Citizens, your beloved and occasionally bibulous bastion of benevolence, I, the mighty TFD, am an avowed cheese fiend! Tell me any human who claims to be worthy of the name who fails to love grilled cheese, and I shall label them heathen and cowen both!
Welsh rarebit is the ultimate form of grilled cheese: broiled open-faced and laced with beer, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Its unusual name deserves more than a modicum of explanation.
First, the pronunciation. The word “rarebit” is a corruption of rabbit and it is properly pronounced as rabbit. The word rarebit has no other use than in the name of this recipe.
Michael Quinion writes: “Welsh rabbit is basically cheese on toast (the word is not ‘rarebit’ by the way, that’s the result of false etymology; ‘rabbit’ is here being used in the same way as ‘turtle’ in ‘mock-turtle soup’, which has never been near a turtle, or ‘duck’ in ‘Bombay duck’, which was actually a dried fish called bummalo)”.
In his 1926 edition of the Dictionary of Modern English Usage, the grammarian H. W. Fowler states a forthright view: “Welsh Rabbit is amusing and right. Welsh Rarebit is stupid and wrong.”
According to the American satirist Ambrose Bierce, the continued use of rarebit was an attempt to rationalize the absence of rabbit, writing in his 1911 Devil’s Dictionary: “RAREBIT n. A Welsh rabbit, in the speech of the humorless, who point out that it is not a rabbit. To whom it may be solemnly explained that the comestible known as toad in the hole is really not a toad, and that ris de veau à la financière is not the smile of a calf prepared after the recipe of a she-banker.”
The first recorded reference to the dish was “Welsh rabbit” in 1725, but the origin of the term is unknown.
There is some suggestion that Welsh Rabbit derives from a South Wales Valleys staple, in which a generous lump of cheese is placed into a mixture of beaten eggs and milk, seasoned with salt and pepper, and baked in the oven until the egg mixture has firmed and the cheese has melted. Onion may be added and the mixture would be eaten with bread and butter and occasionally with the vinegar from pickled beetroot.
The word Welsh may have been adopted because it was used by the English to mean “foreign” or “inferior”. It is also possible that the dish was attributed to the Welsh because they were considered particularly fond of cheese, as evidenced by Andrew Boorde in his Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge (1542), when he wrote “I am a Welshman, I do love cause boby, good roasted cheese.” In Boorde’s account, “cause boby” is the Welsh caws pobi, meaning “baked cheese”, but whether it implies a recipe like Welsh rarebit is a matter of speculation.
The notion that toasted cheese was a favorite dish irresistible to the Welsh has existed since the Middle Ages. In A C Merie Talys (100 Merry Tales), a printed book of jokes of 1526 AD (of which William Shakespeare made some use), it is told that God became weary of all the Welshmen in heaven, ‘which with their krakynge and babelynge trobelyd all the others’, and asked the Porter of Heaven Gate, St Peter, to do something about it. So St Peter went outside the gates and called in a loud voice ‘ Cause bobe, yt is as moche to say as rostyd chese ‘: at which all the Welshmen ran out, and when St Peter saw they were all outside, he went in and locked the gates, which is why there are no Welshmen in heaven. The 1526 compiler says he found this story ‘Wryten amonge olde gestys’.
A legend mentioned in Betty Crocker’s Cookbook claims that Welsh peasants were not allowed to eat rabbits caught in hunts on the estates of the nobility, so they used melted cheese as a substitute.
Welsh rarebit is a simple recipe, but one that demands the best ingredients in the proper proportions. I prefer a strongly-flavored rarebit, so I used aged cheddar for ½ the cheese mixture. Lancashire cheese is a traditional favorite in this recipe, and I like it for its gently assertive flavor. My last addition is unique to TFD though – I use a good amount of Welsh Cheddar flavored with ale and mustard, which goes perfectly in this recipe!
I also find stout adds a great flavor, slightly offset with an equal amount of lager. This recipe is the ultimate version of a classic, Citizens – try it today and learn of its magnificence firsthand!
Battle on – The Generalissimo