On busy nights after I was rising up, it was not unusual to look at my mother brown a pound of floor beef on the range, then add flour, milk, Cajun seasoning, and cream of mushroom soup to create a pasty gloop to be eaten over slices of toasted sandwich bread. There’s nothing inherently flawed with these components — floor beef and cream of mushroom soup are completely superb collectively — however as a result of my mother and father gleefully referred to the beige-colored slop as “shit on a shingle,” it was all the time clear that this was a dinner of final resort.
In fact, my household didn’t invent shit on a shingle, additionally known as S.O.S — the U.S. Military did. The first official recipe for “creamed chipped beef” appeared in a 1910 Military cooking handbook, and later, throughout World Struggle II, it earned its less-than-appetizing moniker. Nobody is aware of who precisely gave S.O.S. its decidedly distinctive title, however the troopers who had been concerned unwittingly joined a wealthy custom in each america and past of giving names to meals which are humorously descriptive, charmingly folksy, or jarringly off-kilter.
Devils on Horseback, a latest cookbook from Australian meals collective Lengthy Prawn, takes a worldwide take a look at a number of the planet’s unexpectedly named dishes, lots of which have origins which are a long time (or centuries) outdated. Its most compelling recipe is the story of pets-de-nonne, a fried, cream-filled French doughnut whose title means “nun’s farts.” One idea offered within the e-book holds that the pastry was invented on the Abbey of Marmoutier in Excursions, France, as its nuns ready a feast for town’s Archbishop. Amidst the chaos, a nun named Agnes allegedly set free a fart so startling that she dropped a spoonful of ready choux pastry right into a vat of scorching oil, and the remaining is historical past.
However not everyone seems to be on board with this arguably offensive, fart-inspired origin story. In Spain, the pastries are known as suspiros de monja, or “the nun’s sigh,” which definitely sounds extra applicable for a church setting. “Vincent La Chapelle, in his e-book The Fashionable Prepare dinner, excommunicates from non secular associations completely and refers back to the flatulent doughnut as Pets-de-Putain, or ‘Whore’s Farts,’” reads Devils on Horseback. “Then there’s probably the most holy declare of all, that ‘pets’ is a mistaken inscription of ‘paix,’ which means peace.”
In america, neighborhood cookbooks, or cookbooks created by teams like church buildings and ladies’s auxiliary golf equipment, are a wealth of absurd meals names. Top-of-the-line recognized is Johnny Marzetti, a pasta casserole with tomato sauce and cheese that’s well-known all through the Midwest. In response to the Kitchn, the dish was invented in 1896 by Teresa Marzetti, the sister-in-law of a Columbus, Ohio restaurateur named — you guessed it — Johnny. The comforting dish was a staple for Ohio State College college students and was served at Marzetti’s eating places till the early Nineteen Seventies. By then, residence cooks throughout the nation had created their very own variations with their very own names: Some areas name it American chop suey, and even American goulash, regardless of fairly minimal resemblance to Hungarian meat stew. In components of the South, it’s known as “slumgullion,” a phrase that roughly interprets to “low-cost, inferior stew” whereas lending a mysterious, barely seedy air to a dish that’s frequent on dinner tables.
There’s a component of trickery in a dish with a humorous title, one that’s each disarming and engaging. “Devils on horseback” sounds a complete lot fancier and extra compelling than “slice of bacon wrapped round a prune,” and it’s the sort of title that may spark a dialog. A extra pejorative title like “shit on a shingle” features equally — right here, the exaggeration is effacing as a substitute of aggrandizing, and it’s humorous whereas nonetheless clearly speaking that chipped beef on toast isn’t precisely superb eating.
The previous a number of a long time have introduced an actual dearth of inventive, humorous meals names. (To be clear, mashups like “cronut” don’t rely.) On restaurant menus, dishes are sometimes lowered to their elements — a protein, sides, and accouterments — which is each good and dangerous. It’s good to know precisely what’s within the bowl of risotto you’re about to eat, however there’s no thriller or whimsy in a dish that’s merely described as beef brief rib, mashed potatoes, and jus. That pattern has additionally made its option to the realm of residence cooking, the place straightforwardly named dishes like Alison Roman’s “The Stew” reign supreme. And whereas there could also be residence cooks arising with ingenious names for the dishes they create, our TikTok feeds are flooded with folks making an attempt to out-weird one another with over-the-top (and gross) creations or yawn-inducing fads like “wholesome Coke.”
Maybe the newest, evocatively named meals to realize widespread notoriety got here within the Eighties, when chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten claimed credit score for inventing the molten chocolate lava cake. The pool of darkish chocolate ganache that spills forth from a stumpy little chocolate cake is compelling sufficient by itself, however evaluating it to lava? That added a complete new stage of intrigue.
Enjoyable names make meals extra enjoyable; it’s so simple as that. I’ve been making an attempt it myself at residence. For instance, my model of a Philly cheesesteak, made with shaved ribeye and provolone, is cheekily known as a fuck Philly, as a result of I need to be clear concerning the inspiration whereas additionally paying applicable homage to the house of the Eagles. The identical goes for my beloved rubbish soup, which includes merely rounding up all of the almost limp greens in my fridge, roasting them, and pureeing till I’ve obtained a soup. These names are usually not particularly inventive, however I’m making an attempt, and I’d like to see a brand new crop of cooks — and residential cooks — invent the subsequent shit on a shingle.