Monday, June 4, 2012

Spotted Richard

The classic British steamed pudding which gets its name from the raisins speckled within it — Spotted Dick — is perhaps the most famous of all desserts which bring a blush to the cheek. Such has been the embarrassment caused by the name of this dish that certain restaurants have taken to calling it “Spotted Richard” on their menus, which only seems to draw attention to the issue, rather than diffuse it. “What’s a Richard,” a hapless (or troublesome) customer might ask. “Why, it is a dick,” the waitress might say. “Why don’t you call it a dick, then?” the customer might pursue. “Because we feel ‘Richard’ is less controversial,” the waitress might respond. “How so?” the puzzled customer might ask. “Well,” offers the waitress, hesitatingly, “dick means penis.” A mighty silence might befall the ensemble while this riveting piece of news sinks in. “So why is the pudding called a spotted penis?” the customer now bravely asks. This is the critical juncture where the waitress throws up her hands, shrugs, and says “damned if I know. You want it or not?”

In fact, Spotted Dick probably gets its name from a corruption of the word pudding, which if you’re from Souf London you’re pronounce “puddink.” Don’t ask why. Dink becomes Dick, most likely because the English have always been prone to a bit of light and bawdy humor given the rain and general misery, and the chance to have a perfectly innocent conversation in which you can confess to enjoying eating spotted dick without recrimination is too good to pass up.

But it isn’t the dick part that’s most interesting here.

It’s the spots.

A spot, meaning a moral stain, dates all the way back to 1200. A spot of land dates from a hundred years later. But spot, from the Old English splott, also means blot, as in a blighted bit, as when one blots a pristine piece of paper, or a blot on the landscape. To spot, as in to locate something, dates from 1300. To spot, as a verb, meaning to sully, or stain, dates from the early 15th century. A blemish spot comes to us from the 16th century.

One could be spotted having a spot of Spotted Dick in a lovely spot and not get spots from it.

Freezer Feast, Caroline Rennie, 1973

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