“Clean your plate, Pagie, we’re having good, old brown Betty for dessert tonight,” my father encouraged me.
“Oh, boy, I love brown Betty,” I replied. “But, Daddy, who in Sam Hill was Betty?”
He allowed as how he hadn’t a clue, but whomever she was, she sure had a good-tasting dessert named after her.
It’s interesting to think about how many food names are associated with people. Take a look:
A, Pommes Anna (Potatoes Anna to you and me.) are delicious, but like Betty, nobody knows who Anna was.
B, A favorite of mine, eggs Benedict, was first served in1894 to a Lemuel Benedict, wealthy Wall Street broker, who strolled into the Waldorf Astoria looking for a cure for his hangover. He ordered toast, poached eggs, bacon and a hooker of Hollandaise. The chef was so impressed that he put the dish on the menu, using English muffins and Canadian bacon.
C, Caesar salad wasn’t named for the emperor Julius, but for its inventor Caesar Cardini, at his restaurant in Tijuana.
D, How about spotted Dick, the boiled pudding with bits of dried fruit? Dick joins Betty and Anna as a mystery person, but our British friends have been enjoying the dish since the 1850s.
E, I thought steak Esterhazy was named for a friend of my Aunt Rachel’s, Ester Hazy, who had given her the recipe. Turns out it honors a 19th century prince of Hungary.
F, Mr. Richard Foster was a great friend of the Brennans, of New Orleans restaurant fame. He was so dear to them that they entitled their banana dish bananas Foster.
G, My favorite ice cream, Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, is so called for Jerry Garcia, lead singer of the Grateful Dead.
H, Hoppin’ John: poor old John, lost forever to history, but still hoppin’ around with his bowlful of black eyes peas, rice and hog jowl every New Year’s Day.
I, How about timbales a la Irving, served long ago at Delmonico’s and named after Washington Irving, the author. They’re crisp pastry shells filled with fish or meat and creamy sauce. No sign of the pumpkin misplaced by the unfortunate headless horseman.
J, I pray for coquilles St. Jacques, to appear on my plate the divine scallop dish named in tribute to St. James, a devout fisherman who was martyred in 44 AD.
K, I’ll take a Kaiser roll any time; the original ones were first concocted in the 15th century in honor of the Holy Roman emperor. His profile was stamped on top.
L, Lane Cake made Clayton, Alabama famous when resident Emma Lane won first place at the county fair with her recipe: four layers with a fruit and nut filling and white icing, not to mention a certain dousing of something boozy, like bourbon.
M, Some folks say the bloody Mary was named for the English queen Mary Tudor who had hundreds of Protestants persecuted in an attempt to restore Catholicism. More likely, it was so called for a barmaid at a spot called the Bucket of Blood in Chicago.
N, Lobster Newberg is right up there with Coquilles St Jacques on my wish list. It was created for sea captain Ben Wenberg by his buddy, the chef at Delmonico’s.
O, Oysters Rockefeller are as rich as John D. Rockefeller, for whom they were named.
P, A pavlova is a meringue and fruit dessert as airy and delightful as the ballet dancer Anna Pavlova, hence its name.
Q, Queen of Sheba cake, with its chocolate, almonds and rum, is as rich and exotic as the biblical queen herself.
R, We love a Reuben ever so often at my house. Both Arnold Reuben, owner of a deli in New York City, and Reuben Kulakofsky, grocer in Omaha, laid claim to its invention in the early 20th century.
S, Poor old Limpin’ Susan; she was married to Hoppin’ John and that’s all we know, except for her yummy recipe for a shrimp, okra and rice dish.
T, Tootsie was what candy maker Leo Hirschfield called his little girl, Clara. When he came up with the idea of wrapping chocolate taffy in paper and selling it for a penny a piece, he named his treat Tootsie Roll.
W, Get out the vodka, orange juice and Galliano and make yourself either a cocktail or a cake called a Harvey Wallbanger. Who was Harvey? A fun-loving, sandal-wearing, beach bumming ne-er-do-well surfer, maybe, but he has a delicious dessert named for him.
That’s it, the ABC’s of why many foods have people names. Now, who wants a bowlful of Betty’s good old apple brown Betty with whipped cream atop?
Page H. Onorato is a retired teacher.