by Sean Keeley, culinary specialist, Lincoln Land Community College
Idiom definition, Oxford Dictionary: a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g., rain cats and dogs, see the light).
There are so many idioms about food that I wanted to know where they came from. I found the origins very interesting so I thought I would share a few – I’ll also throw in a recipe “for good measure.”
A bad apple – someone who brings trouble. This one goes all the way back to the 14th century and found in “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer, from the chapter titled (ironically enough) “The Cook’s Tale.” “A rotten apple’s better thrown away before it spoils the barrel.” When I looked up this chapter and started to read I found it to be quite a mouthful and had to stop.
Quite a mouthful – a long word or phrase that is difficult to say. Origin unknown.
Chew the fat – to chat or gossip for a long time. It is speculated that sailors (about 30 decades ago) would cure fat in salt in order to provide nutrients on long voyages. Eating this fat would require a lot of chewing, resembling people chatting or gossiping for a long time. Also, possible origin for “quite a mouthful.”
In a pickle – a difficult situation. This has two origins. From a 16th century Dutch phrase in de pekel zitten, and from Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest”: “How camest thou in this pickle?” Both meaning to be drunk.
Not my cup of tea – you do not like it or not interested. An 1800s British phase originally for something that was liked, “my cup of tea.” In the 1920’s “not” was added to mean the opposite.
To butter someone up – to flatter someone in hopes of better treatment. Either from ancient India when people would throw little balls of ghee butter at statues of gods when asking for favors, or from Tibet when people would carve statues of butter in hopes of happiness and peace in the coming year. All hail the butter cow!
Spill the beans – to reveal secret information. From ancient Greece when senators would vote by placing a black or white bean in a vase. If someone (accidentally, or on purpose) knocked over the vase the results of the vote would be known prematurely.
Piece of cake, or cake walk – meaning easy. This one comes from the 1870s where cakes were given as prizes. Also, during this time there was a tradition in U.S. slavery states, and slaves would walk around a cake in competition. The most graceful pair would “take the cake.”
You can’t have your cake and eat it too – you can’t have something both ways. This one has a rather existential meaning. If you eat your cake you no longer have a cake to hold onto.
So here is my latest recipe that I am just “nutty” about. It’s great on so many things, especially those ramen noodles I love. Enjoy!
Indonesian Peanut Sauce makes about 2 ½ cups
¼ cup macadamia nuts
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon crushed red chili (not toasted)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ cup red onion, diced
¼ cup shallot, minced
¼ cup coconut oil
¼ cup coconut milk
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup soy sauce (or tamari for GF)
¼ cup peanuts (not toasted)
Over medium heat lightly toast macadamia nuts, careful not to burn. Set aside and then in same skillet toast cumin and coriander seeds. Add seeds to spice mill with crushed red chili and blend into a coarse powder.
In same skillet add vegetables oil and sauté onion and shallot until tender. Add coconut oil and spices and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in coconut milk, brown sugar and soy sauce (or tamari) and mix well – remove from heat.
Put macadamia nuts and peanuts in food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Add skillet ingredients and blend well. Serve immediately or cover tightly and store in refrigerator for one week. Bring to room temp before serving.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 217-786-4613 or visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts.