The Welsh Rabbit in Literary Lights

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“Autocrat of the lunch table …. it scorns all alliance…”

A few years ago, Stacey Harwood of Saveur magazine enumerated her favourite food poems. Names included Virgil, Ben Jonson, Elizabeth Bishop, and W.H. Auden.

Kevin Young’s The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink appeared in 2012. It collects tributes to food and drink in bardic form. Yeats, Beaudelaire, Heaney, Wilbur, and Ginsberg are featured, among others. Young provided his own Ode to Chicken.

Narrative literature has it covered, too: Charles Lamb’s encomium on roast pig, say.

Food and drink famously attract the visual arts, as well. The Flemish peasant scenes, the still life, the Impressionists’ picnics, Jasper Johns, Babette’s Feast, it just goes on.

Yesterday, I asked if people knew what Welsh Rabbit was, and gave some thoughts on the venerable dish. We have more to say.

In 1899’s Welsh Rabbit at Hildreth’s, the American Charles N. Miller delivered a high panegyric on his subject. It seems to have eluded the canons of food lit, whence these notes.

True enough, few dishes are ostensibly less apt for literary treatment than Welsh Rabbit. It emerged from the remote vales and stolid crofts of the old world. It moved with the British to other places near and far. The French northern coast, where Le Welsch is a premier regional dish (Pas-de-Calais), is one. Our own shores, another.

The dish is primal food, reflecting its rustic origins. It is cheese and bread, seasoned modestly, with irregular edges and a puffy, whitish-orange look. What Burns wrote about the haggis comes to mind for Welsh Rabbit.

Before the toaster oven and microwave, Welsh Rabbit appealed for simplicity of preparation. Even when poorly made, as often it was by various accounts, still it was filling and nutritious, and valued for that reason alone.

Yet, if poutine, chicken wings, and kale can rise to world prominence, why not Welsh Rabbit? Particularly as it permits of many variations and is not expensive.

The success of craft brewing should encourage the return of Welsh Rabbit, as beer was always its main seasoning.

Cheese dishes akin to Welsh Rabbit can be made with wine or cider, even milk, and there are various regional terms to describe these (golden buck, etc.). But the beer version has always been best known.

We call for a revival. Rabbit of Wales, menus everywhere await your bounding re-entry. I see you drenched in IPA or wheat beer, studded with kale, Berkshire bacon, countless other things, or simply nature, which many prefer.

Your base may be cloth-wrapped Somerset cheddar, good Ontario cheddar, a Wisconsin brand, or one hundred other types. The time is nigh.

 

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