Welsh Rarebit, the words are simple enough. The concept as easy. So, why all the confusion? “What?” you say. You’re not befuddled. Heck, I most certainly was. I was so perplexed I do believe I temporarily entered the realm of Alice’s rabbit hole!
What is Welsh Rabbit?
Do you adore Grilled Cheese? How ‘bout Fondue? If the answer is yes, creamy melted ooey gooey cheese resting a top toasted bread or English muffin may just be your Rinktum Ditty.
An 1897 explanation from The Gentleman Farmer
Welsh Rabbit—Before proceeding to enumerate several other recipes for making this much discussed compound, let us proceed to the settlement of its name. We have been asked why we called it and spelled it "rabbit" instead of "rarebit." The question of its correct orthography is as unsettled as its proper mode of making…The growing popularity of the Welsh rabbit as a luncheon dish for after theater suppers and card parties, and other informal social gatherings, makes it quite essential that its origin and name should be definitely settled and correctly understood.
The dish originated, or was at least popularized, in the district of Wales, from which it derived its patronymic. The Century Dictionary alludes to this name as "a term of jocular origin, formed after the fashion of Norfolk capon, a red herring, etc." In this connection it says, "Owing to an absurd notion that rabbit in this phrase is a corruption of rarebit (as if a 'rare-bit'), the word is often so written.”
A modern explanation from the University of Wyoming’s article; Say “Cheese” with Welsh Rabbit which also happens to include a recipe for Welsh Rabbit from Chowning’s Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg.
The history about this dish is rather unclear. The dish originated in Wales, and it seems to have been born from economic necessity. Some say the Welsh invented it as a consolatory meal after an unsuccessful hunt. Others say it’s a tavern dish inspired by the Welsh love of cheese. As Caroline Russock phrases it… “In 18th century England, rabbit was the meat you ate if you were poor, and the Welsh were so poor that they couldn’t afford rabbit, so they ate cheese.”
Then there’s the issue with the name – rabbit or rarebit? According to folk legend, Welsh Rarebit was originally “Welsh Rabbit,” and it was meant to cast slander on the Welsh, who allegedly were not very skilled at catching rabbits. During the late 18th century, derogatory terms such as rabbit became frowned upon in polite company and the name evolved into rarebit, meaning a choice morsel. Today, rarebit has come to mean tasty morsels of bread covered in a mustardy cheese sauce.
As for the Rinktum Ditty, (Rum Tum Ditty) apparently, it’s a child’s classic comfort dish “gussied” up with tomatoes or tomato soup; a Tomato Rabbit or a Blushing Bunny:) The soup version is smoother and easier to make. It becomes a delicious sauce to serve on toast or, the kiddies can enjoy a sort of fondue with bites of toasted bread speared and ready for dunking!
Again from The Gentleman Farmer:
…The first thing to know is that the rabbit is itself a relish, and to employ condiments freely in its making is to mistake the nature and proper use of the dish. Therefore to so possess it with double pomp is wasteful and ridiculous excess. It is peculiarly a luncheon, never a meal, and entirely out of place as a dessert. It is the most exclusive dish in the long menu of edibles. It will sulk and be sullen in the company of the aristocratic terrapin or canvas-back, and it will rebel and resent the presence of the plebeian liver, codfish, or chitterlings. It must be eaten entirely alone. You may, however, surround it with the most promiscuous conglomerate of potations pottle deep, and it will float about in perfect harmony with each and all. It is essentially a toper, and it is all the same, whether it indulges in the smoky "usquebaugh” of the Irish, of the Scots, the rich "old port” of the Londoners, the fragrant "eau de vie” of the French, the fierce "arrack” of the Russians, or the delicate "lachrymae Christi” of the Italians. It will hold them all steady, and even walk off, arm in arm, with its old friend, "Colonel Jag” of Kentucky, without reeling. It is a great soberer, and particularly effective in guiding towards home the feet of the erring…
I should note here, a Kentucky version of the Welsh Rabbit might very well be The Kentucky Hot Brown.
So, what makes a perfect Welsh Rarebit? The Guardian has a rather in depth article on just that!
”The confusion that exists in the minds of so many people, as to the difficulty of making a rabbit, arises from the strain that is placed upon points in the making that are wholly immaterial to the result. Some insist that ale should be used to thin the cheese; others are quite as decided in favor of milk; if you wish to see how little either of these methods amount to you may try water, and you will succeed very well. Our opinion is that the cheese is less refractory with milk. Others, again, think an egg should be used. If the cheese is very stringy, and this not desirable (though most people prefer it so), the yolk may be stirred in just at the end of the making. The egg smoothes or shortens the cheese, but blunts the pungent flavor somewhat. It is much better to poach it, and drop it on top of the rabbit when served; it then becomes a Golden Buck.
Make your toast of fresh bread, if you have it, and cut the slices moderately thick, that it may be soft. The rabbit should be eaten quickly, and it is a mistake to keep one working long and hard upon tough old crusts. A little practice is all that is necessary to place you where all the points of making can be easily covered. You can only make the rabbit by being an expert: it is much like compounding a fine mayonnaise dressing, the evil one seems to be in every ingredient, with a new beginner; but practice soon supplies a touch to the expert that will exorcise them into harmonious fellowship.”The Gentleman Farmer
Yes, a Golden Buck is simply a Welsh Rabbit with a poached egg dropped in:) So revered is the dish of Welsh Rabbit the author of The Bachelor and the Chafing Dish published in 1895, devoted an Epicurean Ode to it’s existence.
…And the reed bird (who isn’t a sparrow)
Has a sweetness all his own,
As sweet as the splendid marrow
In the depths of a well-grilled bone.
But these dainties are rand and bitter,
And their finest witchery pales,
In the light of the golden glitter
Of the rabbit that comes from Wales.
We still haven’t touched on the English Monkey. It seems that we humans are not always satisfied with simple. For some reason, we just like to stir things up every now and again. Of course, that leads us to what cookbooks like to call “variations.” An English Monkey is just one of those many novelties made without ale or beer. For those of you wishing to explore, I give you An English Monkey on Bean and Nut Loaf. Enjoy:)
The Boston Cooking School Cook Book by Fannie Farmer offered this recipe for an English Monkey in 1918.
1 cup stale bread crumbs
1/2 cup soft mild cheese, cut in small pieces
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
Few grains cayenne
Soak bread crumbs fifteen minutes in milk. Melt butter, add cheese, and when cheese has melted, add soaked crumbs, egg slightly beaten, and seasonings. Cook three minutes, and pour over toasted crackers which have been spread sparingly with butter.
And if you’re so inclined, an Oyster Rabbit:
1 cup oysters
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
Few grains cayenne
1/2 lb. soft mild cheese, cut in small pieces
Clean, parboil, and drain oysters, reserving liquor; then remove and discard tough muscle. Melt butter, add cheese and seasonings; as cheese melts, add gradually oyster liquor, and eggs slightly beaten. As soon as mixture is smooth, add soft part of oysters. Serve on unsweetened wafer crackers or bread toasted on one side, rarebit being poured over un-toasted side.
Marion Harland’s Complete Cookbook published in 1906 included this recipe for Nonpareil Rarebit:
I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit for National Cheese Day:) Is there a day to celebrate Welsh Rabbit? Why of course there is, mark your calendars kiddies, it’s September 3rd!!!
1. The Gentleman Farmer @Google Books
2. The Bachelor and the Chafing Dish by Deshler Welch-1895
3. Rinktum Ditty: An Arizona Logger's Treat
4. Spanish Welsh Rarebit (and a link to a whole slew of Welsh rabbit recipes)
5. Baked Potato With Ring Tum Ditty from Paula Deen
Welsh Rabbit images courtesy of wiki:)