How British Food Favorites Got Their Names

How British Food Favorites Got Their Names

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From Scotch eggs to Bloody Marys, the British have many odd food favorites. And in a new book, What Caesar Did for My Salad, author Albert Jack reveals the origins of these strange dishes, and, more importantly, how they go their names.


The Scots are known for deep-fried Mars bars, pizza, and well, just about anything deep-fried. So it is no surprise that a Scotch egg is thought to be Scottish – it’s a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, dipped in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. The irony is that this dish is not of true Scottish origin. It comes from India of all places but was brought to Britain by soldiers returning home


Also known as Welsh rabbit, rarebit isn’t rabbit at all. In fact, it doesn’t contain any meat! The dish, which was created in the 1700s, is essentially cheese on toast with added ingredients. The English, who are known for teasing the Welsh (as well as Scottish and Irish), referred to the dish as the Welsh Rabbit, in reference to the Welsh being too poor to have meat with their sandwich.


This lunch has several variations depending on the part of Britain or even the pub you are in. The basics of a ploughman’s lunch include fresh bread, hard cheese, onion and pickles, but can also include boiled eggs, lettuce, and apples. Many believe this lunch originated because the men who worked the farms needed inexpensive, nonperishable things to eat while working. However, the ploughman’s lunch is actually quite modern, with the name coined in the late 1960s by the English Country Cheese Council as part of a marketing campaign to get people to eat more cheese.


The Battenberg is a rectangular shaped cake made of four pink and yellow squares covered in marzipan. It was invented to celebrate the marriage of Victoria’s granddaughter Princess Victoria to her cousin Louis of Battenberg in 1884. The four cake squares represent the four Battenberg princes (of whom Louis was one).


It’s hard to go to any pub in Britain without finding a bit of bangers and mash on the menu. The ‘mash’ is, of course, mashed potatoes, but bangers is a type of British pork sausage. British pork sausages have been mass produced since the 19th century. But after WWI, the food shortages led to a reduction in meat products, including that used in sausage. To make due, producers packed them out with scraps, cereal and water, which caused them to pop and hiss when cooked on shovels over open fires in the trenches of northern Europe — hence ‘bangers’.


These plump pasties that are stuffed with meat and veggies were, and still are, popular in the mining towns in Corwall. The thick pastry casing kept the contents of the pasty secure and warm, and the crust was used as a handle to help keep poisons away from the workers mouths as they ate.


A favorite among those who have overindulged in the drink, Bloody Mary’s are not only popular in Britain, but they are quite popular in America. Although there are many variations of the drink, most are made with vodka, tomato juice, cayenne pepper, and Tobasco or Worcestershire sauce. The drink is said to be named after the Catholic Queen Mary I who killed hundreds of Protestants – hence the her nickname and the drink’s namesake – Blood Mary.

To find out how Crepes Suzette got its name and who put the Toad in the Hole, you’ll have to ask Albert Jack. Or, better yet, read his book!


  1. This was fascinating! Here I’ve prided myself on my English roots and I had no idea everything I didn’t know. My sister lived in England for 3 years and I’ll never forget her phone call informing us that in the market they sell something called Spotted D*ck (didn’t want to spell it all out….who knows what google searches you would get lol)

    • Thanks so much for your comment Morisot! I avoided writing about “Spotted D” for that very reason! For all the readers who don’t know what we’re talking about – Spotted d*ck is pudding/custard with currants speckled throughout 🙂

  2. Hello Ms. Jennifer,

    I was reading a story with my daugther in her language book. She is a third grader. The story took place 300 years ago about a young man and his family of four coming to the new world. The year was 1637. My question is this, “They dippped their fingers into trenchers of pudding and bread. Then drank a noggin of cider.”
    Please explain, thank you.

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