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Welsh rarebit

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Welsh rarebit
Alternative namesWelsh rabbit
Place of originUnited Kingdom
Main ingredientsCheese, bread
VariationsBuck rabbit, blushing bunny, Hot Brown

Welsh rarebit or Welsh rabbit (/ˈrɛərbɪt/ or /ˈræbɪt/)[1] is a dish of hot cheese sauce served on toasted bread.[2] The original 18th-century name of the dish was the jocular "Welsh rabbit", which was later reinterpreted as "rarebit", as the dish contains no rabbit. Variants include English rabbit, Scotch rabbit, buck rabbit, golden buck, and blushing bunny.

Though there is no strong evidence that the dish originated in Welsh cuisine, it is sometimes identified with the Welsh caws pobi 'baked cheese', documented in the 1500s.[3]


Some recipes simply melt grated cheese on toast, making it identical to cheese on toast. Others make the sauce of cheese, ale, and mustard, and garnished with cayenne pepper or paprika.[4][5][6] Other recipes add wine or Worcestershire sauce.[7][8] The sauce may also blend cheese and mustard into a béchamel sauce.[2][9]


Hannah Glasse, in her 1747 cookbook The Art of Cookery, gives close variants "Scotch rabbit", "Welsh rabbit" and two versions of "English rabbit".[10]

To make a Scotch rabbit, toast a piece of 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 Welsh 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 a slice of 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, and 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, cut your cheese in very thin slices, 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.

Buck rarebit (Welsh rarebit with an egg)

Served with an egg on top, it makes a buck rabbit[11] or a golden buck.[12]

Welsh rarebit blended with tomato (or tomato soup) makes a blushing bunny.[13]

In France, un Welsh is popular in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais[14] and Côte d'Opale regions.


The first recorded reference to the dish was "Welsh rabbit" in 1725 in an English context, but the origin of the term is unknown. It was probably intended to be jocular.[15]


"Welsh" was probably used as a pejorative dysphemism,[16] meaning "anything substandard or vulgar",[17] and suggesting that "only people as poor and stupid as the Welsh would eat cheese and call it rabbit",[18][19] or that "the closest thing to rabbit the Welsh could afford was melted cheese on toast".[20] Or it may simply allude to the "frugal diet of the upland Welsh".[21] Other examples of such jocular food names are Welsh caviar (laverbread);[22] Essex lion (calf); Norfolk capon (kipper); Irish apricot (potato);[23] Rocky Mountain oysters (bull testicles); and Scotch woodcock (scrambled eggs and anchovies on toast).[24]

The dish may have been attributed to the Welsh because they were fond of roasted cheese: "I am a Welshman, I do love cause boby, good roasted cheese." (1542)[25] "Cause boby" is Welsh caws pobi 'baked cheese', but it is unclear whether this is related to Welsh rabbit.

Rabbit and rarebit[edit]

The word rarebit is a corruption of rabbit, "Welsh rabbit" being first recorded in 1725, and "rarebit" in 1781.[15] Rarebit is not used on its own, except in alluding to the dish.[15] In 1785, Francis Grose defined a "Welch rabbit" [sic] as "a Welch rare bit", without saying which came first.[26] Later writers were more explicit: for example, Schele de Vere in 1866 clearly considers "rabbit" to be a corruption of "rarebit".[27]

Many commentators have mocked the misconstrual of the jocular "rabbit" as the serious "rarebit":

  • Brander Matthews (1892): "few [writers] are as ignorant and dense as the unknown unfortunate who first tortured the obviously jocular Welsh rabbit into a pedantic and impossible Welsh rarebit..."[28]
  • Sivert N. Hagen (1904): "Welsh rabbit... is of jocular origin... Where, however, the word is used by the sophisticated, it is often 'corrected' to Welsh rarebit, as if 'rare bit'"[29]
  • Ambrose Bierce (1911): "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]
  • H. W. Fowler (1926): "Welsh Rabbit is amusing and right. Welsh Rarebit is stupid and wrong."[31]

Welsh rabbit has become a standard savoury listed by culinary authorities including Auguste Escoffier, Louis Saulnier and others; they tend to use rarebit, communicating to a non-English audience that it is not a meat dish.

"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 bread [...]. 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."[32]

Extended use[edit]

Since the 20th century, "rarebit", "rarebit sauce", or even "rabbit sauce" has occasionally been a cheese sauce used on hamburgers or other dishes.[33][34][35][36]

In culture[edit]

Dream of the Rarebit Fiend by Winsor McCay

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 AD 1526 (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'.[37]

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. It also claims that Ben Jonson and Charles Dickens ate Welsh rarebit at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a pub in London.[38] It gives no evidence for any of this; indeed, Ben Jonson died almost a century before the term Welsh rabbit is first attested.[15]

Welsh rarebit supposedly causes vivid dreams. The 1902 book Welsh Rarebit Tales is a collection of short horror stories supposedly from members of a writing club who ate a dinner which included a large portion of rarebit immediately before sleeping in order to give themselves inspiring dreams.[39] Winsor McCay's comic strip series Dream of the Rarebit Fiend recounts the fantastic dreams that various characters have because they ate a Welsh rarebit before going to bed. In "Gomer, the Welsh Rarebit Fiend", Season 3 Episode 24 of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., indulging in Welsh rarebit causes Gomer (and later Sgt. Carter) to sleepwalk and exhibit inverse personality traits.[40]

A humorous appendix of anonymous authorship is sometimes added to the end of Thomas Browne's Pseudodoxia Epidemica, debating the existence and nature of the 'Welsh Rabbit' as though it were a real animal.[41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "rarebit". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  2. ^ a b The Constance Spry Cookery Book by Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume
  3. ^ Witts, Nicholas (4 February 2017). "A Brief History of Welsh Rarebit". Culture Trip. Retrieved 7 February 2022.
  4. ^ Georges Auguste Escoffier, Le Guide Culinaire, translated by H. L. Cracknell and R. J. Kaufmann
  5. ^ Louis Saulnier, Le Répertoire de la Cuisine, translated by E. Brunet.
  6. ^ Hering's Dictionary of Classical and Modern Cookery, edited and translated by Walter Bickel
  7. ^ Recipes published on the labels of Lea and Perrins (Heinz) Worcestershire sauce,
  8. ^ ""It takes more than beer to make a perfect rarebit"". Gallery of Graphic Design. Retrieved 21 October 2023.
  9. ^ Farmer, Fannie M., Boston Cooking-School Cook Book Boston, 1896, ISBN 0-451-12892-3
  10. ^ Glasse, Hannah, The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy, ...by a Lady (London: L. Wangford, c. 1775), p. 190. [1]
  11. ^ "Buck rabbit definition and meaning". Collins Online Dictionary. Retrieved 21 October 2023.
  12. ^ "Definition of GOLDEN BUCK". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 21 October 2023.
  13. ^ Lily Haxworth Wallace, Rumford Chemical Works, The Rumford complete cookbook, 1908, full text, p. 196
  14. ^ Evans, Max (30 June 2016). "Wales fans try the French Welsh rarebit". BBC.
  15. ^ a b c d Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd Edition, 2011, s.v. 'Welsh rabbit' and 'Welsh rarebit'
  16. ^ Eric Partridge, Words, Words, Words!, 1939, republished as ISBN 1317426444 in 2015, p. 8
  17. ^ Kate Burridge, Blooming English: Observations on the Roots, Cultivation and Hybrids of the English Language, ISBN 0521548322, 2004, p. 220
  18. ^ Robert Hendrickson, The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 1997, as quoted in Horn, "Spitten image"
  19. ^ cf. "Welsh comb" = "the thumb and four fingers" in Francis Grose, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1788, as quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. 'Welsh'
  20. ^ Roy Blount Jr., Alphabet Juice, 2009, ISBN 1429960426, s.v. 'folk etymology'
  21. ^ Meic Stephens, ed., The Oxford companion to the literature of Wales, 1986, s.v., p. 631
  22. ^ Ole G. Mouritsen, Seaweeds: Edible, Available, and Sustainable, 2013, ISBN 022604453X, p. 150
  23. ^ E.B. Tylor, "The Philology of Slang", Macmillan's Magazine, 29:174:502-513 (April 1874), p. 505
  24. ^ Laurence Horn, "Spitten image: Etymythology and Fluid Dynamics", American Speech 79:1:33-58 (Spring 2004), doi:10.1215/00031283-79-1-33 full text
  25. ^ Andrew Boorde: The Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge, the which do the teache a man to speak part of all manner of languages, and to know the usage and fashion of all manner of countreys (1542)
  26. ^ Francis Grose, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1785, s.v. 'rabbit' and 'Welch rabbit'
  27. ^ Maximilian Schele de Vere, "Fated Words", Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 32:188:202-207 (January 1866), p. 205
  28. ^ Brander Matthews, Americanisms and Briticisms, 1892, p. 39-40; also in Brander Matthews: "As to 'American Spelling", Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 85:506:277-284, p. 279
  29. ^ Sivert N. Hagen, "On the Origin of the term Edda", Modern Language Notes 19:5:127-134 (May 1904), p. 132
  30. ^ Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary in The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce, v. 7, 1911, s.v., p. 274
  31. ^ Fowler, H. W., A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Oxford University Press, 1926
  32. ^ Alice Ross, "Hunting The Welch Rabbit", Journal of Antiques and Collectibles, May 2000
  33. ^ Gyula Décsy, Hamburger for America and the World, 1984, ISBN 0931922151, p. 31
  34. ^ Dawn Simonds, Best Food in Town: The Restaurant Lover's Guide to Comfort Food in the Midwest, 2004, ISBN 1578601460, pp. 47, 48, 59
  35. ^ "Universal sauces for main courses", Michael Greenwald, Cruising Chef Cookbook, 2000, ISBN 0939837463, p. 280
  36. ^ "From One Hostess to Another", Good Housekeeping, May 1919, p. 44
  37. ^ 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).
  38. ^ Betty Crocker's Cookbook. Prentice Hall. 1989. p. 184.
  39. ^ Cummins, Harle Oren (1902). Welsh Rarebit Tales. The Mutual Book Co. LCCN 08010614. 60294 at Project Gutenberg
  40. ^ Ruskin, Coby (1 March 1967). "Gomer, the Welsh Rarebit Fiend". IMDb. Gomer Pyle: USMC. Retrieved 28 February 2022.
  41. ^ "Vulgar Errors: Welsh Rabbits". Writings of Sir Thomas Browne. Retrieved 3 March 2023.