I enjoy digging around for stories about food names.
A healthy helping of insight can be found in John Mariani's "The Dictionary of American Food and Drink," (Hearst Books; 1994) and other sources. Here are some of my favorites.
"Snickerdoodles" evokes nothing but thoughts of fun and frivolity. The classics are your basic flour, butter, eggs and a whole lot of sugar. The name has no deep meaning. According to Mariani, "snickerdoodle" is a "nonsense" word, rooted in the 19th century.
The Pennsylvania-Dutch original "Shoofly pie" supposedly was named for the molasses and brown sugar that it makes it sweet and irresistible to flies that must be shooed away.
What about "shortcake?" Mariani goes back to the 15th century with the word "short" which described foods made crisp by using some type of fat. In England that usually meant shortbread, a traditional treat of Scotland. In the U.S., "shortcake" came to mean a sweet pastry with fruit tucked inside - one of our favorite warm-weather desserts.
"Granola" evolved from "Granula" in health-conscious times. Granula was developed in 1863 by Dr. James C. Jackson for patients at his Dansville, N.Y., sanitarium to ease digestive problems thought to result from eating too much protein and perhaps not enough dietary fiber.
People are also reading…
Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, of cereal fame, devised a "Granula" for his Battle Creek, Mich., patients in the 1880s. He soon changed the name to "Granola."
There's no health-worthy pretense with one of our most colorful monikers in food name history: S.O.S. We also call the open-faced sandwich "chipped beef on toast." It's said to have made its debut in World War II mess halls. Processed beef was shaved or "chipped," served on a slice of white bread toast and topped with a white sauce.
Speaking of sandwiches, most sources credit that name to the fourth Earl of Sandwich, a/k/a John Montagu of George III's court. In 1762, he ordered a bread-and-meat dish he could eat while at the gambling table. He was served a "sandwich."
Gambling also figures into a story of origin of the Reuben sandwich. The story has grocer Reuben Kolakofsky creating it in 1922 for a poker game at the Blackstone Hotel.
Charles Schimmel, owner of the Blackstone, is said to have named the sandwich in honor of Kolakofsky and put it on the hotel menu, according to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. The locally popular sandwich was launched to national fame when Fern Snider, a former Blackstone waitress, entered the recipe in a 1956 sandwich contest and took the top prize.
Finally, I return to popcorn and the name of the pan my family used to pop from scratch. Our mother called it "the spider." I've mentioned the 12-inch Revere Ware pan a number of times in Good Eats, including in the Dec. 28 column about Koated Kernels.
In answer to the reader question, "What's a spider," I refer to the Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Before the development of the stovetop, American colonists cooked over an open hearth. Among the essential cooking tools was the three-legged, whimsically named, "spider" designed for "perching" above the embers.
The Oxford source puts the origin of the spider in early New England. After 1800, its use spread to other parts. As legless pans were developed for the emerging modern stovetop, the term "spider" continued to be used along with "frying pan," "skillet" and other basic cooking tools.
Throughout childhood, I thought the "spider" was simply a dedicated popcorn pan in our home and others. Only much later did I learn that the name of this much-prized pan had a much deeper history.
Let's go back to Dr. Kellogg and granola. Here's an idea from Welch's that incorporates the cereal. Welch's suggests serving this for breakfast, brunch, or dessert.
Spiced winter fruit parfait
2.5 cups Welch's 100-percent Grape Juice made from Concord grapes
One 2-inch piece cinnamon stick
One three-by-one-half-inch strip orange zest
1 cup prunes (dried plums)
1 six-ounce package Welch's Dried Mixed Fruit
2 cups fat-free vanilla yogurt
1 cup low-fat granola
1. Bring the grape juice, cinnamon stick and orange zest to a simmer. Add the dried mixed fruit and cook 15 minutes or until the fruits are plump and the juice is thickened. Let cool slightly. Remove the cinnamon stick and orange zest. Transfer to a covered container and chill at least two hours.
2. In six medium glasses, make layers using half of the fruit mixture, yogurt, and granola. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Serve immediately. Makes six servings. Each serving has 410 calories, 1.5g fat, 1g saturated fat, 9g protein, 87g carbohydrate, 5mg cholesterol, 140 mg sodium, 4 g fiber. Source for recipe and photo: Welch's