Eating Your Words

The fascinating origins of everyday culinary words and phrases

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via e-mail

All content on Eating Your Words is copyright © Alvin Scott 2013-2016. All rights reserved.

Links to this page may be made without asking permission.


Food glorious food!

Everything but the kitchen sink

Keep the pot boiling

Out of the frying pan

Salad days  

In the soup!

Cook one’s goose  

Give us a butchers!   

What a sauce!

A sandwich short of a picnic

Feeling groggy           

Just my cup of tea

Look to your laurels   

The spice of life      

In a nutshell   


View on a mobile


The meaning and origin of foods named after people


The Australian soprano opera singer Dame Nellie Melba (1861-1931) has the honour of a number of dishes named after her: Melba sauce is a sweet sauce made with puréed raspberries and served with a variety of fruit sundaes including peach Melba - a dessert of ice cream and peach halves. Melba toast is very crisp, thin slices of toast served with soups of a creamy consistency, pates and dips. Less well-known is Melba garniture, a dish of tomato cups filled with chicken, truffles and mushrooms bound in a velouté sauce. All of these dishes are believed to have been created for her by world famous French chef Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935) whilst he was working at The Savoy hotel in London. Somewhat ironically considering that she had more than one world-famous dish named after her, Nellie Melba was only the stage name of one Helen Mitchell (1861-1931). She chose her stage name from her native city of Melbourne, where she was born.

A pavlova is a dessert consisting of a meringue base topped with whipped cream and fruit. The dish was named in the 1920s in honour of the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881-1931). Its exact origin is uncertain – although it is accepted that it is antipodean - both Australia and New Zealand lay claim to recipe.


Garibaldis are thin, flat, rectangular biscuit made with two thin layers sandwiching a layer of currants. They are named after the Italian patriot and soldier Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-82) who believed in the unification of Italy despite it consisting at the time of many states that were often at internecine war. His military successes made him a popular hero so admired outside of Italy that in 1861 President Lincoln offered him a command in the American Civil War (which, incidentally, he declined). The first recorded use of his name relating to the well-known biscuits dates from 1896 but it is said that the biscuits - already known by their alternative English name of 'squashed flies' - were renamed after him by an enterprising London baker in response to the spontaneous celebrations when Garibaldi visited the city in 1864, when huge crowds gathered to cheer him through the streets. Garibaldi also has a cocktail named after him, made with Campari and orange juice. In Scotland the biscuits are known by yet another name - 'fly's graveyards'.    

Nachos are a snack of corn tortilla chips served grilled and topped with melted cheese, jalapeño peppers and spices etc.. The word is first recorded in English in the 1940s. The dish is reportedly named after Ignacio Anaya, who created the dish in 1943 in the Victory Club restaurant in Piedras Negras, a town on the Mexican border. Nacho is the popular nickname for the first name Ignacio and he called the dish 'Nacho's Especiales'.

Praline is a confection of almonds and partially caramelized sugar. The mixture is cooled so that it sets hard before being crushed to a powder. It is used to decorate or add flavour to desserts or to fill confectionery or chocolates. The confection was named after the French Marshal du Plessis-Praslin (1598-1675) as it was his cook, Lassagne, who is credited with inventing them. The word is first recorded in the first half of the 18th century when it was spelt prawlin, from the French praline.

Generally thought to be a hybrid between the tangerine and the Seville orange, clementines are similar to satsumas except that they contain pips. They were discovered in Algeria in 1902 in the garden of a priest, Father Pierre Clément, after whom they are named.  

Victoria plums are a particularly fine variety of plum, named in the 1860s after Queen Victoria.

Greengages are plum-like fruit of a tree of the same name. First recorded early in the 18th century, their name comes from green (because of the colour of their skin and pulp) + gage from the English botanist William Gage who introduced it to England. The fruit are also referred to simply as gages.

The loganberry is a large berry eaten as a dessert fruit or as a pie filling. Its botanical origin has been the subject of much discussion. It was originally thought to be a spontaneous hybrid between the raspberry and the blackberry. Afterwards it was assigned its own species status. However, many now believe it to be a natural hybrid between R. vitifolius and an unknown other species.  The name is first recorded 1893, in American English. It is named after the American horticulturalist James H. Logan (1841-1928) who found it growing in his grounds in California around 1881.   

Continue to …

Eponymous drinks