Who’s hungry?

Wow, I have this craving for some good bird’s tongue. How about you?

This post is another in the series in which I pull a book out of the stacks and write about it. I hope you’re game.

Fourteen years ago, long before the word nymph in me emerged, or so I thought, a friend and former colleague gave me a book entitled Ladyfingers & Nun’s Tummies: A Lighthearted Look at How Foods Got Their Names, by Martha Barnette, who was once a reporter with The Washington Post. I remember my friend saying he thought the book suited me because of my love of food and words.

Barnette grabs readers of my type with the first sentence of the introduction: “Sometimes the very name of a food tickles our taste buds before a bite of it ever reaches our mouths. Saltimbocca, tiramisu, teriyaki, shabu-shabu, passion fruit, angel hair, soubise, bubble and squeak, chimichanga, couscous – rolling any of these words around on our tongues is a sensory experience all its own.”

Bubble and squeak? Come again? Bubble and squeak comes from the chapter on foods named for what they do while cooking. It’s a potato and cabbage dish that apparently makes noise when it’s frying.

Bird's tongue (orzo)

There are chapters on foods named for what they look like (e.g., bare buttocks in the grass); food names associated with religion or the supernatural (no surprise that there are lots of angels and devils, but also Judas’ ear); foods named by mistake, often as a result of goofs in translation (including German chocolate cake and Jordan almonds); foods named for people and places (the chapter  is called “Edible Eponyms and Tasty Toponyms,” surely a topic for another day); foods named for what’s done to them or what they do to us; and words deriving from other words about food and drink.

Did you know that, In Lebanon, the long rolled pastry known as zunuud as-sitt translates from “woman’s upper arms?” It’s in there.

The book contains hundreds more little-known facts about food names and where they come from. I could stretch this out over several days, and maybe I’ll regret it if I don’t. In the meantime, maybe I’ll give you a little homework assignment.

See if you know—or can find—the recognized food names for the following:

  1. Apple in its bathrobe
  2. Angel’s breasts
  3. Boudoir biscuits
  4. Dad’s beard
  5. Dead fingers
  6. Friar’s balls
  7. Naughty children’s toes
  8. Tipsy parson
  9. Spicy bishop
  10. Whore’s pasta

Want to have some more fun? Look up the origin of pumpernickel.

One final note: my father recently suggested I address the origin of the word “bedlam,” and he traced its origin for me. What I learned from Ladyfingers & Nun’s Tummies, though, is that the word goes back even farther, with its origin in food. Maybe tomorrow?


Filed under All Things Wordish, Food, Reading

6 responses to “Who’s hungry?

  1. I don’t know what many of those are, but if you put them together, they would sound like the beginning of a joke: “What did the tipsy parson say when he saw the friar’s balls?” And were the apple and the biscuits involved with each other?

  2. Sharon

    #10 is the only one I knew immediately. #’s 3 & 8 were familiar, and I think I found #5. (I’m trying not to spoil it for other readers.) I know “bedlam” comes from “Bethlehem,” but nothing about a food connection. I look forward to your explanations of the others.
    Here is an interesting link:

    They also have Friar’s Balls, and I’m guessing that their # 10, Virgin’s Breasts, are the same as your #2, Angel’s Breasts.

  3. hahahaha!!! how marvellous. just have to love the english language… Friar’s Balls indeed!!! The name of this particular pudding had me in fits of giggles when I first arrived in the UK: Spotted Dick! any ideas of the origin?

    • Yes, in fact. Though I am traveling and don’t have the book with me. I shied from spotted dick but am happy to tell you the origin when I get home. i seem to recall it’s some kind of custard.

      • Mom

        Oh no! I spotted an ad for spotted dick and was going to order it for your Christmas surprise! But now, harrummph. Back to the catalog.

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