WHAT DO heroes, hoagies, Reubens, poor boys, Dagwoods and submarines have in common?
All might have been Twitchers, for Jimmy Twitcher was the nickname of one John Montagu, also known as the fourth Earl of Sandwich. Montagu, a tireless 18th-century gambler, fortified himself at the gaming table with neat assemblies of sliced meat and bread. Perhaps the first man ever to wolf down a roast beef on rye, the earl's name has been legend at lunch counters ever since.
The earl is just one of many persons who became gastronomic names., Others include Samuel Benedict, Sylvester Graham, Alfredo di Lelio, Ben Wenberg, Caesar Cardini, and Nellie Melba. Menus, in fact, are full of names with a story. There are foods with silly and haughty names, foods named for the rich and for the poor. There are delectable dishes with indelicate names. The roster is as rich as creme Chantilly (named for a French town known for its exquisite cream), and as varied as burgoo (the toss-eveything-in Kentucky stew whose name originally meant gruel or porridge and may also be a Southern Corruption of the word barbecue).
Some people whose names are now edible favorites are known better for the foods they inspired than for their own achievements. Helen Mitchell, for example, was an opera singer from Melbourne, Australia, who took the stage name Nellie Melba. Critics of the day acclaimed her Mimi in "La Boheme," but today her name shares billing with peaches - poached, spooned over ice cream and drizzled with raspberry puree. Peach Melba was created for her by the great chef Auguste Escoffier.
Sweets were invented and named for other opera stars, including Poires Mary Garden and Coupe Emma Calve, but according to Melba biograher Joseph Wechsberg, "Gastro-nomically, Nellie Melba has clearly defeated all other prima donnas." (In his devotion to peaches and Melba, he forgot chicken Tetrazzini, named for the Italian coloratura Luisa Tetrazzini.)
Ben Wenberg lost immortality on the menu when he lost his temper. A wealthy sea captain of the 19th century who often ate at Delmonico's in New York, Wenberg came into the restaurant one day with a pouch of cayenne pepper. Colaborating with the chef, he used the cayenne to season a richly sauced dish made with lobster, cream, butter, eggs and sherry, and create. . . Lobster Wenberg! Some time after this frenzy of culinary creativity, Wenberg became rowdy and obnoxious in the restaurant, and the owner, as punishment, simply reversed two letters on the menu. Lobster Wenberg became Lobster Newberg (or Newburg, as it is now commonly spelled), and Ben became a has-been.
Had it not been for a hangover, according to legend, Samuel Benedict would have slipped into oblivion. A regular at the Waldorf, according to legend, Benedict entered the dining room one morning with a splitting headache and a craving for poached eggs, toast, bacon and hollandaise sauce - all served atop one another. The chef indulged his suffering customer and christened the concoction eggs Benedict.
As with other food stories there are a few variations. According to one, the original Benedict was not Samuel, but Lemuel. Another attributes the odd egg order to a Mr. Legrand Benedict, who called for it at Delmonico's, not the Waldorf. Still another claims that the Benedict was Commodore E.C., a turn-of-the-century banker and yachtsman.
The origin of a favorite American snack is more easily confirmed. Sylvester Graham was a 19th-century American preacher, lecturer and food fanatic, thought to be a little crackers in his day. His followers, according to the American Heritage Cookbook, at meals of "Oatmeal gruel, beans and boiled rice without salt. . . puddings eaten when tepid or stone cold, and bread at least one day old." They shunned meats, fats and gravies and ate unleavened biscuits, made from whole grain flour and known as Graham crackers. Some of Graham's ideas are in vogue today, but his name is now linked solely to those munchy crackers that go so well with milk.
Caesar Cardini originated - what else? - Caesar salad. Short of food one day at his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico, he tossed together what was on hand - eggs, lettuce, grated cheese, vinegar, oil and croutons. Another restaurateur, Alfredo di Lelio, tossed together buttery egg noodles and fresh parmesan to create fettuccine Alfredo at his Rome establishment. Alfredo liked to prepare the dish at the table with a spotlight shining on him and glinting off a gold fork and spoon, reportedly presented him by Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.
Some famous dishes have been created under duress. The classic poultry dish, chicken Marengo, was named for the site where Napoleon defeated the Austrians. Just after the battle, he instructed his cook to prepare a hearty meal, though the supply wagons were nowhere near. The cook scavenged the countryside and found some eggs, tomatoes, a chicken, garlic, oil and some crayfish. Today the dish is usually prepared without the crayfish.
At least one fancy dessert was created on wheels. According to chef Jacques Pepin, who collected food lore during his apprenticeship at the Ritz, Paris-Brest, the elegant cream-filled pastry ring, was first offered on the train between the two French cities.
Some food names tickle the funny bone before they titillate the taste buds. The British have a storehouse of these frivolous food names: gooseberry fool, syllabub, cockaleekie soup, toad-in-the-hole, soused mackerel, wow-wow sauce and jam roly-poly, which becomes, with the addition of raisins, spotted Dick. The British are also responsible for bubble and squeak, a dish made with beef and cabbage that is said to make noise when it cooks.
We have plenty of our own silly sounding dishes, such as New England desserts known as slumps, grunts and the Pennsylvania Dutch pandowdies. There are also hush puppies, shoofly pie, and of course, the hot dog.
According to the American Heritage Cookbook, the hot dog was brought to America from Frankfurt, Germany. H.L. Mencken once said he "devoured hot-dogs in Baltimore 'way back in 1886. . . They contained precisely the same rubbery indigestible pseudo-sausages that millions of Americans now eat, and they leaked the same flabby, puerile mustard." The ball-park favourite was reportedly first sold as "red hots" and only later referred to as hot dogs, after a cartoonist pictured one as a dachsund on a long bun.
Some savory dishes have equally unsavory names. Italy has at least two - spaghetti alla puttanesca (spaghetti, "prostitute-style") and paglia e fieputtanesca , a spicy dish with tomatoes, garlic, black olives, capers, hot peppers and sometimes anchovies and tuna, was supposedly concocted by Italian prostitutes who lured customers with its enticing aroma. Paglia e fieno is a combination of green and white pasta tossed with heavy cream and parmesan cheese. Cubans like ropa vieja ("old clothes"), a beef dish with peppers, garlic, onion and tomato, and the Portuguese have a boiled dinner sometimes called olla podrida ("rotten pot").
A few food names portend an especially strong effect on the diner. Imam bayildi , for example, a Middle Eastern dish made with eggplant, onion, tomatoes and a lot of garlic, means literally "the holy man fainted." According to one of several legends, the dish was so powerfully good that it knocked the poor man out. A Latin American dish, matambre , means "kill hunger." A macho meat roll, prepared with steak, eggs, spinach, carrots and chili peppers, it would have satisfied Diamond Jim Brady.
Unusual food names, to be sure, add a bit of drama to dining. The customer perceives that he's just ordered a little romance with the meal. In Horace Sutton's history of the Waldorf-Astoria, he quotes Rene Black, the epicurean restaurant manager for many years at the grand old hotel: "A chap comes along and wants a good dinner. You could give him a piece of roast beef and a baked potato. . . But I might say to him, 'How about Crab Meat Maxim? It's named after the famous chef at the old Knickerbocker Hotel.'"
The recipes that follow have unromantic names, but yield delicious results. There are several versions of the spaghetti, some much spicier than others. Ed Giobbi's, for example, includes croutons, sauteed in olive oil and tossed with the pasta. It's carbohydrate overload, and irresistible. The versatile fool can be made with a variety of fresh fruits, and the Graham crackers, hot from the oven, are as adictive as potato chips, but much more nutritious.
SPAGHETTI ALLA PUTTANESCA
(2 or 3 servings) 3 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 onion, chopped 1 large clove garlic, minced 1 can (16 ounces) tomatoes, drained and chopped, liquid reserved 3/4 cup pitted black olives, coarsely chopped 1 tablespoon capers 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more to taste Freshly ground pepper, to taste 4 anchovy fillets, chopped (optional) Spaghetti, cooked and drained
In medium skillet saute onion in olive oil over moderate heat until limp; add garlic and continue cooking for 1 or 2 minutes. Add tomatoes with liquid, olives, capers, seasonings and anchovies and mix well. Simmer gently 10-15 minutes, or until sauce has thickened. Serve over hot spaghetti.
(4 servings) 1 pint strawberries, rinsed and hulled 2 tablespoons sugar, or more to taste 1 1/2 tablespoons orange flavored liqueur 3/4 cup whipping cream Macaroons, crumbled
Puree strawberries in blender or food processor, and push through sieve, if desired, to remove seeds. Add sugar and liqueur; mix well. Whip cream until thick. Fold pureed berries into cream. Spoon mixture into serving bowl or individual dessert dishes and chill for several hours. Sprinkle with crumbled macaroons before serving.
HOMEMADE GRAHAM CRACKERS
(About 12 rectangles) 4 tablespoons butter, softened 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 1/2 teaspoon baking powder Pinch of salt 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1 cup whole wheat flour 1/2 cup unbleached, enriched all-purpose flour 1/4 cup milk
In medium bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and baking soda; mix well. Mix flours in separate bowl and add them to batter alternately with milk. Mix well; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour or until dough is well chilled.
Divide dough into 3 balls of equal size and roll each out on a well-floured board to a 5-by-10-inch rectangle. Dough should be about 1/8-inch thick. Cut dough into 4 rectangles, each approximately the size of a commercial Graham cracker.
With floured spatula, transfer rectangles to a greased cookie sheet. With knife, make a light indentation across the center of each rectangle so baked Grahams can be divided easily into squares. Prick each square with a fork in 2 places. Bake at 350 degrees 10 to 12 minutes or until crackers are cooked through, crisp and lightly browned at the edges. Transfer to wire rack to cool. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, By Ray Driver for The Washington Post