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. Authors cited included Virgil, Ben Jonson, Elizabeth Bishop, and W.H. Auden.

Kevin Young’s 2012 The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink collected bardic tribute from eminences such as Yeats, Beaudelaire, Heaney, Wilbur, and Ginsberg. Young provided his own poetry, Ode to Chicken.

Narrative literature has it covered, too: Charles Lamb’s encomium on roast pig, say. Food and drink have famously attracted the visual arts, as well. Flemish peasant scenes, the still life form, the Impressionists’ picnics, Jasper Johns, Babette’s Feast, it goes on.

Yesterday, I asked if people knew what Welsh Rabbit was, and gave thoughts on the venerable dish. An 1899 book by an American, Charles N. Miller, deserves notice in this context.

His Welsh Rabbit at Hildreth’s is a high panegyric on the cheesy delight, not hitherto noticed by admirers of food literature, it seems. Worth reading from end to end and then again.

It must be said few dishes are less apt ostensibly for literary treatment than Welsh Rabbit. Based on the staple of cheddar (or similar) cheese, it emerged long ago from the vales and stolid crofts of old world Britain, presumably Wales. Versions have long existed in many parts of Britain and around the globe with migration and colonization.

In the northern reaches of the (relatively) nearby French coast, Le Welsh is a premier regional dish, especially in Pas-de-Calais.

Welsh Rabbit is primal food, reflecting the rustic origins. It is cheese and bread, seasoned simply. Visually it has no great appeal with its irregular edges and puffy, whitish-orange look. What Burns wrote about haggis comes to mind for Welsh Rabbit – unlovely but tenaciously appreciated by many.

Before the toaster oven and microwave, Welsh Rabbit was prized for its simplicity of preparation. Even when poorly made, as it often was by various accounts, still the dish was filling and nutritious, hence valued.

If poutine, chicken wings, and kale, say, can rise to world prominence, why not Welsh Rabbit? Particularly as it can be made in countless variations and is not expensive.

One might think the success of craft brewing would have achieved this on its own, as beer has always been an important ingredient in Welsh Rabbit.

I call for a revival: rabbit of Wales, the world’s menus await your bounding re-entry. I see you drenched in IPA or wheat beer, studded with kale, Berkshire bacon, and whatnot. And plain unadorned is fine too, especially if the cheese is elite quality.

The time is nigh.

 

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Note re images: The images above are drawn from Charles Miller’s 1899 book linked in the text, via HathiTrust. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.