Dad called me last night to ask a food question; it’s not an uncommon occurrence for either of us to ring up the other and talk food. I usually buzz him because he’s a great, experienced cook, and he usually calls me because he lives in the Bath County boondocks with dial-up and can’t Google the answer.
Last night’s question: “What does the cooking term ‘Cockaigne’ mean?”
The answer wasn’t in the food Bible, “Food Lover’s Companion.” And once I wrote it down (because you can imagine the array of unfortunate mispronunciations) and stared at it, it looked really familiar. I was sure I’d seen it within the past few days – In “Joy of Cooking,” it turns out.
The word is sprinkled liberally throughout “Joy,” appearing at the end of various recipe names, such as Almond Torte Cockaigne or Fruit Cake Cockaigne. So I Googled it for Dad, my cell phone crunched between my ear and shoulder. Oddly, the first hit was “A great place for winter fun.” Then Wikipedia, with “a medieval mythical land of plenty, an imaginary place of extreme luxury and ease.”
Where were the official food and cooking sources? Merriam-Webster dictionary defined “Cockaigne” as a 13th century invention, indeed a magical land of wonderment and riches. And the word itself, some believe, derives from “cake.”
But “Joy of Cooking” is the source itself, and reading the forward reveals that Ethan Becker, the latest author and grandson to the original author, Irma Rombauer, included many recipes from his parents’ estate in Ohio. The name of the home? You guessed it: Cockaigne.
So it seems this mystery word, which Dad and I imagined must be an intriguing culinary style or method, means little to anybody except the Becker family. Of course, knowing this line of great cooks has enjoyed these particular recipes over and over in the comfort of their home, probably during holiday celebrations, is a sign they are tried-and-true.
Are these really “their” recipes any more than the lemon bars my mother makes are “hers” or the cheese ball my father makes is “his?” Just what makes a recipe so different that it can be claimed as one’s own? And what’s to say my version of chili or salsa hasn’t been made exactly the same way by some person in another city, another state, maybe even another country? Nothing.
What’s to stop me from naming my own recipes after myself? Well, maybe I ought to first name my city estate after some mythical land.