My bar name is Rhubarb Santiago, Esquire. An identity revealed only to strangers, he is my alter ego: a polka dotted bowtie-clad gastronome who blitzes the globe recycling oil from deep fryers into engine fuel, composting food scraps into fertiliser, and making sure well mannered kids receive secret ice cream treats in bed.
Admittedly, RS,E is not the most thrilling of superheroes. But on the basis of this name alone, it isn’t a stretch to imagine his being a gourmet at heart, saving the world one cupcake at a time.
Names mean everything. The success of books, movies, even individuals often hinge upon a name. Marilyn Monroe shirked Norma Jeane Mortenson and became a top-billing screen siren. The culinary world is no different. It’s the reason we pay five dollars for milky coffee when it’s called a latte.
The naming of dishes intrigues me infinitely. Often, there is no mucking around – order fish ‘n’ chips or chocolate cake, and you know what you’re getting. But then come such delights as the lyrically sibilant succotash (a corn and bean stew from the American South) or the blush-inducing British pudding spotted dick. It makes me stop to wonder how these names came to be.
There seems to be a pattern. Where something comes from plays a role: hamburgers from Hamburg, Black Forest cake, the Singapore Sling. Who started eating it is another: the 4th Earl of Sandwich ordered roast beef between toast; chef Alfredo Di Lelio created a pasta sauce of cream, butter and Parmesan; while ballerina Anna Pavlova received a dessert in her honour during a tour of the Antipodes. And then, curiously, how a food sounds. Bubble and squeak became the appropriate epithet for Sunday Roast leftovers as they stewed away in a pan.
But my favourite of these etymological tales is that of the whoopie pie. Half-cake, half-cookie and filled with a creamy centre, it’s said that Amish farmers would let out the jubilant cry “Whoopie!” whenever they discovered this hand-held dessert packed in their lunches.
Whoopie pies are customarily made with a chocolate batter baked into small domes. Two mounds are then sandwiched together with a fluffy vanilla icing; heavenly with a glass of milk or for a sugar hit on the go.
Another variant of whoopie pie involves a pumpkin base with cream cheese frosting. This confection emerges especially around now when pumpkins are abundant and particularly sweet. It’s easy to fall for the autumnal flavours punctuated by the earthiness of cinnamon and nutmeg. Add a hint of orange, and this is a winner with afternoon tea.
I could go on forever about the sheer mirth a whoopie pie can bring. But it’s only once you try it for yourself that you’ll know what I mean. Besides, the name alone says it all.