Baked alaska topped with fruit and with two cups of coffee
Thoughts & Scribbles

How Classic Recipes Got Their Names

French Fries are Belgian. 

Quiche Lorraine is named for a place, not a person. 

Jerusalem artichokes are neither artichokes nor from Jerusalem.

The foods we eat often have a fascinating history, from the recipes themselves to the way they got their names. I was curious about some of these famous foods and decided to figure out where they came from. From Venice to Alaska and the 1790s to the 1950s, here are the origins of some classic recipes and their names.


Hushpuppies are cornmeal balls that are deep-fried. They’re often served with fried seafood and some sort of remoulade for dipping. Fried cornmeal has been around for ages, but it first rose to fame under a different name — Red Horse bread. Red Horse is a type of fish that was often used in fish fries. Bits of cornmeal mixed with water, salt, and egg would be dipped into the frying oil for the Red Horse fish. Hence, Red Horse bread. So when did the name change?

How did hushpuppies get their name?

A cutesy legend says that during the Civil War, Confederate soldiers would toss scraps of cornbread to their dogs to keep them from barking, therefore “hushing the puppies.” But is this true? The food geniuses over at Serious Eats say probably not.

The term “hush puppies” was around well before it was used to refer to the food. It was meant to silence something, like a secret or a scandal. It was also used to refer to a type of gravy before it ever applied to the cornmeal balls. So SE thinks all that talk about “hushing the puppies” really just referred to hushing your growling stomach.

Rocky Mountain Oysters

Most people know that Rocky Mountain Oysters are not oysters at all, but bull testicles that are usually breaded and deep-fried. (I’m generally in favor of using every part of an animal, but I’ll pass on this one.)

How did Rocky Mountain Oysters get their name?

Well, the Rocky Mountain part is regional. Ranchers out west would have a plethora of leftovers after castrating their herds and decided to cook them instead of wasting them. As for the oysters part? Apparently raw testicles are a bit slimy, not unlike oysters. Yum.

Sorry, buddy.
Photo by Ingo Joseph from Pexels

French Silk Pie

French Silk Pie first came to be during the 1951 Pillsbury Bake-Off. Contestant Betty Cooper adapted an “Ice Box” pie recipe from a friend of her mother’s, which went on to win second place and a $1,000 prize. That’s almost $10,000 in today’s money, so way to go Betty.

French Silk Pie is a cold pie made from butter, chocolate, vanilla, eggs, and instant coffee, beaten to a silky smooth consistency. The filling is poured into a pre-baked pie shell, and it’s chilled until firm. Then it’s topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. 

How did French Silk Pie get its name?

Like many foods with location-based names, French Silk pie is completely misnamed. But how exactly Betty Cooper came up with the name “French Silk” is uncertain. The silky texture of the filling could certainly explain the “silk.” As for the French, she may have simply been trying to give her new pie a classic cooking pedigree.

Baked Alaska

Baked Alaska is an old-fashioned dessert that we don’t see much anymore. It’s built upside-down in a bowl, starting with sponge cake and filled with ice cream. Then it’s turned out and covered in uncooked meringue, which is finished in a very hot oven or with a blow torch. The result is a warm exterior layer and a frozen ice cream center. 

The dish was invented in France in the 1830s and called Omelette Norwegge in honor of their northern neighbor, Norway. But in the American fashion, we had to rename it once it leaped across the Atlantic.

How did Baked Alaska get its name?

The Baked Alaska as we know it rose to fame at New York City’s Delmonico’s in the 1860s. The big news at the time was the 1867 purchase of Alaska from Russia. Many thought it was a waste of money, calling the purchase “Seward’s Folly” after Senator William H. Seward who negotiated the deal. So to play off that notoriety, the dish was first called “Alaska, Florida” as a play on the frozen inside and warm outside.

The name Baked Alaska didn’t appear for another 30 years, where it was first printed in a cookbook called The Original Fannie Farmer 1896 Cookbook. Fannie Farmer may have updated the name, but she kept the Alaska reference.

Salisbury Steak

Salisbury Steak is made from ground beef and bread crumbs formed into a patty and usually covered with some kind of brown gravy. It’s based on Hamburg steak, which was brought to the U.S. by German immigrants in the 19th century. The Hamburg steak quickly made its way into American cuisine and restaurants served as both a breakfast and dinner item.  

How did Salisbury Steak get its name?

From a person! James Henry Salisbury was a 19th-century doctor who advocated eating plenty of meat for a healthy diet. He recommended a steak of ground beef be eaten 3 times a day to prevent digestive problems. His “Salisbury diet” was promoted in Elma Stuart’s popular book What Must I Do To Get Well, which was printed in as many as 32 editions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Who knew Salisbury Steak was health food?

Lobster Thermidor

Lobster Thermidor is a saucy dish of heavy cream, egg yolks, brandy, mustard, and lobster, cooked together and spooned back into the lobster shell. Because of its pricey ingredients and fancy presentation, it’s often reserved for special occasions. 

It can also be made with shrimp, scallops, or other seafood, and served over rice or pasta. Side note: my mother used to make Shrimp Thermidor when I was a kid, and I hated it. Now, it sounds delicious.

How did Lobster Thermidor get its name?

Put on your history caps, because this is a good one. Lobster Thermidor is an old recipe that references an old play that references an even older event. 

Back in the late 1800s, a chef named Leopold Mourier (a former assistant to Auguste Escoffier) had a restaurant called Maison Maire in Paris. Near the restaurant was the Théâtre de la Porte-Saint-Martin. In 1891, the theater opened a play called Thermidor, named for the 11th month of the French Republican Calendar instituted during the French Revolution. The play was about the Thermidorian Reaction of 1794 when Robespierre was overthrown and the Reign of Terror ended. 

French Revolution painting showing a woman leading insurgents over a pile of bodies
Allons enfants de la patrie! Mangeons du homard!
Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

The play quickly gained notoriety, partially because radical Republicans took offense to the criticisms of the murderous Robespierre. They raised havoc in the audience, threatening the playwright’s life. The production only lasted three days before it was prohibited from further performances by the French government. It wouldn’t reopen until 1896.

In honor of this riotous event, Mourier called his dish Lobster Thermidor. 


It’s cocktail time.

The Bellini is first cousin to the mimosa. But instead of orange juice, this champagne drink is topped with peach purée. The Bellini was invented in 1948 by Giuseppe Cipriani, owner of the famous Harry’s Bar in Venice.

How did the Bellini get its name?

Cipriani looked to the classics when coming up with his new drink. He was a big fan of Renaissance painter and fellow Venetian Giovanni Bellini. So when he realized that the pink hue from the white peaches in his purée reminded him of the color in a Bellini painting, he named his new drink after the artist.

I’m glad he was so cultured because Bellini is a way better name than “peach mimosa.”

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Baked Alaska, French Silk Pie, Salisbury Steak, and Lobster Thermidor -- ever wonder where these classic recipes and their names came from?

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