Page H. Onorato: How food names came into being
“You know one thing I really like about going to the beach?” a friend of mine said recently. “The brunch we always have: eggs Benedict and bloody marys.”
I had to agree, although I miss the long hours of sitting in the sand, watching the beachgoers stroll by and the waves roll in. “Hmm,” I thought, “Funny that both of those yummy treats were named after people.”
The egg dish is attributed to Wall Street broker Lemuel Benedict, who, suffering from a hangover way back in 1894, went to the Waldorf Hotel in New York and ordered buttered toast, bacon, two poached eggs and a hooker of Hollandaise sauce. The delicious combination soon became a regular on the menu.
Story has it that the drink was named after Queen Mary I of England, daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, who had many of her countrymen brutally slaughtered for heresy, hence the bloody part. Actually, it was invented by Fernand Petiot, bartender at Harry’s in New York, who mixed equal parts of vodka and tomato juice with a dash or two of hot stuff and first called it the Red Snapper.
Many of our favorite things to eat or drink are named for people, places and events. Boston Cream Pie, Boston baked beans and Boston brown bread, Buffalo wings, Saratoga chips (the original potato chip), Vidalia onions, London broil, Smithfield ham, Philly cheesesteak, the Denver omelet, Brunswick stew and Manhattan clam chowder are all named after cities. And don’t forget Lexington barbecue.
The lethal Long Island iced tea qualifies, but there’s a rub. Some say that indeed, it was first concocted by Long Island, New York, bartender Robert “Rosebud” Butt, who sloshed about everything he could get his hands on in a glass and topped it off with a splash of Coke. Others say no, no, it came from the Long Island community of Kingsport, Tennessee, and was invented in the 1920s by local bootlegger Old Man Bishop, kind of a “thumbing the nose” to the revenuers.
States get into the act with things like Texas toast, Mississippi mud pie, Tennessee jam cake, New York strip, baked Alaska, Virginia ham, the Kentucky hot brown, Georgia peaches, Vermont cheese, the Alabama slammer and the Missouri mule. Watch out for the last two — they’re right up there with Long Island iced tea in the lethal department.
Some foods are named for events. There’s the earthquake cake, so called because it looks like a disaster when baked, and shipwreck stew that contains ground beef, potatoes, onions, celery, carrots, green beans, kidney beans and no telling what all. The mudslide goes down smoothly and no wonder; it’s made of vodka, Kahlua and good old Bailey’s Irish Cream.
Escoffier invented cherries jubilee to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Chicken Marengo honored Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Marengo. There’s a wonderful Southern dessert called derby pie, so named for the horse race, and what’s a down home dinner without a picnic ham?
Many foods are named for people: peach Melba and Melba toast for the opera singer, Nellie Melba; bananas Foster for the owner of Brennan’s in New Orleans, where it was conceived; beef Wellington for Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo; the Kaiser roll for Emperor Franz Josef of Austria.
Salisbury steak was created by Dr. James H. Salisbury, who advocated eating plenty of meat for its protein. Where would TV dinners be without him? A Nebraska grocer whose first name was Reuben put corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing between two slices of rye bread and named it after himself. He served the sandwiches at his weekly poker games from 1920 to 1935.
OK, it’s time for good cooks like you to get out in the kitchen and create an original dish of your own. Who knows, maybe they’ll name it for you someday.
Page H. Onorato is a retired teacher and a columnist for The Lexington (N.C.) Dispatch.