                1. re: Davwud

                                  and how were buffalo wings invented, then?

                                  1. re: mselectra

                                    Like the nacho and Cesar salad stories. Late night group comes in, not much left, they want food. So the person in the kitchen whips something up.

                                    Necessity being the mother of invention and all


                                    1. re: Davwud

                                      oh-- but ask the busboy, or the servers-- and the story will go: the cook whips this easy, gooey, comfort-food stuff up for "staff meal" or after bar-close staff-only snacks all the time-- cheap and fast to put together, often from leftovers. the late party came in right as we were going to close the doors, but the cook was already making everybody's favorite treat, so we offered the special dish, named off the cuff, after the cook or the server, or the server's mom, or whatever, to the late party-- & it was such a hit we ended up adding it to the regular menu. LOL

                                      hmm maybe my curried eggs and rice will be famous someday :)

                                        1. re: Davwud

                                          oh! and that reminds me that this is supposed to be the same type of story with fettucine alfredo-- legend has it that alfredo was supposed to make this easy but comforting pasta dish for his pregnant wife, who found that she couldn't handle the spicier regular restaurant offerings. . .

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            I read that too SK. It calmed her queasy stomach during her pregnancy.

                                  2. re: Davwud

                                    Well, yes, of course Buffalo is also a borderland. Though what, west of the border? The Niagara River runs more or less south to north.

                              2. re: susabella

                                I heard it was at the original Cesears Palace in Tijuana, before gambling was outlawed in Mexico, and Las Vegas became a casino Mecca.

                              3. Waldorf salad was created by the chef of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel.

                                1. Regarding General Tso's Chicken:
                                  When we were cooking from the Fuchsia Dunlop book, "Land of Plenty" for COTM in March of this year I came across this explanation of the dish by herself, Fuchsia:


                                  I'll quote here a particular paragraph that I think explains the mystery. I hope it's allowed.

                                  "General Tso’s chicken is named for Tso Tsung-t’ang (now usually transliterated as Zuo Zongtang), a formidable 19th-century general who is said to have enjoyed eating it. The Hunanese have a strong military tradition, and Tso is one of their best-known historical figures. But although many Chinese dishes are named after famous personages, there is no record of any dish named after Tso."

                                  There is more to this at the link that I provided....and she does give the history of the dish.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Gio

                                    The article is almost spot-on my post. Folks over there never heard of it, but they have heard of him.

                                    1. re: Gio

                                      I thought of that same article when read OP, I have it saved too because I loved it. The connection with Kissinger and all that is so interesting. Seems like I heard a few interviews with Jennifer 8 Lee when she was on book tour where she also discussed Gen Tso's chicken -- and sure enough just found this one:


                                      1. re: mselectra

                                        It's a classic.....the guy himself never heard of it, probably never ate it, and neither did anyone else in China: Ever. But someone in America must ahve thought it sounded good, and so named it. The Thomas Liverpool English Muffins in Cantonese!

                                    2. Apple Brown Betty is an old American dessert dating back to Colonial times. A ‘betty’ is a baked pudding, made with layers of sweetened and spiced fruit and buttered bread crumbs. It is usually served with a lemon sauce, whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Home made of course.


                                      9 Replies
                                      1. re: Gio

                                        Yes................but why Betty? Not Abigail or Mehitabel or Julia or even Britany? The link doesn't get to that level........but on the other hand, i don't need to follow deeper into Grunts!<G>

                                        1. re: FriedClamFanatic

                                          Britany, forsooth? Were there any Britanys at that time? I doubt it. And let us not forget the Fool, the Flummery, the Hasty Pudding, Swamp Yankee Applesauce Cafe and the Syllabub.

                                          1. re: Gio

                                            And you're on a roll! Why, why and why did they get those names?

                                            1. re: FriedClamFanatic

                                              I'm thinking the names came from the people who initially made the dish or are some sort of descriptive of the procedure. Just my opinion. Catch you later.....

                                              1. re: Gio

                                                or is Betty somehow related to the UK slang term 'butty' for sandwich?

                                                no linguist here.

                                                1. re: hill food

                                                  Note sure why I'm obsessing about this... but I did a quick OED search for "brown betty" -- hoping it's within rules to quote these short excerpts here -- these are from the entry for "brown", under the section on combinations (includes, eg "brown shirt"....) Then, I believe the examples of it used in sentences would be the earliest they could find, which takes it only back to the mid-19th century.

                                                  I also looked up "betty" -- which is both a noun and a verb and seems to be have been used sometimes for making fun of men for being too womanly (as in calling a man a "betty" who did domestic work) and also was once considered a fashionable pet name for a lady, but then became more rustic -- and that's when it became a way to make fun of men, too, as in teasing someone for "bettying around" in unimportant matters.

                                                  1. re: hill food

                                                    And here are the brief excerpts from the OED, hoping it's legal to quote them:

                                                    "Brown Betty chiefly U.S., a baked pudding containing apples and breadcrumbs"

                                                    "1864 Yale Lit. Mag. XXIX. 187 (Th.), [In training,] tea, coffee, pies, and ‘*brown Betty’ must next be sacrificed. 1911 S. E. WHITE Bobby Orde (1916) x. 126 It was the season and Brown Betty. 1948 ‘J. TEY’ Franchise Aff. xv. 164 Brown-betty with thick cream."

                                                    ETA: Gio, sorry, I just saw that the website you posted also cites that Yale Literary Magazine as the first published reference to it. Cool.

                                                    1. re: mselectra

                                                      No apologies necessary Ms E. The web abounds with this kind of trivia. I love it!

                                                      1. re: Gio

                                                        That's for sure -- and I appreciate when they're well-cited....