ITALIAN RAREBIT.

Songdog sent me a link to this comic, knowing I would be struck by Granpa Joe’s archaic linguistic usages, especially “Italian rarebit.” Frankly, I assumed it was made up, but Professor Google found a cite (with recipe!) from 1915:

(It doesn’t seem to have originally been identical with pizza, which is how it’s defined here.) Are any of my readers familiar with this (presumably long-vanished) term?

Comments

  1. I’ve never heard of it before, but I was stuck by the fact that if the green peppers in question are actually spicy, what you’d have is essentially Rotel dip.

  2. The introduction of pizza to Britain as pizza is discussed in one of the sections of “The Supersizers Eat: the 1950s.” I don’t remember which segment, but I remember the mention of both the old name of Italian rarebit and the new name of pizza. http://youtu.be/bTdRLPN3ZGY

  3. Presumably it’s an elaboration on the better-known Welsh Rarebit (a corruption of Welsh Rabbit)—the ‘Welsh’ version lends itself very readily to gussying up, and if you took the Anglo-American conception of classically Italian ingredients and tossed them into a Welsh Rarebit, that’s what you’d get.

  4. That is to say, it looks Italian in exactly the same way Hawaiian pizza is Hawaiian.

  5. Adeline Wilcox says:

    My mother served something she called Welsh rarebit. Cheesy, without as many spicy ingredients
    as the Italian rarebit recipe.

  6. Yes, Welsh rarebit (originally rabbit) is well known, and this is obviously a variant of it.

  7. Er, I mean the name is a variant of the name, not the dish of the dish. I have no opinion on the dish.

  8. We always make our Welsh rarebit with goat’s cheese. That may testify to the influence of A J P Goat.

  9. To the best of my understanding, British soldiers discovered pizza when stationed in Italy during WW2. When they came home, they asked for this dish and the slightly corrupted result was then sold to the public as “Italian rarebit”, as the average British citizen of the late 40s/early 50s would have had no notion of what “pizza” was, but was familiar with the traditional dish of welsh rabbit.
    (The origin of Italian Rarebit is similar to one of the (many) posited origins of spaghetti carbonara, a dish (supposedly) created when US servicemen stationed in Italy in 1944 requested “ham and eggs”).
    It is interesting that green peppers are mentioned upthread. It’s unlikely a British housewife had even seen a green pepper before the mid seventies.

  10. It’s unlikely a British housewife had even seen a green pepper before the mid seventies
    Really? Huh? Are you joshing?

  11. “It’s unlikely a British housewife had even seen a green pepper before the mid seventies”: I hadn’t seen one until I went to university in the mid 60s, when I saw plenty. But then I was a country boy.

  12. “It’s unlikely a British housewife had even seen a green pepper before the mid seventies”: I hadn’t seen one until I went to university in the mid 60s, when I saw plenty. But then I was a country boy.

  13. It’s unlikely a British housewife had even seen a green pepper before the mid seventies.
    The recipe I quote and link to in my post is from 1915.

  14. It’s true that in Britain they sold olive oil at chemists rather than at grocers up until about the 1960s. If the Sicilian mafia had emigrated to London rather than New York, they could have bought Boots and consolidated the pharmaceuticals with the olive oil.

  15. British cooking, except at the top end, went into sharp decline in the first half of the 20th century, largely as a consequence of the country (a densely populated island) surviving two prolonged sieges in that period, during which it was difficult to import food. It didn’t begin to recover until the 60s and it was generally dull and unappetising until the 80s.
    But the upper middle class traveled, at least to France, Italy and Germany before the Great War, and would have been generally familiar with Mediterranean vegetables.

  16. In 1987 I met Armand Borel, a very distinguished elderly Swiss-French academic, at a conference in France. When I mentioned that I had just spent half a year in Edinburgh, he groaned and said “How can you stand the food?!” In 1958 he had attended the International Congress of Mathematicians there, and it seemed that he retained horribly vivid memories of the experience.
    I suspect that Borel was choosier than I would be about food, but I also think that some time between 1958 and 1987 the Scots started importing lots of fresh fruits and vegetables from all over the hemisphere.

  17. Chris, do you 100% know that the decline was caused by the wars, or are you guessing? I remember reading Gandhi’s complaints about the overcooked vegetarian food in London when he was studying law there in the 1880s.

  18. The recipe cited appears to be from a book published in New York.
    If we’re talking about British housewives, it’s hardly the upper middle classes who are representative. Your typical housewife (overwhelmingly working class) might well have seen exotic vegetables like peppers, or as they were called: pimentos, in markets in large cities, but I doubt many peppers were making their way onto dinner tables in the provincial UK before the 1970s.
    A quick trawl through my collection of vintage British cookbooks throws up evidence that, even for the gastronomically-inclined, peppers were far from a staple:
    From “Robin McDouall’s cookery book for the greedy” (Penguin Books, 1963 edition):
    “Pimentos (Piments)
    Except as a major ingredient in ratatouille…, peppers do not usually appear cooked other than as stuffed peppers.”
    But by 1974 “The Evening Standard Cookbook” by Delia Smith, contained, besides stuffed peppers, a number of other recipes (but originally published for a cosmopolitan London newspaper readership).

  19. The lack of aubergines might be worth bemoaning, but the lack of green peppers surely isn’t: they’re pretty dismal things anyway. A stranger business is that shop-bought tomatoes in Britain have always been awful, save for a brief period when “vine tomatoes” first appeared. Mind you, when I first went to the US I was appalled by their tomatoes too. (My standard of comparison is the crop my father grew in his greenhouse.)
    What I hadn’t bargained for was the discovery that Americans had perfected the art of growing tasteless apples and strawberries. This was back in ’66. The cheap franks and burgers were super, though. I liked the rye bread too, which I’d otherwise only had in Germany. Strangest of all, I had a wonderful Chinese meal in SF, but was the only round-eye in the restaurant.

  20. Strangest of all, I had a wonderful Chinese meal in SF
    Why is that strange? Doesn’t SF have one of the oldest Chinese communities in America?

  21. And then there’s Scottish food. But MacDonald’s is everywhere nowadays.

  22. I never thought my green peppers comment would have stirred such controversy! You mention 1974 Delia Smith’s Evening Standard cookbook, I’ve seen contemporaneous TV footage of Delia telling viewers where to hunt down green bell peppers. While they were probably available from better metropolitan greengrocers, I don’t think they were the a staple of the average British table until much later. But I’d love someone to tell me the facts if they know differently!

  23. From Lucky Jim, published 1954:
    This Michel, as indefatigably Gallic as his mother, had been cooking for himself in his small London flat, and had in the last few days made himself ill by stuffing himself with filthy foreign food of his own preparation, in particular, Dixon gathered, spaghetti and dishes cooked in olive oil. This seemed fit punishment for one so devoted to coagulated flour and water and peasants’ butter substitute, washed down, no doubt, by ‘real’ black coffee of high viscosity

  24. One should note that bell peppers are called by their genus name capsicum by our antipodean friends. Not sure what happened there…
    peasants’ butter substitute
    I will have to find occasion to use this.

  25. J.W. Brewer says:

    Indeed, not only is LH’s recipe from an American book, but from one with an entire section on “Macaroni, Rarebits, and Souffles.” I assume the presence of cheese is the organizing theme there? Italian rarebit is followed by “bean rarebit,” which is described as a “good way to use up a few cold baked beans.”
    When I was a boy, my mother (of the generational cohort of WASP housewives who were no more culinarily adventurous than British housewives of the same epoch) would from time to time make Welsh rabbit (as we pronounced it and I at least would have spelled it). Her recipe involved beer, but the beer was supposed to be flat (to keep the cheese from getting fuzzy? I dunno), so if I came home from school some afternoon circa 1972 and saw a glass measuring cup half-full with beer sitting on the kitchen counter getting flat, I knew what was for dinner.

  26. “Why is that strange?” Because the only non-Chinese there to eat it was a wandering Scots undergraduate. Where were the Yanks?

  27. Amis hyphenated it: peasants’ butter-substitute. I keep this phrase in the same mental attic as somebody’s line about how the French cook with butter, the Italians cook with olive oil, the English cook with water.

  28. In our family we consume plenty of red, orange and yellow peppers of that same general mild type, cooked in various ways or not, but we mostly give the green ones a miss.
    As for what people call them: I believe that in Germany the word “pepperoni” (or possibly “peperoni”?) is used; which leads to perplexity and disappointment when a visitor from the US orders a pepperoni pizza and receives something that shows not a trace of that small hard spicy greasy sausage that is an essential pizza topping at home.

  29. Germans and Norwegians are quite keen on so-called Hawaiian pizza – I’ve noticed this because I loathe pineapple.
    JW, my mother (who for what it’s worth had a café in Portobello Road in London) always says “rabbit” and spells it that way. I never knew about the flat beer.

  30. mollymooly says:

    From the Repeal of the Corn Laws in 1849, the UK had a policy of importing cheap food for the urban poor. Tinned Fray Bentos beef, salted New Zealand butter, wheat from Canada and Russia. Fresh vegetables, not so much. Joining the EEC in 1973 changed the politics and the economics of food.

  31. From “The Penguin Dictionary of Cookery” (1966):
    “Capsicum:…the sweet pepper, the large green or red variety known as bell peppers (sometimes called pimentos), which are now common in the shops…”

  32. I think that I first encountered pineapple on pizza in Germany. It had both pineapple and some form of ham, and it was called Hawaii-pizza. I like pineapple just fine, but I don’t like to find on pizza.

  33. J.W. Brewer says:

    According to an internet rumor I have not independently confirmed: “a pub near the University of Sussex serves an open-face grilled ham, cheese, and pineapple sandwich and calls it ‘Hawaiian rarebit.’” In my experience with “Hawaiian” pizza in multiple regions of the US, it must have not only pineapple but some pork-related topping, although I think I’ve seen both regular bacon and Canadian bacon as alternatives to ham.

  34. Empty: “All Gaul is divided into three parts: the part that cooks with lard and goose fat, the part that cooks with olive oil, and the part that cooks with butter.” —David Chessler
    Dearieme: The U.S. is an awfully big country, with very varied geography. Consequently, flavor (alas!) has historically been subordinated to ease of transport. As for your Chinese restaurant, the clientele in such restaurants varies smoothly from 0% Chinese to 100% Chinese, depending on location and menu.

  35. To break up a good thread: What is the problem with flick knife?

  36. “Waiter, there’s a hair in my rarebit.”

  37. What is the problem with flick knife?
    They’ve been banned in the UK for more than 50 years (the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959), so I’d think it highly likely that today few Britons under 40 will have heard of them
    It’s unlikely a British housewife had even seen a green pepper before the mid seventies.
    I went to university some years after Dearieme (1971), and that was the first time I saw green peppers: they were being chopped up in the kitchens of the halls of residence by the nice middle-class doctors’ daughters from Surrey. A few months after that, I ate my first ever pizza, in Al Forno’s in Brighton.
    Talking of similar dishes, I remember my disappointment at ordering a Croque Monsieur in France, having seen them mentioned as a typical French snack, and being disappointed to discover that it was really only a tarted-up ham and cheese toastie …

  38. A couple of pieces of advice from “The Daily Telegraph Cook’s Book” (1964) by Fanny and Johnnie Craddock, “Television’s most famous cooks”:
    “Egg plants (aubergines, Fr.): must be black-purple, very shiny and hard like policemen’s truncheons…
    Pimentoes: must be crisp and snappy and look shiny like patent leather.”

  39. “All Gaul is divided into three parts”
    It is Europe that is divided into three parts: There’s English-speaking Europe, wine-speaking Europe and beer-speaking Europe.

  40. Where were the Yanks?from 0% Chinese to 100% Chinese
    And some portion of the Chinese were Yanks. Particularly worth keeping in mind since the Johnson administration would have just finally (1965) done away with the racial quotas in US immigration law aimed at matching the existing population.

  41. few Britons under 40 will have heard of them
    Well, there are movies.

  42. My mother cooked usually with lard, sometimes with butter: olive oil was reserved for treating earache. Her cooking was good though her range was limited. She had the advantage of good ingredients. After 3 months in the US in ’66 I longed to eat a decent cheese again. It seemed all too possible that there was a better choice of cheese available in my favourite shop in Edinburgh than in the whole of the USA.
    But for a wonderful feeling of plenty on the food front, I’d seen nothing like the US. And my one fine meal outside SF was tip top: lobster in New England. It was reminiscent of British grub – get a high-quality ingredient and don’t give it a fancy-dan treatment. The other favourable impression I got in the general area of sluicing and browsing arose when in Sausalito I sampled some Californian wines: even in my state of youthful ignorance I could detect that these were good stuff.

  43. I believe that in Germany the word “pepperoni” (or possibly “peperoni”?) is used
    In the Rheinland they’re called only Paprikaschoten or just Paprika. The first sentence in the WiPe article ends with auch als Chili, Peperoni oder Pfefferoni bezeichnet – maybe that is the case in south Germany or another similarly exotic location.

  44. The next time you’re in the Rheinland, you might want to order a peperoni pizza from Pizza Peperoni in Cologne. You can see dem little red debbils in the picture at the top, as well as insipid slices of green Paprika (listed among the ingredients of Pizza Vegetable further down).
    Peperoni sausage is pretty much unknown as a pizza topping – I’ve never encountered it. What you get is slices of “salami”. To tide you over until your return to the States, the Turks here do a garlic lamb sausage of varying degrees of spicyness. Of course expensive Italian sausage is available that you wouldn’t want to ruin in a pizza oven.

  45. Peperoni oder Pfefferoni! Grimm’s law in action!

  46. Roughly, what are the differences between “salami” and “sausage” in USA/GB usage ? I think of “salami” as having finely ground ingredients, while “sausage” has recognizable bits.

  47. Salami has donkey in it.

  48. J.W. Brewer says:

    @zythophile: what do the Kids Today in the U.K. call the implement once known as a flick knife? Or has prohibition been so successful that (unlike other sorts of contraband items like drugs which I expect modern British 13 year olds have the lexical resources to discuss . . .) they don’t need a name for it? Fwiw, the “British English” subset of the google n gram viewer shows flick knife holding somewhat steady over the decades, but generally not as common as the AmEng “switchblade.”
    While I was initially horrified at zythophile’s tale that he never tasted pizza until he’d gone off to university, perhaps I can respond in kind by admitting that it was a ways into my own undergraduate years before I ever tasted a properly British style of beer. I was reminded of this by this very thread, because the establishment where I crossed that particular sensory/cultural threshold (Mory’s in New Haven, which had Bass Ale on tap) was also probably the only place post-childhood where I frequently ate Welsh rarebit, it being one of the safer items on a menu which reflected the Anglophiliac tendencies of the old (and by then noticeably declining) WASP elite by featuring so-bland-that-it-might-as-well-be-English food.

  49. Grumbly: The point of salami is that it’s raw but cured; the exact ingredients vary. When pushed, an American will concede that salami is sausage, but most sausage is cooked before eating.

  50. I think I first heard of pizza through Dennis the Menace comics. I’m not sure when I first ate the real thing, but I suspect it was at university.

  51. Flickknife ought to be one word by now, it’s a missed opportunity for consecutive Ks. I remember when they (flickknives) were banned in England, I was about seven. I always wanted one after that.

  52. J.W. Brewer says:

    AJPKk: There’s the U.K. indie label Flicknife Records, but they eliminated one of the k’s when tightening up to a single word. I couldn’t say whether that was to make the spelling deliberately idiosyncratic (which people sometimes do for trade names to make them more distinctive and/or easier to protect legally) or whether it reflected a view, conscious or not, that consecutive k’s ought to be eliminated if possible.

  53. They should have gone with Switchblade Records.

  54. dearieme – “Round-eye” strikes me as either a cut of beef, or a rather rude way of expressing things.

  55. Bathrobe: I take it you mean the American rather than the English Dennis the Menace? Two different difficult little boys in two different comic strips conceived of and written independently and founded within a few days of each other.

  56. American.

  57. @ dearieme
    “The lack of aubergines might be worth bemoaning, but the lack of green peppers surely isn’t: they’re pretty dismal things anyway.”
    I agree. The green ones give me indigestion. Why can’t they just let them ripen? On the other hand jalapenos and pasillas are green peppers too and it’s pretty hard to get by without them.
    “A stranger business is that shop-bought tomatoes in Britain have always been awful, save for a brief period when “vine tomatoes” first appeared. Mind you, when I first went to the US I was appalled by their tomatoes too. (My standard of comparison is the crop my father grew in his greenhouse.)”
    Amen. “Shop-bought” is the operative word. Good tomatoes don’t travel and they are only really good in the peak season, however long that happens to be in your particular locality. And every minute they are off the vine they lose more and more of that tobaccy tomato vine stink that mkes them so good.
    “What I hadn’t bargained for was the discovery that Americans had perfected the art of growing tasteless apples and strawberries”
    That’s a function of raising fruit that can be shipped 3,000 miles. You come up with some pretty horrible varieties. BTW those varieties of apples are no longer available in Washington State; no market for them at all. I don’t see them in California either.
    “”Why is that strange?” Because the only non-Chinese there to eat it was a wandering Scots undergraduate. Where were the Yanks?”
    Yanks? In SF? All the “Yanks” were 3,000 miles to the east. Calling generic Americans “Yanks” is about like calling generic Europeans “Jerries”. It tends to hack the English off, among others.

  58. “Yankee” is a relative term. This has been covered here before.

  59. J.W. Brewer says:

    “Yankee” may be a relative term, but I’m not sure that the clipped form “Yank” (as a noun, as distinguished from the unrelated verb) is in any sort of regular intra-American use at all (except maybe for sports headlinese?), unless you were talking to foreigners or something. So I could see semi-jocularly using “Yank” to mean American if one were talking to a visiting Scot and trying to meet him (lexically speaking) halfway, but I can’t see using “Yank” to mean Northerner or New Englander or Vermonter or Vermonter who likes cheddar cheese on his apple pie (to take one conventional set of narrowing circles of reference).

  60. Jim: The green ones give me indigestion. Why can’t they just let them ripen? On the other hand jalapenos and pasillas are green peppers too and it’s pretty hard to get by without them.
    Green bell peppers are not “ripe” ? I don’t know what “ripe” means here – possibly that you can’t grow new plants from them ? After all, as you say, jalapeños and pasillas are necessary to life as we know it. To hell with reproductive bliss for jalapeños.
    Many people in Germany eat and like green bell peppers, whether raw or cooked. I have to admit, though, that I have rather gone off them in their uncooked form. It hadn’t occurred to me that they might be giving me indigestion.
    The main use I have for them nowadays is in very thin slices that I fry in olive oil along with garlic, with the goal of dumping it over thin spaghetti and then scarfing the lot.

  61. True. I take it back.
    Now what’s all this about hacking off the Brits by misusing the word “Yank”?

  62. j. del col says:

    All capsicum peppers were developed from hot varieties that originated in S. America. All peppers will ripen to colors other than green, including red, yellow, purple and brown. I used to grow numerous varieties of hot and sweet peppers, until the local whitetail deer herd became too numerous.
    In S. Africa, IIRC, sweet peppers are, or were, called mangoes. I have no idea why.

  63. What do they call mangoes?

  64. j. del col says:

    The mango/sweet pepper ID seems to still be current in the US South. Here’s a link on the subject.
    http://www.waywordradio.org/when-is-a-bell-pepper-a-mango-minicast/

  65. I’m from Vermont and the Cheddar cheese does not go on the pie, it goes next to it. A fellow Vermonter and I used to live in San Francisco and one night at dinner he ordered apple pie for dessert and asked if they could serve it with a piece of Cheddar. The server looked at him like he’d asked for it to be served with a strangled mouse on the plate but said he’d see what they could do. The pie arrived a few minutes later with a slab of Cheddar melted all over the slice of pie. I burst out laughing, laughed at least 5 minutes at the look on my friend’s face as he tried to choke it down, and I still laugh about it from time to time. Like now.

  66. the Cheddar cheese does not go on the pie
    Something I’ve just noticed but’s probably been going on for many years is that USians (NY Times), in addition to the place names, spell food & drink words like Cheddar and Champagne with a capital, whereas other English speakers don’t (cheddar & champagne).

  67. Deep-minded, whatever. I become deeper minded after lunchtime.

  68. Crown: as Ludwik Fleck relates, many learned German speakers even into the 19th century would write (“had the view”) that a hungry person “is heavier” before he eats than afterwards (provided he doesn’t overeat). This doesn’t come across in English as it does in German: schwerer, weil es ihm schwer ist, sich zu bewegen [heavier, because he finds it difficult to move].
    For hundreds of years (if not much longer) one finds a belief that a person was “lighter” when living than when dead – the soul acting as a balloon, you see. I’m quite willing to believe that you are deeper-minded after lunch – but are you also then more light-headed ?
    The context of what Fleck is saying is that the notion of Schwere (heaviness/weight) covered a slew of things that today are conceptually and verbally separated out, as having nothing “essentially” to do with each other. That is, we choose for various reasons to think this way, it is the scientific Denkstil of the day.
    While writing this little info-comment for you, I became aware that Fleck (who wrote in Polish and German) seems to be making a point that would apply only to German and Polish speakers. I need to look into this matter more closely – in particular whether the corresponding Latin expressions are similarly portmanteauish (four vowels in a row !).

  69. After lunch, bin ich immer schwer auf Draht. I think the champagne helps.

  70. Your German is getting really zingy, not to mention colloquial and with-it. That too may be due to the bubbly.

  71. - the soul acting as a balloon, you see
    I myself am generally more dirigible after a meal.

  72. USians (NY Times), in addition to the place names, spell food & drink words like Cheddar and Champagne with a capital
    That’s the NY Times, which has a number of peculiar usages. I, like most Americans, write cheddar and champagne.

  73. Another theory goes out the window, up the spout, down the tubes and into the garbage.

  74. J.W. Brewer says:

    Hey, I lowercased cheddar and am just as Amurrican as GMB (although not a Vermonter, so I will certainly defer to him for having misphrased the stereotypical pie/cheese relationship). Perhaps there is no One Right Way. I haven’t investigated which online corpora enable one to do reliable case-sensitive searches (although even then you have to back out sentence-initial uses and other things where capitalization will be context-specific).

  75. JW, I was basing my entire theory on GMB’s Cheddar and a couple of NY Times’ “Champagnes”, so except when I’m in Vermont I’ll defer to you & Language.

  76. Most cheeses are capitalized because they’re named after places, including Cheddar when it comes from Somerset, but when it comes from somewhere else (which is most of the time, cheddaring being a generic process), I make it cheddar. Ditto with swiss cheese, which is a generic form of Emmenthaler — per contra, Swiss cheese would be any cheese from Switzerland. Same story with champagne.

  77. But that doesn’t work with cognac. I use lower case for food and drinks and upper for places.

  78. Trond Engen says:

    I use upper case for drink to keep it out of reach for my children.

  79. Cheddar when it comes from Somerset, but when it comes from somewhere else (which is most of the time, cheddaring being a generic process), I make it cheddar. Ditto with swiss cheese, which is a generic form of Emmenthaler — per contra, Swiss cheese would be any cheese from Switzerland.
    I didn’t know that – as I take you to be saying – “swiss cheese” in America (possibly in GB too ?) denotes a generic form of Emmenthaler. Capitalizing “Swiss cheese”, though, is not really comparable to capitalizing “Cheddar”, because there is only one Cheddar from Somerset, but there is no one “Swiss cheese” from Switzerland, but at least 13 different, well-known kinds: Emmenthaler, Gruyère, Tête de Moine, Raclette, Sbrinz, Appenzeller etc.
    Capitalizing or not may help to make clear what is meant in America, where food industries are obsessed with uniformization. In Europe, though, consumers are simply familiar with the wide variety of cheeses made in various countries. Germans would find ridiculous any attempt to brand one particular kind of German cheese as “German cheese”, one particular kind of French cheese as “French cheese” and so on.
    Germany is the land of standards, but not of uniforms (not any more, that is).

  80. Well, sure. But the Champagne wine industry continues to be annoyed with the U.S. insistence than any bubbly wine may be labeled champagne, even if it isn’t even made from Vitis vinifera grapes.

  81. the U.S. insistence than any bubbly wine may be labeled champagne
    I don’t understand the “but” in “but the Champagne wine industry continues to be annoyed …”. Of course it is annoyed, precisely because U.S. industries try to uniformize designations. They do this in order to narcotize expectation, and delay discrimination until after you’ve already bought the stuff.

  82. J.W. Brewer says:

    Well, no. The Champagne industry is annoyed because they prefer a state of the world in which even lousy and overpriced sparkling wine can be marketed as “champagne” if it is produced in a specific part of French but excellent yet lower-priced sparkling wine in the same style cannot legally be marketed as “champagne” if it is produced elsewhere. They make more money that way. Whether a particular product-descriptive word refers to geographical origin or style (perhaps originating in one part of the world but able to be practiced elsewhere) is not a question with a uniform answer because typically the lawyers and/or legislators eventually get involved if there’s money at stake and the evolution of usage/meaning then becomes constrained based on what can and can’t be said without getting sued, but with different stopping places in different jurisdictions. Even in the U.S. it varies from tipple to tipple: wine descriptors typically are not geographically restricted – you can call something produced from California grapes “burgundy” if you want, but you can’t call whisk(ey) “Scotch” in the U.S. if it was distilled outside Scotland even if it tastes just like scotch.

  83. the Champagne wine industry
    I understand that you’re trying to prove a point, but that’s the most contrived piece of labeling I’ve ever heard, John!

  84. JJP Oud, you appear to lead a very sheltered life.

  85. To be sold as “bourbon”, sour mash whiskey must be made in the Kentucky county of that name.
    (The reason for that piece of slightly contrived labeling was that I couldn’t decide whether to capitalize the middle word in “Bourbon County, Kentucky”.)
    Did the NYT capitalize the first word in “French fries” when writing about the “freedom fries” movement?
    Do USians typically think that cheese made in Switzerland always has holes in it?
    Certainly many think that the principal kind of chocolate cake in Germany is what we call “German chocolate cake”. (As I’ve mentioned before, it was named after a Mr. German, an employee of a US chocolate company.)

  86. Oud: I meant, of course, that portion of the wine industry that is in Champany, viz. the districts of Aube, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne, Montagne de Reims, and Vallée de la Marne.
    Empty: I can only give vague answers, as I personally know too much about the subject. I suspect that ordinary Americans don’t even notice whether cheese is imported or not, unless they are the sort who go to specialty cheese stores or patronize the imported-cheese section of their supermarkets. I do know that most people here do not know the name Emmenthaler, as I have had to translate between Merkins and Furriners on this point:
    “What does he mean, Swiss cheese?”
    “He means Emmenthaler.”
    “Oh. Why didn’t he say so?”

  87. I can only give vague answers, as I personally know too much about the subject.
    That’s a wonderful line, I’m going to steal it ! It has the quality of a sound bite from Thank You For Smoking, or from a Michael Moore film.

  88. J.W.: The Champagne industry is annoyed because they prefer a state of the world in which even lousy and overpriced sparkling wine can be marketed as “champagne” if it is produced in a specific part of French
    Whereas in America, even lousy and overpriced sparkling wine can be marketed as “champagne” if it is not produced in a specific part of France.
    When I ended my comment with “delay descrimination until after you’ve already bought the stuff”, I meant discrimination in the low-heel sense of “recognize differences between”. I did not mean the high-heel sense of “exercise superior, discriminating taste”. When I buy Freedom fries, I expect them to be made in America, but “Freedom” tells me only that they are ideologically sound, not that they taste better than French fries.

  89. J.W. Brewer says:

    GS: maybe it’s better to think of it merely linguistically. For whatever set of historical reasons, by some relevant point in time at which the law began to focus on the issue, “champagne” in AmEng had taken on a generic meaning referring to style of production rather than specific geographical origin. American law quite sensibly recognizes that and refuses to give French producers the right to ban people from selling a product in America using the common name (from an AmEng perspective) descriptive of that product. By contrast, “cognac” in AmEng never really lost its geographical connotations, so it is presently illegal to sell stuff as “cognac” in the U.S. if it’s not from the relevant part of France. (This of course now freezes usage and precludes further evolution, but the general concept is for the law to be as discriminating-or-not as the natural-language lexicon.) Sometimes, of course, popular usage can drift narrower than the legal definition. Jack Daniels meets the definition of “bourbon” as a legal matter but that gives its makers the right but not the duty to so label it and they have chosen instead to market it as “Tennessee whiskey” as if that were a different thing altogether – presumably some consumers buy into the distinction and others consider it a subset of bourbon. (empty is repeating a well-established but inaccurate myth: not only can “bourbon” be made outside Kentucky, although in practice only a small percentage of total national production is, none of Kentucky’s bourbon production actually presently occurs in Bourbon Co. But Kentucky itself has enough positive consumer associations that, e.g., the bottle of Evan Williams sitting on my kitchen counter with a few fingers’ worth left in the bottom describes its contents nonredundantly as “Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.” It would probably be illegal to put that description on a product distilled outside Kentucky although by contrast, again because of actual usage as perceived by the relevant regulators, it’s legal in the U.S. to describe booze as “London dry gin” even if it was not produced within the boundaries of Greater London or even in England.)

  90. Thanks for your explanation, J.W. After the first few sentences, I realized that I had been thinking of this business as being like the tussles that take place here, for instance whether “feta cheese” has to be produced in Greece (it doesn’t, and now can even be made from cow’s milk).
    In other words, I was thinking of the USA and France as I would think of France and Greece. Heh, little rusty there on the ol’ sovereignty.

  91. J.W. Brewer: Have you ever had the luck to buy a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 15yr? I love all the Van Winkles — we had the 23 at our wedding — but for the money you can’t beat the 15. Money aside, I might even prefer it to the 20.

  92. I think it is a good thing that the French got thingy about names. It seems to me that by forcing people to stop producing generic clarets and burgundies, they helped induce the revolution in varietal wines, which has had some wonderful results.
    Regarding champagne, the Spanish have cava, the Italians have spumantes, and the Germans have Sekt, but Australians and Americans have to do with ‘sparkling wine’. They need a better marketing term.
    The whole issue is, of course, rather more technical since there are several different methods of making sparkling wine. At one site on French bottle labelling I found this:
    Crémant: Traditionally a Champagne with a low-pressure and a soft, creamy mousse, [the term is] now phased out in Champagne as part of the bargain struck with other French sparkling wines that have agreed to drop the term méthode champenoise. In return they have been exclusively permitted to use this old Champagne term to create their own appellations, such as Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant d’Alsace, etc.

  93. J.W. Brewer says:

    jamessal, no but I will certainly keep an eye out. My consumption of higher-end bourbon has been reasonably spotty and often depended on the whim of people giving me things as gifts. (One of the things I like about bourbon, actually, is the democratic quality where it actually gets pretty good at a pretty modest price point, so I will from time to time buy and enjoy a bottle of e.g. Heaven Hill or Old Crow when I would generally shy away from the scotch or gin or rum or whatnot available at an equivalent price point.) This year’s as-yet-unopened Christmas bottle, however, isn’t any kind of bourbon, but rather a single-barrel high end Demerara rum. But I do have a bottle in the house (and was just inspired to pour some as a reward to myself for shoveling out the driveway earlier) of Old Potrero 18th Century Style Whiskey, which is an interesting attempt by the Anchor Distillery people in San Francisco to recreate the colonial American mode of doing things: 100% rye malt mash run through a small copper pot still, aged not all that long in new barrels where the oak is “toasted” but not charred, and then bottled at barrel strength (a rather bracing 127 proof that is undrinkable w/o some further dilution).

  94. Grumbly: It does sound entertainingly paradoxical, doesn’t it? Of course, I meant simply “I can only give vague answers about what uniformed people think, because I am myself informed (and therefore cannot consult myself as a source), nor do I have anyone who is uninformed handy to poll.”

  95. Well, I wasn’t really asking for an answer. Just musing on the idea that people — maybe especially Americans, but probably not — are easily misled by the names of things.

  96. Well, I wasn’t really asking for an answer. Just musing on the idea that people — maybe especially Americans, but probably not — are easily misled by the names of things.

  97. Plato claimed that most people tend to confuse things with the names of those things, so most people should vote for him to arbitrate on what the differences are.

  98. One of the things I like about bourbon, actually, is the democratic quality where it actually gets pretty good at a pretty modest price point, so I will from time to time buy and enjoy a bottle of e.g. Heaven Hill or Old Crow when I would generally shy away from the scotch or gin or rum or whatnot available at an equivalent price point.)
    I agree completely. The Pappy 15 is about fifty bucks, or should be at the right store: some jack up the price on these allocated bottles, including one around here that put a hundred-dollar price tag on a bottle of rare beer (yes, beer), the Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout, until hordes of beer geeks — some of whom had followed the trucks delivering the stuff, freaking out more than a few drivers — boycotted the store, at which point the price soon dropped to fifty dollars — and then, like Keyser Soze, it was gone. The Pappy 23 we had at our wedding was fantastic, as Hat will attest (if he can remember), although I wouldn’t spend that much money — $225 (!) — for bourbon again, any bourbon. If I plan to dish out three digits, it’s gonna be scotch, and probably an Ardbeg.
    The Old Potrero sounds fascinating; I’m gonna send your description of it to a friend who recently moved to Richmond to run the bar of a fancy restaurant with a nice supply of rare liquor. He’ll likely know it, and if it not will try desperately to acquaint himself. I’ll mention the Demerara, too, since this friend introduced me to high-end rums.

  99. a rather bracing 127 proof that is undrinkable w/o some further dilution
    Yeah, that’s just about the point at which any liquor needs a little something. My favorite scotch to date (my last bottle of which I’ve saved maybe five, six fingers) — Ardbeg’s Corryvreckan — was 114 proof, and not only could it be drunk neat, I think it should be. That extra seven percent alcohol makes all the difference, though; I’m not sure any wood, or skill on the part of the distiller, could tame that enough.

  100. Is it possible to drink straight alcohol without dying, or is 114 proof about the limit?

  101. Oh no, you can do it. It’s just not tasty to anyone but hardcore alcoholics, I think.

  102. When 16, I and some friends were in Nuevo Laredo on a Saturday drinking 180 proof vodka that tasted like oranges. I spent much of the evening crawling through the streets, trying to get from A to B.

  103. But… so you could in theory just drink a little sip of the orange-flavored 180 proof and save a lot of time, and money on beer and wine etc. I guess the point of drinking anything with less than the maximum amount of alcohol is that you enjoy the taste of what you’re drinking or you prefer the buzz.
    I’m quite old to be working this out for the first time, I know.

  104. You should read Venedikt Erofeev’s Moskva-Petushki (the translations I’m aware of are called Moscow Circles and Moscow to the End of the Line); it’s a discussion of the theory and practice of alcoholism of the Russian school (which is to say, graduate-level), with analysis of various strengths and flavorings and their effect on the drinker.

  105. Oh, I remember that Moscow To the End of the Line! I’ll get it. I wanted to read it a while ago and then forgot. Believe it or not I actually wrote about him, & it, a couple of years ago here. Small world, Russia.

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