One of my favourite things about food is that every recipe must have been invented by someone. Somebody decided, in the days before electric mixers, to beat egg whites with sugar for half an hour and then plop them in the oven; someone decided to stick some chopped-up cow inside the cow’s own intestine. It’s as if Archimedes, getting in his bath and noticing the water level rise, had cried out “Eureka! We can use this to measure the volume of objects, oh and also I bet if we took the displaced water and made it really warm and put carrots in it then they’d go soft and a bit delicious.”
Because a lot of foods are the result of what seem to be massively unintuitive decisions, a lot of food origin stories will attribute a new recipe to a happy accident; someone left corn out on the bench too long, someone else cut their french fries too thin in order to aggravate an awkward customer. My very favourite food origin story concerns the lamington, an Australian cake made from squares of sponge, often joined together with strawberry jam, dipped in chocolate icing and then desiccated coconut. Wikipedia’s version of the story:
Lamingtons are most likely named after Charles Baillie, 2nd Baron Lamington, who served as Governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901. However, the precise reasoning behind this is not known, and stories vary. According to one account, the dessert resembled the homburg hats favoured by Lord Lamington. Another tells of a banquet in Cloncurry during which the governor accidentally dropped a block of sponge cake into a dish of gravy, and then threw it over his shoulder, causing it to land in a bowl of desiccated coconut or peanut butter. A diner thought of replacing the gravy with chocolate and thusly created the lamington known it today.
This is the most fantastic food origin story ever, replying on:
- a baron; who
- eats sponge-cake over a dish of gravy; and who on
- dropping the cake into the gravy is sufficiently infuriated to
- fish it out only to
- throw it over his shoulder, where it meets the work of
- somebody who left a dish of desiccated coconut lying around at a banquet, and who is probably not the same person as the one who
- naturally responds to this by looking at the gravy and suggesting it be replaced with chocolate.
This is without even addressing the claim that the dish might not have contained coconut, but instead peanut butter. Or the alternative suggestion that lamingtons might have been named after the baron because of their resemblance to his homburg hats, which… well, this is a homburg hat, from Hats in the Belfry:
And this is a lamington:
I don’t know, perhaps barons get special homburg hats that are shaped like boxes and covered in diamond shards.
The main trouble with lamingtons, for those of us who don’t live in Australia and can’t get them at the local bakery, is that they’re a pain to make; you have to stab the sponge cake with a fork and drip chocolate icing on it while you rotate it slowly (dropping the squares in the chocolate and then tossing them over your shoulder doesn’t actually give you a complete covering, it turns out, and also can get really messy when you miss the bowl of coconut). My current solution is to make lamington-style cupcakes, with a swirl of jam in the batter and lamington icing on top. Non-Australians will also bite into these without fear, which is not necessarily the case with the traditional lamington; whether you consider this an advantage or not depends, I suppose, on how much you like them.