Columns

2007.02.21 Ribbit mister

on . Posted in Standard Deviant

By JEFF PICKELL

“Holy cow! Snickerdoodles!”

That’s what I said to Dee Ferguson last Wednesday when I checked in at the Fayette village office for news.

“Well, they may have a little snickerdoodle taste to them,” said Dee. “They have the cinnamon and sugar, but they aren’t true snickerdoodles.”

She was right. The cookies in question—the cookies in the Tupperware container next to the coffee pot—were not “true” snickerdoodles. It doesn’t mean they didn’t taste good, but still, a snickerdoodle is a snickerdoodle and I, a snickerdoodle epicure, can tell the real steel deal from an impostor.

Walking to the fire station to inquire about a blaze that occurred the night before, I licked the remains of the cookie from my molars and thought about how ridiculous it is that something called a snickerdoodle even exists.

“Snickerdoodle,” I said to the two and a half-foot tall snowbank on my left, “What does that even mean?”

I know what a snicker is. Last summer, I was walking to the track for some exercise and stumbled after I stubbed my toe on a curb. The sound that came from some nearby teenagers’ mouths—that was a snicker.

I know what a doodle is. I make them when I wait for the Fayette village council to first suspend council rules, then to declare a motion an emergency, then to vote on the motion.

But a snickerdoodle—why combine two such seemingly unrelated words? In the end, I thought, it is sometimes necessary to engage in linguistic acrobatics for the sake of brevity and deliciousity. Want evidence?

I submit to the jury spaghetti amore. In Italian, this means “little string love.” In my language, it means “combination of noodles, cheese and meat that my mom prepares. I could it eat forever and ever until the end of time and never get tired of it.”

Consider also cheeseburgers. The name implies we’re eating residents of the German city of Cheeseburg, but we do no such thing. Everybody knows cheeseburgers are made from cattle raised near Cheeseburg.

Speaking of sandwiches—the sloppy joe? The po’ boy? The croque-monsieur? We actually eat something called a ribbit-mister? Yes, we do. And we love it.

For the record, though, the croque-monsieur is a French invention, and the French have a habit of giving their foods off-the-wall names. For example, they call French fries “des pommes frites,” which translates as “apple fries.” The name is sensible when you recognize that the French don’t call potatoes “potatoes,” but rather “des pommes de terre,” or “apples of the earth.”

I did a little poking around on the internet and found that a lot of weird-sounding foods are actually named after people. Granny Smith apples were accidentally created by Marie (Granny) Smith, an Australian, in 1868. The Heath bar, one of my mom’s favorites, was named after brothers Bayard and Everett Heath, who developed it in the 1920s. The grilled peanut butter sandwich takes its name from Vicomte François Girard de Grilled Peanut Butter. Just kidding.

In the end, I guess it’s easier to call something a “reuben” (after American Idol star Ruben Studdard) than it is to call it a “corned beef sandwich served on rye or pumpernickel and topped with swiss cheese, sauerkraut and either Russian dressing or Thousand Island, but if you use Thousand Island, you’re cheating.”

FOR all the web crawling I did, I couldn’t find a credible explanation for why snickerdoodles are called snickerdoodles, so, with a moan of complaint, I climbed to my feet and walked an agonizing 100 steps to Stair Public Library to do actual research.

According to “The Joy of Cooking,” snickerdoodle might be a corruption of the German word “schneckennudeln” which literally means “crinkly noodles,” but is also a name for a cinnamon-coated sweet roll.

“Why on Earth,” I thought, “do Germans refer to sweet rolls as noodles?”

Then I realized that actual research is too hard and five minutes of it had depleted my stamina. We’ll have to leave that question unanswered for now.

Besides, all of this talk about crinkly noodles and ribbit misters and apple fries is making me hungry, and that’s not a good thing. For one, I’m in the office and the only food around is a smushy apple that I’m about to throw out.

For two, most of the food I’ve mentioned in this column ain’t all that good for me. After all, I don’t want to croak, monsieur.

    – Feb. 21, 2007 

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