Sunday, 12 December 2010

What's Cooking?

To continue on from previous weeks and etymological themes, another old piece was written for a culinary magazine (sadly no longer in circulation). Here the origins of words (particularly verbs) associated with cooking was the challenge and resulted in the following information.

Baking is to cook in dry heat, although today it is associated solely with cooking of breads, pastries, and cakes. However to bake food must have been the earliest method of controlled cooking, where food wrapped in leaves or similar protection was buried in the ashes and embers of the still-hot open fire. Consequently the term must be very old and probably comes from a Proto-Indo-European root word bakan. Although we shall never know for certain it may well be this represents the original verb 'to cook'.
Both fry and roast, despite being very different words and methods, seem to have a common origin in Proto-Indo-European bher. From this the French derived frire and Latin frigere both meaning 'to fry', while another branch of that language came through Sanskrit bharjanah, Persian birishtan, and Greek phrygein all meaning 'to roast'. It seems unlikely these share a name derived from the vessel in which they were cooked, although this cannot be ruled out entirely.
However we can be certain that grill certainly was derived from the mesh on which the item was placed. Note the English word buccaneer has identical origins. While we association such with the roguish pirate in pursuit of treasures, the word is derived from the French boucanier or 'the user of a boucan. Originally used to describe the French settlers who made a living as hunters and woodsmen in the Spanish West Indies, it was later applied to their method of cooking. It cannot be difficult to see the term barbecue is also related, this is simply the Haitian variation of barbacoa with the same meaning. However the verb 'toast', in the 'brown with heat' sense, has the same origin, coming from Old French toster meaning 'to toast or grill'.
While boiling would have been employed as a means of cooking for many years, the term was brought to England by the Normans in the Old French bolir from Latin bullire. Both originally meant 'to bubble up, seethe' and was probably used in the sense 'to agitate' well before it was applied to cooking terminology. Simmer, ostensibly a gentle boil in culinary terms, comes from simperen which, again, is an emotional reference to feeling 'agitated'. To baste is another from Old French, where basser meant 'to moisten'. Poach is a similar method of cooking in liquid, although it is actually describing the cooking 'in a pocket' from French poche - envisage the white of the egg being the pocket to hold the yolk as it cooks.
Braise is also French, although braiser 'to stew' was not seen in a cooking sense in Britain until the seventeenth century. The etymological trail is complex, yet seems to be identical to 'brew', the process effectively little different. Broil can be traced back to a Proto-Germanic origin and is related to the word for 'broth' and is closely related to 'brew'. Casserole is a comparatively modern creation, the first record of this in English dating from 1706 and referring to a metallic pan until 1958 when the seemingly traditional casserole dish was first seen. The name is French casserole describing 'the sauce pan'.
The word curry is Tamil, first known in the west in the 1680s. It is a Tamil word kari referring initially to the spice and later used to mean 'sauce or relish for rice'. Fricasse sounds very French and for good reason, for it comes from the Middle French fricassee meaning 'to mince and cook in sauce'. While the earlier etymology is unknown it would be most surprising if this did not come from frire 'to fry' with quasser 'to cut up'.
Scramble is an oddity and quite recent. The word is thought to be a mispronunciation of 'scrabble', first known usage of which dates from the 1580s when it is used to mean 'to struggle' or 'scrape quickly'. It is unknown in its most common modern use, that of scrambled eggs, before 1864.
To chip is a modern kitchen expression, it is derived from cipp a noun referring to 'a small piece of wood' and also used a verb to describe how such was produced - exactly as the vegetables are prepared today. Note the original noun came to be used as a verb, while as a culinary expression it was used as a verb before it became the noun describing the famous British fried chip.

No comments:

Post a Comment