From lamingtons to sandwiches: looking at eponymous foods
For some, Anna Pavlova is considered one of the greatest ballet dancers in history. For others, her legacy lives on in the form of the dessert she inspired. We celebrate her birthday on 31 January (by the Old Style of dating; her actual birthday according to the Gregorian calendar would be 12 February), and in her honour, we look at a few other eponymous foods and drinks that were named after people or places.
A ‘pavlova’ is a dessert made of meringue, whipped cream, and fruit, originating in Australia and New Zealand. The dessert was named after the Russian ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova, after her tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1926. Although two nations have been in dispute for decades over the true origins of the dish, the first citation of ‘pavlova’ in the Oxford English Dictionary is from a New Zealand source, Davis Dainty Dishes:
Pavlova. . . dissolve all but a teaspoonful of Gelatine in the hot water, and all the sugar except a dessertspoonful.
That said, it still doesn’t solve the mystery of the pavlova’s origins, and the OED notes that the origin is both Australian and New Zealand.
Quintessentially English, the beef Wellington is a popular option for a traditional Sunday lunch. There are several theories as to how the beef Wellington got its name, with the most popular being that the dish was named after Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington because of his love of a dish made of beef, truffles, mushrooms, Madeira, and pâté, cooked in pastry. There is, however, insufficient evidence that he did have a particular affinity for such a dish, and it is also possible that it was named by an English chef who wanted to give a more anglicized name to the French filet de bœuf en croûte.
Whichever story is true, if either, it can be said with certainty that the Duke of Wellington did inspire the name of an important British clothes-item: the wellington boot.
The sandwich is said to be named after John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, who once spent 24 hours at the gaming-table without any other refreshment than some slices of cold beef placed between pieces of toast.
Because of the widespread popularity of the sandwich, the word has come to have a range of meanings. For example, Oxford Dictionaries also define ‘sandwich’ as ‘a sponge cake of two or more layers with jam or cream between,’ as in the Victoria sandwich, and notes that this is a primarily British usage. The word can also be used as a verb, usually ‘to be sandwiched between’ something and something else.
The lamington is another dessert particular to Australia and New Zealand; however, there is not the same dispute over the origins of the lamington, as there is for the pavlova. The lamington is named after Lord Lamington, Governor of Queensland from 1895 to 1901, and it can therefore be said with some certainty that the lamington originated in Australia.
Defined as ‘a square of sponge cake dipped in melted chocolate and grated coconut’, there are several accounts of the exact origins of the lamington. Some claim that Lord Lamington’s cook accidently dropped the sponge in a pot of chocolate and had to act quickly, while others say that the cook was asked at the last minute to create a dessert for a large number of guests and with only a few ingredients. The true story is unclear, though it is rumoured that Lord Lamington himself disliked the dessert that was named after him, apparently referring to them as ‘those bloody poofy woolly biscuits.’
The Waldorf salad was first served in the Waldorf Hotel in New York, before it merged with the Astoria Hotel to become the Waldorf-Astoria. Its creator, Oscar Tschirky, known colloquially as ‘Oscar of the Waldorf’, was responsible for the creation of a number of dishes that came out of the Waldorf during his years as maître d’hôtel. The salad became so well-known and popular that Cole Porter mentioned it in his song, ‘You’re the Top’, from Anything Goes:
You’re the top!
You’re the Waldorf salad.
You’re the top!
You’re a Berlin ballad.
In addition to the Waldorf salad, Oscar of the Waldorf is credited with the creation of eggs Benedict, or, at least naming the dish and putting it on the Waldorf’s menu. There are several Benedicts who claim to have inspired the dish, including Lemuel Benedict. The then Wall Street stock broker wandered into the Waldorf Hotel in 1894 hoping to find a cure for his hangover. In an interview recorded in The New Yorker, he reportedly ordered ‘buttered toast, poached eggs, crisp bacon, and a hooker of hollandaise’. Oscar Tschirky liked the idea of the dish so much, that he put it on the breakfast and luncheon menus and named it after the patron who first ordered it. Tschirky did make a few changes – he substituted ham for bacon and a toasted English muffin for the toast.
A Battenberg is a light sponge cake, covered in marzipan, which when cut in a cross section displays a pink and yellow check pattern, and is primarily found in the UK. It was created by chefs of the British Royal household to celebrate the marriage of Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884, the name of whom comes from the German town of Battenberg.
Due to anti-German resentment in Britain during the First World War, Prince Louis changed his name from Battenberg to the more English-sounding Mountbatten. The cake, however, kept its original name and continues to be called Battenberg.
The Bellini is a cocktail consisting of peach juice or purée mixed with champagne or Prosecco, and was invented sometime in the 30s or 40s by Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry’s Bar in Venice. The cocktail’s light pink colour reminded Cipriani of the colour used by fifteenth-century Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini in a painting of a saint.
The earliest OED citation for ‘Bellini’ in English is currently 1956, and it is one of the words OED editors are seeking to find earlier evidence for in the OED Appeals project. Other food and drink Appeals include ‘Long Island iced tea’, ‘Earl Grey’, ‘baked Alaska’, and ‘mochaccino’. You can view the OED’s food and drink Appeals here.