How popular dishes got their name

They are classics on international menus: Prince Pückler ice cream, crêpes suzette and Bismarck herrings. But how did these well-known dishes get their distinctive names?

Fun stories, but are they true? It isn’t always possible to find absolute proof. But that certainly doesn’t stop people from enjoying the dishes!

What´s all about?

  • Crêpe Suzette 
  • Prince Pückler ice cream
  • Kaiserschmarrn
  • Bismarck herring
  • Filet Wellington
  • Cordon bleu
  • Boiled beef
  • Schupfnudeln
  • Poor knight
  • Heaven and earth

Crêpes Suzette: a sweet accident during a live cooking session

Once upon a time, the British crown prince – the future King Edward VII – took a group of 18 guests to the legendary Café de Paris in Monte Carlo to ring in the new year. A 14-year-old apprentice chef, Henri Charpentier, was assigned to prepare crepes for him at the table. But when the liqueur for the sauce suddenly caught fire, the boy had to improvise. He surreptitiously tasted the flambéed marinade with a pancake, added more liqueur and some sugar, and served the mishap up to the future king as an innovation. When the surprised Edward sampled the dessert, he was sold. Though flattered, he rejected Charpentier’s idea of naming the creation ‘crêpes princesse’. Instead, he gallantly dedicated them to his lovely companion, who happened to be named Suzette.

Neapolitan ice cream and its royal origins

Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau was a passionate landscape gardener and author of travel books. A regular guest at the court of Frederick William III of Prussia, he got the opportunity to try a creation by the Royal Prussian court cook Louis Ferdinand Jungius. It was a concoction known in French as a ‘demi-glace’ loaded with cream and fruit, which had been filled into a mould in 3 layers. The chef dedicated his layered dessert to the enthusiastic prince, recording the recipe in his 1839 cook book as ‘Fürst-Pückler-Eis’ (Prince Pückler ice cream) – the name by which Neapolitan ice cream is known in Germany to this day.

Kaiserschmarrn: too rich for the Empress’s taste

Another much-loved dessert also has noble origins: ‘Kaiserschmarrn’ gets its name from Emperor (or ‘Kaiser’ in German) Franz Joseph of Austria. One day, a pastry chef at the royal court served the Emperor’s weight-conscious wife Elisabeth a new dish made of ‘omelet batter’ and ‘plum compote’. When Sissi rejected the dessert as being too rich for her diet, the Kaiser charmingly took over for his spouse and polished off her portion, saying: ‘Now give me that “Schmarrn”’ – Austrian slang for ‘nonsense’ – ‘that our Leopold has cooked up.’ The double portion was doubly delicious. He found it so delightful that it has been known as ‘Kaiserschmarrn’ ever since.

Bismarck herring – what role did the Imperial Chancellor play?

Germany’s former Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and pickled herring are also the subject of quite a few tales. ‘If herring were as expensive as caviar, people would appreciate them a lot more,’ the statesman reportedly said. Whether he was first served them on a visit to the front in Flensburg during the Second Schleswig War or a fishmonger from Stralsund sent a barrel of pickled herring straight to his address in Berlin is a matter of debate. Yet another version claims that Bismarck’s personal physician prescribed the fish to cure an illness, and he in fact recovered. One thing is for sure: Bismarck remained a big fan of the fish speciality for the rest of his life.

Beef Wellington – origin stories from two different centuries

Beef Wellington’s reported origins can be traced back to 2 different centuries. According to one version, Charles Senne invented the famous beef fillet in pastry with pureed mushrooms and shallots for the international cooking exhibition in Zurich in 1930. But it may have first graced a dining table over a century earlier. The Duke of Wellington is said to have been served the elaborate meat dish – following a victorious battle against Napoleon in Spain in 1813 – in a farmhouse. After just one bite, he instantly declared Beef Wellington to be his favourite dish.

Schnitzel Cordon Bleu – who invented it?

The provenance of this speciality dish, made with veal, melted cheese and hearty ham in a crispy breadcrumb coating, is hotly contested. France, Germany and Switzerland are possible source countries, and each has its own origin story. One of these suggests its genesis in French haute cuisine – the expression cordon bleu translates as “blue ribbon”, which was a prize awarded in France for exceptional culinary skill. Despite the disagreement about its heritage, schnitzel cordon bleu has established itself in many countries and cuisines over the course of time, and regional variations have emerged. These days, it’s a favourite dish on menus around the world and is often prepared using different types of meat, fillings and accompaniments.

Tafelspitz: the imperial origins of a Vienna classic

In Vienna, Tafelspitz is a regular feature on many menus. The dish consists of beef cooked in stock and served with horseradish and apple sauce. Legend has it that Tafelspitz was created in the famous Hotel Sacher in Vienna. Not for Kaiser Franz Joseph I (1830-1916) though, but for his high-ranking officers. Franz Joseph I ate very quickly and took just a few bites of each course. According to strict court etiquette, nobody was allowed to eat before or after the Kaiser himself – much to the displeasure of the officers at the table, who weren’t served a single bite. They had to go to Café Sacher in Vienna later on to satisfy their stomachs. The legendary Anna Sacher prepared a dish for the hungry officers that could bubble away by itself for hours, becoming ever more delicious – this was Tafelspitz.

Schupfnudeln – dumplings from the Thirty Years’ War  

Schupfnudeln, also known as finger dumplings or Bubaspitzle in the Swabian dialect, are a favourite dish in Bavarian and Austrian cuisine. They are said to have been around since the Thirty Years’ War when soldiers made long noodles from flour and water. The name comes from ‘schupfen’, a Southern German dialect word for rolling out the dough or for sliding the rolled pieces into boiling water. They are often served sweet with sugar and cinnamon or apple puree, while Swabians like to enjoy them with savoury sides like cabbage and bacon.

Poor Knights – lack of meat leads to international sweet treat

Poor Knights, French toast or pain perdu are all names for the sweet treat made by dipping old bread in a mixture of eggs and milk and then frying it. The origin of ‘Poor Knights’ dates back to the Middle Ages. One legend tells of simple knights who had to content themselves with old chunks of bread because there was no meat. To use up the crusts, they threw them unceremoniously in the frying pan. Although the practice of dipping bread in milk and frying it in oil was already widespread in Roman times, Poor Knights in its current form was first mentioned in the 14th century – actually in ‘The Book of Good Food’, the first true cookbook in German. 

Heaven and earth: named after the potato 

The traditional Rhine dish ‘Himmel un Ääd’ [heaven and earth] takes its name from its two main ingredients. This is where the potato – known in 18th-century German as ‘earth-apple’ – meets the apple, growing on branches reaching to the heavens. In the Rhine dish ‘Himmel un Ääd’, apple and potato are combined with fried bacon and roasted onions and served with seared black or white pudding. 
Fun stories, but are they true? It isn’t always possible to find absolute proof. But that certainly doesn’t stop people from enjoying the dishes!

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