“Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend”
Welsh Rabbit, or Rarebit, isn’t quite as obsolete as some of the recipes we’re interested in trying. After all, you can still buy it from Stouffer’s. Alton Brown made it on Good Eats. And, while researching this post, I found that a recipe for it was printed on the New York Times website just a couple of weeks ago. It’s supposedly common British pub food. But here, in America’s Pacific Northwest, it’s rarely seen. I’ve certainly never seen it on a menu, whether in a restaurant or a pub. All I really knew about it was that it involved cheese somehow, and had a reputation for causing bad dreams after eating it.
In the vintage cookbooks we’ve been exploring lately, Welsh Rabbit is ubiquitous (though usually called Rarebit), and several variations of the dish may be found. My grandma’s Kitchen Guide cookbook from the early 30s (maybe earlier — the book has no copyright date) has Welsh Rarebit, Spaghetti and Olive Rarebit, Mexican Rarebit, English Monkey (for the name alone, we are totally going to try this one), and Tomato Rarebit. Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cook-Book from 1896 adds Oyster Rarebit to the list. Mrs. Seely’s Cook Book from 1914 adds other recipes in the same genre: Golden Buck, Gherkin Buck, and Swiss Rarebit. These recipes, usually prepared in a chafing-dish, were commonly part of the “Sunday night” family meal, and were particularly valued during World War II, when meat was scarce. Though rarebit has not entirely disappeared from modern cookbooks, it is certainly less commonly eaten in the US than it once was.
This is a shame, since anything that basically consists of cheese and beer and toast is pretty much going to be a hit with a fairly large segment of the US population. What’s not to like, right?
We could go way, way back in history for this one, if we wanted to. Here’s an 1824 recipe from A New System of Domestic Cookery Formed Upon Principles of Economy and Adapted to the Use of Private Families, by Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell:
Toast a slice of bread on both sides, and butter it; toast a slice of Gloucester cheese on one side, and lay that next the bread, and toast the other with a salamander; rub mustard over, and serve very hot, and covered.
But, instead, we’re going back exactly 100 years, to resurrect a 1909 version of this recipe, from the Good Housekeeping Woman’s Home Cook Book. (Thanks to Karen for sending me a PDF copy of this cookbook!) We’ll try it this evening, so stay tuned for a follow-up post with the results.