I know I have had this discussion before, maybe with my mother. Is the lovely warm cheddar cheese melt called Welsh Rabbit or Welsh Rarebit?
My first introduction to this luncheon dish was during shopping trips with Mom. Lunch in a real restaurant was a real treat, since we rarely ate out. Also, the seasonings and elegant presentation of the luncheon were part of my manners education. Mom schooled me on napkin, fork and spoon use. Our usual biyearly Saturday morning excursion was through Severance Center, and we ate at Halle’s Geranium Room. Mom usually ordered the Rarebit.
Welsh Rarebit was a leading luncheon item on the famous Higbee’s Silver Grill’s menu, a popular dish served over melba toast. Very light, feminine, 60s fare. I only remember eating once in the Silver Grill when I was young. It was special then because of the cardboard stove that came with my meal. I probably returned there a few more times, but memory blurs rushed events. The downtown restaurants that stick in my mind are surrounded by story and special people, like Stouffer's at Euclid and East 14th Street which was across the street from the Hanna Building. Grandpa Lennon was a stockbroker at the Hanna Building for Murch and Company. On the rare occasions I showed up for a visit at his office, he loved to treat me. I was a college student when, on one occasion, I was truly charmed to be introduced to people who stood up from their desks and adjusted their suit coats before they shook my hand. Then grandpa and I strolled across Euclid Ave. to the elegant dark interior of Stouffers.
Strolling was not a term anyone would use walking with Mom. My steps had to match the speed of her motorized wheelchair. Mom’s handicap meant that she planned her excursions down to the minute. She savored each escape from the humdrum confines of her wheelchair paths around the house. She plotted her trips to the Severance Mall so she could traverse the shops needed and make the purchases on her list within the time frame her body would allow. The luncheon was usually our last stop before Dad picked us up, and the Geranium Room was handicap accessible.
The rarebit was served over toast, but I liked it best when I crumbled the buttery muffins into the cheese. This was also a favorite of Mom’s. Yes, it was listed as rarebit on the menu, but the word never truly made sense to me. What was so rare about a seasoned cheese sauce? Years later, trying to recreate the recipe, the closest that would satisfy me was a sharp cheddar and beer sauce. I also spent years trying to perfect the muffin recipe.
What is in a name? Rarebit dominates in published recipes, but given the history of the dish, Rabbit makes more sense. The disparaging tone of a dinner absent of meet, even of something so humble as a rabbit, seems logical.
Most of the recipes I found in Joy of Cooking and other reputable tomes were named Welsh Rarebit; however, sometimes both Welsh Rabbit and Welsh Rarebit were given as the name of the dish. A hunt through the Oxford English Dictionary presented Welsh Rabbit as having the prior publication as also presented by the Online Etymology Dictionary:
“Among the English, Welsh was used disparagingly of inferior or substitute things, hence Welsh rabbit (1725), also perverted by folk-etymology as Welsh rarebit (1785).” http://www.etymonline.com
So the choice of name for a recipe comes down to the intent of the namer. Should the dish be modern or archaic? Should it blend with the heavy white napkins from Halle’s Geranium Room in the 1960s or the rustic table of a dark Welsh kitchen in the 1700s? I don’t think either name will disturb the taste of a good sharp cheddar and beer.
Regarding the linked recipes, the cook truly needs the full half-pound of real butter to recreate the Higbee muffin. No substitute will do.