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Welsh rarebit

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Title: Welsh rarebit  
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Subject: Culture of Wales, List of cheese dishes, Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, Welsh cuisine, Elizabeth David
Collection: Bread Dishes, British Cuisine, British Snack Foods, Cheese Dishes
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Welsh rarebit

Welsh rarebit
Buck rarebit (Welsh rarebit with an egg)
Alternative names Welsh rabbit (original name)
Type Savoury
Variations Buck Rabbit, Blushing Bunny, Hot Brown
Cookbook: Welsh rarebit 

Welsh rarebit (spelling based on folk etymology) or Welsh rabbit (original spelling)[1][2] is a dish made with a savoury sauce of melted cheese and various other ingredients and served hot, after being poured over slices (or other pieces) of toasted bread,[3] or the hot cheese sauce may be served in a chafing dish like a fondue, accompanied by sliced, toasted bread.[4] The names of the dish originate from 18th-century Great Britain.[5]

Welsh rarebit is typically made with Cheddar cheese.


  • The sauce 1
  • Variants 2
    • Stewed cheese 2.1
  • Origin 3
    • Welsh 3.1
    • Rarebit 3.2
  • Legends and humour 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6

The sauce

Various recipes for Welsh rarebit include the addition of ale, mustard, ground cayenne pepper or ground paprika[6][7][8] and Worcestershire sauce.[9][10] The sauce may also be made by blending cheese and mustard into a Béchamel sauce[4][11] (cf. Mornay sauce). Some recipes for Welsh rarebit have become textbook savoury dishes listed by culinary authorities including Escoffier, Saulnier and others, who tend to use the form Welsh rarebit, emphasizing that it is not a meat dish.

Acknowledging that there is more than one way to make a rarebit, some cookbooks have included two recipes: the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book of 1896 provides one béchamel-based recipe and another with beer,[11] Le Guide Culinaire of 1907 has one with ale and one without,[6] and the Constance Spry Cookery Book of 1956 has one with flour and one without.[4]

In the United States, a frozen prepared sauce[12] sold under the Stouffer's brand name can be found in supermarkets.


Mrs Glasse, in her cookbook The Art of Cookery (first published in 1747 and last published in 1843), gives recipes for "Scotch rabbit", "Welch rabbit" and two versions of "English rabbit".[13]

To make a Scotch rabbit, toast the bread very nicely on both sides, butter it, cut a slice of cheese about as big as the bread, toast it on both sides, and lay it on the bread.
To make a Welch rabbit, toast the bread on both sides, then toast the cheese on one side, lay it on the toast, and with a hot iron brown the other side. You may rub it over with mustard.
To make an English rabbit, toast the bread brown on both sides, lay it in a plate before the fire, pour a glass of red wine over it, and let it soak the wine up. Then cut some cheese very thin and lay it very thick over the bread, put it in a tin oven before the fire, and it will be toasted and browned presently. Serve it away hot.
Or do it thus. Toast the bread and soak it in the wine, set it before the fire, rub butter over the bottom of a plate, lay the cheese on, pour in two or three spoonfuls of white wine, cover it with another plate, set it over a chafing-dish of hot coals for two or three minutes, then stir it till it is done and well mixed. You may stir in a little mustard; when it is enough lay it on the bread, just brown it with a hot shovel.

Served with an egg on top, a Welsh rarebit is known as a buck rabbit[14] or a golden buck.[15]

Kentucky Hot Brown is a variant that adds turkey and bacon to the traditional rarebit recipe.

Welsh rarebit blended with tomato (or tomato soup) is known as Blushing Bunny.[16]

Stewed cheese

The British stewed cheese consisted of bits of cheese melted with wine or beer, or with milk and egg.[17][18]


The first recorded reference to the dish was "Welsh rabbit" in 1725, but the origin of the term is unknown.[5]

There is some suggestion that Welsh Rabbit derives from a South Wales Valleys staple, in which a generous lump of cheese is placed into a mixture of beaten eggs and milk, seasoned with salt and pepper, and baked in the oven until the egg mixture has firmed and the cheese has melted. Onion may be added and the mixture would be eaten with bread and butter and occasionally with the vinegar from pickled beetroot.[19][20]


The word Welsh may have been adopted because it was used by the English to mean "foreign" or "inferior".[21] It is also possible that the dish was attributed to the Welsh because they were considered particularly fond of cheese, as evidenced by Andrew Boorde in his Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge (1542), when he wrote "I am a Welshman, I do love cause boby, good roasted cheese."[22] In Boorde's account, "cause boby" is the Welsh caws pobi, meaning "baked cheese", but whether it implies a recipe like Welsh rarebit is a matter of speculation. (See 1526 in Humour below.)


The word rarebit is a corruption of rabbit, "Welsh rabbit" being first recorded in 1725 and the variant "Welsh rarebit" being first recorded in 1785 by Francis Grose. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, 'Welsh rarebit' is an "etymologizing alteration. There is no evidence of the independent use of rarebit".

"Eighteenth-century English cookbooks reveal that it was then considered to be a luscious supper or tavern dish, based on the fine cheddar-type cheeses and the wheat breads [...] . Surprisingly, it seems there was not only a Welsh Rabbit, but also an English Rabbit, an Irish and a Scotch Rabbit, but nary a rarebit."[23]

Michael Quinion writes: "Welsh rabbit is basically cheese on toast (the word is not 'rarebit' by the way, that's the result of false etymology; 'rabbit' is here being used in the same way as 'turtle' in 'mock-turtle soup', which has never been near a turtle, or 'duck' in 'Bombay duck', which was actually a dried fish called bummalo)".[24]

The entry in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage is "Welsh rabbit, Welsh rarebit" and states: "When Francis Grose defined Welsh rabbit in A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue in 1785, he mistakenly indicated that rabbit was a corruption of rarebit. It is not certain that this erroneous idea originated with Grose...."[25]

In his 1926 edition of the Dictionary of Modern English Usage, the grammarian H. W. Fowler states a forthright view: "Welsh Rabbit is amusing and right. Welsh Rarebit is stupid and wrong."[26]

The word rarebit has no other use than in Welsh rabbit[5] and "rarebit" alone has come to be used in place of the original name.[27]

Legends and humour

The notion that toasted cheese was a favourite dish irresistible to the Welsh has existed since the Middle Ages. In A C Merie Talys (100 Merry Tales), a printed book of jokes of 1526 AD (of which William Shakespeare made some use), it is told that God became weary of all the Welshmen in heaven, 'which with their krakynge and babelynge trobelyd all the others', and asked the Porter of Heaven Gate, St Peter, to do something about it. So St Peter went outside the gates and called in a loud voice ' Cause bobe, yt is as moche to say as rostyd chese ': at which all the Welshmen ran out, and when St Peter saw they were all outside, he went in and locked the gates, which is why there are no Welshmen in heaven. The 1526 compiler says he found this story 'Wryten amonge olde gestys'.[28]

A legend mentioned in Betty Crocker's Cookbook claims that Welsh peasants were not allowed to eat rabbits caught in hunts on the estates of the nobility, so they used melted cheese as a substitute. The cookbook writes that Ben Jonson and Charles Dickens ate Welsh rarebit at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a pub in London.[29] There is no good evidence for any of this; what is more, Ben Jonson died almost a century before the term Welsh rabbit is first attested.[5]

According to the American satirist Ambrose Bierce, the continued use of rarebit was an attempt to rationalise the absence of rabbit, writing in his 1911 Devil's Dictionary: "RAREBIT n. A Welsh rabbit, in the speech of the humorless, who point out that it is not a rabbit. To whom it may be solemnly explained that the comestible known as toad in the hole is really not a toad, and that ris de veau à la financière is not the smile of a calf prepared after the recipe of a she-banker."[30]

American cartoonist Winsor McCay had an intriguing insight into the effects of the Welsh rarebit where characters often awoke from dreams after eating the dish. His comic strip titled Dream of the Rarebit Fiend was published in newspapers from 1904 to 1925,[31] and made into a silent movie of the same name in 1906 (see Dream of a Rarebit Fiend).

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Chris Roberts, Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind Rhyme, Thorndike Press, 2006, ISBN 0-7862-8517-6
  4. ^ a b c The Constance Spry Cookery Book by Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume
  5. ^ a b c d Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, 1989.
  6. ^ a b Escoffier, translated by H. L. Cracknell and R. J. Kaufmann
  7. ^ Le Répertoire de la Cuisine by Louis Saulnier, translated by E. Brunet.
  8. ^ Hering's Dictionary of Classical and Modern Cookery, edited and translated by Walter Bickel
  9. ^ Recipes published on the labels of Lea and Perrins (Heinz) Worcestershire sauce,
  10. ^ Rarebit recipe featuring Lea & Perrins. Good Housekeeping magazine, December 1934.
  11. ^ a b Farmer, Fannie M., Boston Cooking-School Cook Book Boston, 1896, ISBN 0-451-12892-3
  12. ^ Stouffer's frozen prepared rarebit sauce
  13. ^ (Mrs. H. Glass), The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy, a Lady (Posthumous edition, L. Wangford, London, c. 1770), p. 146. Online 1774 edition read here
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Lily Haxworth Wallace, Rumford Chemical Works, The Rumford complete cook book, 1908, full text, p. 196
  17. ^ Mrs. Rundell, A New System of Domestic Cookery, 1844, p. 140
  18. ^ Frederick Bishop, The Illustrated London Cookery Book, 1852, p. 297
  19. ^ Stephens, M, 1986. Oxford Companion to the Literature of Wales, OUP
  20. ^ Written recollections of the artist John Selway, 2013
  21. ^ Online Etymological Dictionary
  22. ^ Andrew Boorde: The Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge, the whyche dothe teache a man to speake parte of all maner of languages, and to know the usage and fashion of all maner of countreys (1542)
  23. ^
  24. ^ Michael Quinion, World Wide Words
  25. ^ Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, p. 592 at (accessed 9 November 2007)
  26. ^ Fowler, H. W., A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Oxford University Press, 1926
  27. ^ The Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th edition (2006)
  28. ^ In two known editions, one undated. W. Carew Hazlitt (Ed.), A Hundred Merry Tales: The Earliest English Jest-Book, facsimile (privately published, 1887), fol xxi, verso Read here. See also Hermann Oesterley (Ed.), Shakespeare's Jest Book. A Hundred Mery Talys, from the only perfect copy known (London 1866).
  29. ^ Betty Crocker's Cookbook. Prentice Hall. 1989. p. 184. 
  30. ^ Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, 1911
  31. ^ Dream of the Rarebit Fiend by Winsor McCay, 1904 to 1925
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