How 16 Iconic Foods Got Their Name

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Try not to start salivating as you dig into the history behind the human-inspired handles of the following popular dishes and desserts.

Eggs Benedict

The history of invention is riddled with dueling claims. The credit for who created this classic brunch dish and why is no different, but most people agree that the country’s most notorious traitor Benedict Arnold had nothing to do with it. Eggs Benedict first hit plates in important New York establishments post-Civil War, during the time known as the Gilded Age. One legend holds that a regular patron of Delmonico’s (the very first public dining room/restaurant in the United States), Mrs. LeGrand Benedict, consulted chef Charles Ranhofer when she couldn’t find anything on the menu she wanted. He allegedly came up with the recipe for the dish that was subsequently published in his 1894 cookbook. Another story has it that in 1894, Wall Street broker Lemuel Benedict walked into the Waldorf Astoria Hotel after a night of partying and requested “buttered toast, bacon, two poached eggs, and a hooker of hollandaise,” according to a 1942 New Yorker interview. Chef Oscar Tschirky liked the concept so much that he added it to the breakfast and luncheon rotations. It was supposedly Chef Tschirky that substituted Canadian bacon.

Peach Melba and Melba Toast

Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba inspired one of the most revered chefs of all time, Auguste Escoffier, to whip up not one, but two dishes in her honor. According to PBS’ The History Kitchen series, the French gastronomy genius says he first made peach Melba, a simple dessert of poached peaches, raspberry sauce, and vanilla ice cream, when Dame Melba was staying at the Savoy Hotel where he worked at the time. To further honor the diva, he also created Melba toast, a very crunchy bread cooked under low heat until golden brown.

Cobb Salad

East Coast and West Coast rivalries go way back and include chefs competing for salad fame: The chef’s salad originated in the East, but, according to lore, the Cobb salad was conceived in 1937 by Bob Cobb, the owner of The Brown Derby. He needed to feed Sid Grauman, owner of the now landmark Chinese Theatre. Rumor has it that Cobb tossed together a salad with things he foraged from the fridge—a head of lettuce, an avocado, some romaine, watercress, tomatoes, cold chicken breast, a hard-boiled egg, chives, cheese, and old-fashioned French dressing—before adding some crisp bacon to top it off. A salad star was born, and it quickly became a mainstay on the Derby’s menu.

Lobster Newburg

Remember Delmonico’s in Manhattan? As America’s first restaurant—opening in New York in 1837—the establishment gets credit as the birthplace of this elegant saucy seafood entrée, according to the New York Times. It was originally known as lobster a la Wenberg after a wealthy sea captain who imported fruit from Cuba and frequented Delmonico’s. One day in 1876, he stopped in to brag about his discovery of a new way to cook the shellfish. He demonstrated in a chafing dish and had owner Charles Delmonico taste it. Delmonico added it to the menu, naming it after its creator. But months later the two had a falling out and Delmonico banished Wenberg, taking the dish off the menu. But by this point, it was a favorite among the regulars who continued to request it. Delmonico swapped the “w” and the “n” and rechristened the dish Lobster Newberg, then added it back to the rotation.

The Reuben Sandwich

The classic corned beef (or pastrami) on rye (or pumpernickel) is another example of contested naming rights in the food world. The smothered sandwich might be the late-night masterpiece of grocer Reuben Kulakofsky, who threw them together to feed hungry poker players at Omaha’s Blackstone Hotel in 1925. Another story says that the namesake was actually the Arnold Reuben, the German owner of the now-shuttered Reuben’s Delicatessen in New York City. That story claims Reuben first combined the meat, Swiss cheese, thick sliced bread, sauerkraut, and Russian (Thousand Island) dressing in 1914 to appease a hungry friend of Charlie Chaplin’s, Annette Seelos. By the way, Russian dressing doesn’t hail from Russia. Instead, it was thought up in New Hampshire.

Quiche Lorraine

It turns out this brunch menu regular is not named after a person, but a place—a region in northeastern France just below the German border. The area was once the German-ruled medieval kingdom of Lothringen. It was renamed Lorraine by the French but many residents used to speak a half-German, half-French dialect. The word “quiche” was derived from the German word for cake (kuchen). The original ingredients list, recipe, and serving recommendations were also more heavily influenced by the German culture there. The authentic quiche recipe only contains heavy cream, eggs, and bacon or chopped ham. It was more of an egg custard pie baked in a brioche pastry. Eventually, it morphed to include French pastry dough and a soft cheese like Emmenthaler or Gruyere.

Salisbury Steak

Dr. James Henry Salisbury believed food and diet was the key to health: He researched his theories during the Civil War by treating Union soldiers’ chronic diarrhea with a strict regimen of chopped meat. After 30 years of testing and observation, he published his ideas in 1888’s The Relation of Alimentation and Disease and sparked one of the earliest fad diet crazes in the United States. He claimed that minced beef patties were a health food; he also branded fresh fruits and vegetables as unhealthy. The culinary craze Dr. Salisbury started was an early form of today’s low- or no-carb programs, and it was popular for nearly 20 years, leading to the steak being named after him. He was probably rolling over in his grave when TV dinners started pairing his steak with unhealthy (in his mind) potatoes and apple compote.

Bananas Foster

In the early 1950s, New Orleans was a major point of entry for an array of imported goods. Bananas from Central and South America came in by the boatload, making them cheap and readily available to Crescent City restaurants. Owen Brennan, the owner of the French Quarter favorite Brennan’s (still in business, by the way), challenged his chef Paul Blange to come up with a sweet treat that included bananas. (According to the official New Orleans visitor’s guide, Brennan also needed to supply Holiday Magazine with an innovative new recipe for a feature on the eatery.) Blange mixed butter, sugar, cinnamon, bananas, vanilla ice cream, and two types of alcohol—banana liqueur and dark rum—and set the whole thing on fire, tableside. And the name? It comes from Richard Foster, a local businessman, civic leader, and, most importantly, a good friend of Brennan’s. Bananas Foster is still one of the most popular menu items during Brennan’s jazz brunch.

Sloppy Joe

The history of the Sloppy Joe has many different myths attached to it. One story sees the Sloppy Joe as the brainchild of a short-order cook called Joe at Floyd Angell’s cafe in Sioux City, IA, in 1930. Loose meat sandwiches were (and still are!) very popular in the Midwest, but Joe ratcheted the concept up a notch by adding tomato sauce. Another origin story takes us to Havana, Cuba and Ernest Hemingway. Allegedly, Hemingway would visit a Havana bar by the name of—you guessed it—Sloppy Joe’s that served a loose meat sandwich. When visiting bars in nearby Key West, Hemingway convinced one of his favorite watering holes to change their name from The Silver Slipper to—wait for it—Sloppy Joe’s, after his favorite Havana bar. They began serving loose meat sandwiches too, partially inspired by their Cuban namesake.

Beef Wellington

This decadent baked British dish features red meat slathered in mushrooms or foie gras, a Madeira sauce, and the whole thing wrapped in puff pastry. According to Delish.com, it’s named after Field Marshall Arthur Wellesley, The Duke of Wellington. At the time, chefs would create culinary tributes to important people; this war hero played an important part in the Battle of Waterloo and the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte. However: In 2013, The Telegraphresearched the recipe and couldn’t find any that used the name until the 20thcentury—and it was only in American cookbooks. The Oxford English Dictionary had the first traceable mention of the dish, and it referenced a 1939 guide to dining out in New York.

Apple Brown Betty

 

The Oxford Companion to Food speculates that an African-American cook named Betty originated the recipe. And supposedly the “brown” in the title referred to Betty’s skin tone and not the tan color of the dessert. The recipe wasn’t published until 1864 when the Yale Literary Magazine included it.

Graham Crackers

The 1800s was the beginning of the mass production and industrialization of food. It meant that families stopped baking their own bread and began buying “nutrient-devoid loaves,” according to the HuffPost. This bothered Connecticut evangelical minister Sylvester Graham, who also believed that exercising, refraining from alcohol or smoking, eating a vegetarian high-fiber diet, and getting quality sleep nightly could ease carnal urges and help keep followers on a devout path. The Presbyterian minister and healthy eating advocate believed lust led to headaches, breathing troubles, spinal diseases, epilepsy, and even insanity. So he encouraged his flock to make their own bread including his original Graham bread. That recipe—a bland nutty loaf—was the precursor to the sugary Graham cracker. Recipes for Graham Crackers started appearing in cookbooks in 1882, 31 years after his death. Nabisco started selling them across the nation in 1898 and added honey in 1925 for the Honey Maid line.

Chicken Tetrazzini

Operatic soprano Luisa Tetrazzini, the Florentine nightingale, became the titular inspiration for this pasta casserole when it was invented in 1908, according to the San Francisco Travel Association. It isn’t the only food with a human namesake supposedly originated in San Franciso: Oysters Kirkpatrick was first served by chef Ernest Arbogast at The Palace Hotel in 1900 and was named in honor of the hotel manager at the time, Colonel John C. Kirkpatrick. In 1910, chef Victor Hertler crafted celery Victor, a side of celery stalks immersed in chicken, veal, and vegetable stocks and topped with salt, pepper, chervil, olive oil and tarragon vinegar, at The St. Francis Hotel. Solari’s Restaurant claims it invented crab Louis, named after Louis XIV who loved gorging himself on shellfish, in 1914.

Crepes Suzette

In 1895, 14-year-old assistant chef Henri Charpentier at the Café de Paris in Monte Carlo was asked to prepare a dessert for the Prince of Wales—and future King of England, Edward VII. Charpentier’s nerves got the better of him, and the dessert accidentally caught fire; too afraid to keep his royal highness waiting, he tasted it to see if it was OK. The dish was not only acceptable but delicious. When Charpentier explained that he would call it Crepes Princesse, the prince asked that it instead be named in honor of his female companion, Suzette.

Tootsie Rolls

 

Leo Hirschfield, an Austrian immigrant, came to America with a few family recipes and a dream of creating a candy empire. According to the Tootsie Roll Industries‘ timeline, Hirschfield invented the hand-rolled chocolate chews in 1896 and started selling them for a penny out of his New York shop. Tootsie was the nickname of his young daughter Clara. By 1905, he had automated and moved to a four-story factory. By 1913, 700 million of the confections had been sold, many delivered by horse and buggy.

Fettuccine Alfredo

In the early part of the 20th century, Italian restaurant owner Alfredo di Lelio was concerned about his pregnant wife Ines, who felt nauseated and had lost her appetite. Di Lelio, who lived in Rome, thought the key would be rich noodles loaded with Parmigiano cheese, butter, and heavy cream. It worked—Ines could not resist; once di Lelio added it to the menu, neither could his customers, including some Hollywood celebrities. The Hollywood stars enjoyed it so much that they asked for the recipe and raved about Alfredo’s fettuccine to the press and other members of the Hollywood elite when they returned home.

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