Om is an inquisitive foodie who likes to share food lore and history that everyone can enjoy.
I'm not an expert in American cuisine in terms of cooking, but I'm an inquisitive foodie at heart. Learning about foods and their history is like giving my brain a good dose of nourishment, and today I'd like to share with you some stories that I find to be very interesting.
Oftentimes, food names are pretty simple and self-explanatory. For example, macaroni and cheese, New England clam chowder, and Philly cheesesteak are all pretty straightforward. Just from their titles, we can tell what their main components might be as well as where they were originally invented.
On the other hand, there are many other dishes that have more whimsical names. Some of them may sound amusing or odd, whereas others don't seem to make a lot of sense at face value. Let's see how many of the following you're familiar with.
1. Apple Pandowdy
This fall dessert used to be quite popular in the East and Midwest of the United States. It's actually pretty similar to a regular apple pie. There's a crust on the bottom and a rolled-out pastry dough on top. As for the filling, it's typically a simple mixture of sliced apples, sugar, butter, molasses and a little bit of water. After a short period of baking, the chef would have to cut the crust into the filling; some call this process "to dowdy" the dessert! Then the apple pandowdy is put back into the oven until it's fully cooked. Sounds pretty scrumptious, doesn't it? It's a shame that this dessert has lost its popularity during the past few decades. Hopefully, apple pandowdy will make a nice comeback at some point.
2. Agutaq / Agutak
Agutaq, also spelled agutak, sounds more like some kind of mythical creature than food, doesn't it? As foreign as its title may seem, agutaq is in fact a true American dish.
Also known as Eskimo ice cream, it is a cold dessert created by Native Americans in Alaska. Agutaq is a Siberian Yupik word, meaning "mix together." Originally, it was made with only three ingredients: seal oil, snow and salmon berries. Alaskan folks nowadays, however, like to add some extra ingredients, such as sugar and potatoes, to it. Plus, seal oil is often replaced by vegetable oil or shortening. Regardless of how different the modern agutaq is from its original version, this unique ice cream is still routinely served in Alaskan tribal meetings and festivals.
3. Hoppin John
Mainly consisting of black-eyed peas and rice, this dish was born in Africa and got its whimsical name in the Southern United States.
One popular theory of how it got this unique title is that it might be derived from an old tradition on New Year's Day in which children would hop around the dining table before sitting down and enjoying the dish. Although it is quite a humble dish, Hoppin John is believed to bring prosperity and considered a good-luck food to serve on New Year's Day. The little peas are supposed to symbolize pennies and coins. (Some people even put a real coin in the pot!) To further embrace the idea of wealth, it's often served with green vegetables and cornbread, as these foods are the color of money and gold. And if there's any leftover, you can't call it Hoppin John anymore. Any leftovers of the dish to be eaten after New Year's Day has its very own elegant title: Skippin Jenny!
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4. Limpin Susan
Limpin Susan is Hoppin John and Skippin Jenny's close cousin. One big difference is that Limpin Susan is made with okra instead of black-eyed peas. The question why Susan doesn't hop or skip like her relatives, however, has still remained unanswered. There has been no explanation offered regarding this dish's curious name.
5. Hush Puppies
These deep-fried cornbread balls are a popular side dish in many fish restaurants. Although they're available in many parts of the country, hush puppies are believed to have their roots in the Southern United States. In fact, almost every Southern state has claimed to be the inventor of these succulent fried puffs. According to a well-known legend, this side dish was likely created in a fishing village. Fishermen would fry these cornbread balls alongside their catch of the day, and the mouthwatering smells would invite hungry dogs in the neighborhood to come and bark for their share of food. Trying to appease their four-legged friends, the fishermen would throw some of the cornbread to the dogs with the admonition "Hush, puppy!"
6. Ghost Bread
The name of this bread may be a little more on the freaky than the funny side, and the history behind it perfectly explains why. This fried flat bread is a Native American food, originally made as part of a ritual for the dead, held ten days after a person has died. In the ritual, this bread would be left on a plate overnight for the departing soul, and if it's found to be undisturbed the following morning, that would mean the spirit has left the earth in peace. Nowadays, it's still one of the traditional foods served at the Seneca Indian Foods Dinner and many other Native American feasts.
7. Pigs in a Blanket
After gaining their initial fame in the 1960s, pigs in a blanket have always remained one of America's most popular finger foods served at barbecue parties and buffet restaurants. They are basically hot dogs "blanketed" in some type of bread. Oftentimes they're made with either white bread or crescent roll triangles. In some breakfast restaurants, however, pigs in a blanket would come in rolled-up pancakes. According to The American Farm Bureau Foundation's "Dates to Celebrate Agriculture" calendar, April 24 is national pigs in a blanket day.
Potlikker, also known as pot liquor, is the liquid left over from cooking green leafy vegetables, such as collard, mustard and turnip greens. The greens are normally slow-cooked with ham hocks, bacon fat or cracklings, as well as some onion, garlic and red pepper. It used to be a staple among rural folks in the Southern United States. Now it has not been as popular, but those who still enjoy it usually sop it up with cornbread or simply pour the potlikker over bread slices.
What does scrapple even mean? Well, it means "scraps!" First introduced by German Mennonites in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1691, some food historians believe it might be the first processed pork product ever invented in America. Scrapple is a mixture of pork scraps, cornmeal, flour and spices, which is formed into a loaf, then later sliced and fried. It's pretty famous among rural residents in the mid-Atlantic region, and it is traditionally served for breakfast with either ketchup or maple syrup.
10. Shoofly Pie
Created by the Pennsylvania Dutch, this simple pie is made with molasses, sugar, flour, baking soda and lots of butter! It's a famous dessert among the Amish, Mennonites, and those of the Dutch and German heritage. As for the origin of its puzzling name, some said that bakers used to leave these pies to cool on the windowsill, and a cloud of uninvited flies would quickly make their presence at the window. Yelling "shoo, fly!" was thus a part of their pie-making routine.