Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Word of the Week: Welsh Rabbit

Buck Rarebit (Welsh Rarebit with an egg).
Ever eaten Welsh rabbit or Welsh rarebit? Being an ignorant Yank, I assumed it's rabbit prepared in some distinctly Welsh way, likely with lots of consonants. Then I came across the alternate spelling Welsh rarebit, consulted a dictionary, and discovered there's no rabbit in Welsh rabbit. Bunnies have nothing to fear. In its simplest form, Welsh rabbit is melted cheese—typically Cheddar—over toast. Ale, milk, or other spices are often mixed with the cheese. There are several variations with colorful names. When topped with a fried egg, the dish is called buck rabbit. Add turkey and bacon to the recipe to create a Kentucky hot brown. Combine tomato soup into the mix to get a blushing bunny.

The first recorded reference to Welsh rabbit is from 1725. It's origin is unknown. Welsh rarebit is a corruption that first appeared in 1785. The term Welsh derives from Old English Wielisc—meaning foreign, not Anglo-Saxon, not free—which comes from the Germanic words Wealh and Walh—meaning non-Germanic foreigner, including Celts, Britons, and Latin speakers. Rabbit came into usage in the late fourteenth century to designate the young of the coney. Rabbit derives from Middle English rabet, which likely comes from Old North French Walloon robett, a diminutive of Middle Dutch robbe. Beyond that, rabbit's origin is unknown.

Some legends have developed to explain the origins of Welsh rabbit. One posits that toasted cheese is an irresistible dish to Welshmen. A C Merie Talys, a book of jokes printed in 1526, tells that God became weary of the Welshmen in heaven and asked St. Peter to do something about it. St. Peter announced outside the gates that toasted cheese was available. All the Welshmen ran outside. St. Peter then locked them out. Another unsubstantiated legend claims that Welsh peasants, not allowed to eat rabbits caught on the estates of the nobility, substituted cheese for rabbit meat.

Feeling hungry? Toast some bread and melt some Cheddar. Invite a bunny to join you.

Photo Attribution: “Welsh rarebit with an egg,” by Jiel Beaumadier (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Didn't know it had nothing to do with rabbits either. Kentucky hot brown sounds like a whole lot of fat.

  2. I think I saw that meal on a blog once, but I didn't know the background behind it. Cool. Yummy. :)

  3. Now I am feeling hungry! :) I have a pair of bunnies living in my backyard. Maybe they'd like to come over for a snack.

  4. That sounds and looks delicious! :-)

  5. That's an interesting background for that dish, and I didn't know. I love the idea of melted cheese over toast - sounds delicious.