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Welsh rabbit
Welsh rarebit.JPG
Alternative namesWelsh rarebit (folk etymology)
Place of originUnited Kingdom
VariationsBuck Rabbit, Blushing Bunny, Hot Brown

Welsh rabbit or Welsh rarebit is a British dish consisting of a hot cheese-based sauce served over slices of toasted bread.[1] The original 18th-century name of the dish was the jocular "Welsh rabbit", which was later reinterpreted as "rarebit", as the dish contains no rabbit. Variants include English rabbit, Scotch rabbit, buck rabbit, golden buck, and blushing bunny.

Though roasted cheese was popular in Wales, there is no good evidence that the dish originated in Welsh cuisine.


Some recipes simply melt grated cheese on toast, making it identical to cheese on toast. Others make the sauce of cheese, ale, and mustard, and garnished with cayenne pepper or paprika.[2][3][4] Other recipes add wine or Worcestershire sauce.[5][6] The sauce may also blend cheese and mustard into a béchamel sauce.[1][7]


Hannah Glasse, in her 1747 cookbook The Art of Cookery, gives close variants "Scotch rabbit", "Welsh rabbit" and two versions of "English rabbit".[8]

To make a Scotch rabbit, toast the bread very nicely on both sides, butter it, cut a slice of cheese about as big as the bread, toast it on both sides, and lay it on the bread.

To make a Welsh rabbit, toast the bread on both sides, then toast the cheese on one side, lay it on the toast, and with a hot iron brown the other side. You may rub it over with mustard.

To make an English rabbit, toast the bread brown on both sides, lay it in a plate before the fire, pour a glass of red wine over it, and let it soak the wine up. Then cut some cheese very thin and lay it very thick over the bread, put it in a tin oven before the fire, and it will be toasted and browned presently. Serve it always hot.

Or do it thus. Toast the bread and soak it in the wine, set it before the fire, rub butter over the bottom of a plate, lay the cheese on, pour in two or three spoonfuls of white wine, cover it with another plate, set it over a chafing-dish of hot coals for two or three minutes, then stir it till it is done and well mixed. You may stir in a little mustard; when it enough lays it on the bread, just brown it with a hot shovel.

Buck rarebit (Welsh rarebit with an egg)
Buck rarebit (Welsh rarebit with an egg)

Served with an egg on top, it makes a buck rabbit[9] or a golden buck.[10]

Welsh rarebit blended with tomato (or tomato soup) makes a blushing bunny.[11]

The dish, called un Welsh, is served in Nord-Pas-de-Calais,[12] and Côte d'Opale regions of France.


The first recorded reference to the dish was "Welsh rabbit" in 1725 in an English context, but the origin of the term is unknown. It was probably intended to be jocular.[13]


"Welsh" was probably used as a pejorative, chauvinistic, and xenophobic dysphemism,[14] meaning "anything substandard or vulgar",[15] and suggesting that "only people as poor and stupid as the Welsh would eat cheese and call it rabbit",[16][17] or that "the closest thing to rabbit the Welsh could afford was melted cheese on toast".[18] Or it may simply allude to the "frugal diet of the upland Welsh".[19] Other examples of such jocular and often xenophobic names are Welsh caviar 'laverbread';[20] Essex lion 'calf'; Norfolk capon 'kipper'; Irish apricot 'potato';[21] and Rocky Mountain oysters 'bull testicles'.[22]

The dish may have been attributed to the Welsh because they were fond of roasted cheese: "I am a Welshman, I do love cause boby, good roasted cheese." (1542)[23] "Cause boby" is Welsh caws pobi 'baked cheese', but it is unclear whether this is related to Welsh rabbit.

Rabbit and rarebit

The word rarebit is a corruption of rabbit, "Welsh rabbit" being first recorded in 1725, and "rarebit" in 1781.[13] Rarebit is not used on its own, except in alluding to the dish.[13] In 1785, Francis Grose defined a "Welch rabbit" [sic] as "a Welch rare bit", without saying which came first.[24] Later writers were more explicit: for example, Schele de Vere in 1866 clearly considers "rabbit" to be a corruption of "rarebit".[25]

Many commentators have mocked the misconstrual of the jocular "rabbit" as the serious "rarebit":

  • Brander Matthews (1892): "few [writers] are as ignorant and dense as the unknown unfortunate who first tortured the obviously jocular Welsh rabbit into a pedantic and impossible Welsh rarebit..."[26]
  • Sivert N. Hagen (1904): "Welsh rabbit... is of jocular origin... Where, however, the word is used by the sophisticated, it is often 'corrected' to Welsh rarebit, as if 'rare bit'"[27]
  • Ambrose Bierce (1911): "Rarebit n. A Welsh rabbit, in the speech of the humorless, who point out that it is not a rabbit. To whom it may be solemnly explained that the comestible known as toad in the hole is really not a toad, and that ris de veau à la financière is not the smile of a calf prepared after the recipe of a she banker."[28]
  • H.W. Fowler (1926): "Welsh Rabbit is amusing and right. Welsh Rarebit is stupid and wrong."[29]

Welsh rabbit has become a standard savoury listed by culinary authorities including Auguste Escoffier, Louis Saulnier and others; they tend to use rarebit, communicating to a non-English audience that it is not a meat dish.

"Eighteenth-century English cookbooks reveal that it was then considered to be a luscious supper or tavern dish, based on the fine cheddar-type cheeses and the wheat bread [...]. Surprisingly, it seems there was not only a Welsh Rabbit, but also an English Rabbit, an Irish and a Scotch Rabbit, but nary a rarebit."[30]

Extended use

Since the 20th century, "rarebit", "rarebit sauce", or even "rabbit sauce" has occasionally been a cheese sauce used on hamburgers or other dishes.[31][32][33][34]

In culture

The notion that toasted cheese was a favourite dish irresistible to the Welsh has existed since the Middle Ages. In A C Merie Talys (100 Merry Tales), a printed book of jokes of 1526 AD (of which William Shakespeare made some use), it is told that God became weary of all the Welshmen in Heaven, 'which with their krakynge and babelynge trobelyd all the others', and asked the Porter of Heaven Gate, St Peter, to do something about it. So St Peter went outside the gates and called in a loud voice, 'Cause bobe, yt is as moche to say as rostyd chese', at which all the Welshmen ran out, and when St Peter saw they were all outside, he went in and locked the gates, which is why there are no Welshmen in heaven. The 1526 compiler says he found this story 'Wryten amonge olde gestys'.[35]

Betty Crocker's Cookbook claims that Welsh peasants were not allowed to eat rabbits caught in hunts on the estates of the nobility, so they used melted cheese as a substitute. It also claims that Ben Jonson and Charles Dickens ate Welsh rarebit at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a pub in London.[36] It gives no evidence for any of this; indeed, Ben Jonson died almost a century before the term Welsh rabbit is first attested.[13]

Welsh rabbit supposedly causes vivid dreams. Winsor McCay's comic strip series Dream of the Rarebit Fiend recounts the fantastic dreams that various characters have because they ate a Welsh rarebit before going to bed. In "Gomer, the Welsh Rarebit Fiend", Season 3 Episode 24 of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., indulging in Welsh rarebit causes Gomer (and later Sgt. Carter) to sleepwalk and exhibit inverse personality traits.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ a b The Constance Spry Cookery Book by Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume
  2. ^ Georges Auguste Escoffier, Le Guide Culinaire, translated by H. L. Cracknell and R. J. Kaufmann
  3. ^ Louis Saulnier, Le Répertoire de la Cuisine, translated by E. Brunet.
  4. ^ Hering's Dictionary of Classical and Modern Cookery, edited and translated by Walter Bickel
  5. ^ Recipes published on the labels of Lea and Perrins (Heinz) Worcestershire sauce,
  6. ^ ""It takes more than beer to make a perfect rarebit"".
  7. ^ Farmer, Fannie M., Boston Cooking-School Cook Book Boston, 1896, ISBN 0-451-12892-3
  8. ^ Glasse, Hannah, The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy, a Lady (Posthumous edition, L. Wangford, London, c. 1770), p. 146. Online 1774 edition read here
  9. ^ "Definition of "buck rabbit" - Collins English Dictionary".
  10. ^ "Golden Buck - Definition of Golden buck by Merriam-Webster".
  11. ^ Lily Haxworth Wallace, Rumford Chemical Works, The Rumford complete cookbook, 1908, full text, p. 196
  12. ^ Evans, Max (30 June 2016). "Wales fans try the French Welsh rarebit". BBC.
  13. ^ a b c d Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd Edition, 2011, s.v. 'Welsh rabbit' and 'Welsh rarebit'
  14. ^ Eric Partridge, Words, Words, Words!, 1939, republished as ISBN 1317426444 in 2015, p. 8
  15. ^ Kate Burridge, Blooming English: Observations on the Roots, Cultivation and Hybrids of the English Language, ISBN 0521548322, 2004, p. 220
  16. ^ Robert Hendrickson, The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 1997, as quoted in Horn, "Spitten image"
  17. ^ cf. "Welsh comb" = "the thumb and four fingers" in Francis Grose, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1788, as quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. 'Welsh'
  18. ^ Roy Blount Jr., Alphabet Juice, 2009, ISBN 1429960426, s.v. 'folk etymology'
  19. ^ Meic Stephens, ed., The Oxford companion to the literature of Wales, 1986, s.v., p. 631
  20. ^ Ole G. Mouritsen, Seaweeds: Edible, Available, and Sustainable, 2013, ISBN 022604453X, p. 150
  21. ^ E.B. Tylor, "The Philology of Slang", Macmillan's Magazine, 29:174:502-513 (April 1874), p. 505
  22. ^ Laurence Horn, "Spitten image: Etymythology and Fluid Dynamics", American Speech 79:1:33-58 (Spring 2004), doi:10.1215/00031283-79-1-33 full text
  23. ^ Andrew Boorde: The Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge, the which do the teache a man to speak part of all manner of languages, and to know the usage and fashion of all manner of countreys (1542)
  24. ^ Francis Grose, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1785, s.v. 'rabbit' and 'Welch rabbit'
  25. ^ Maximilian Schele de Vere, "Fated Words", Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 32:188:202-207 (January 1866), p. 205
  26. ^ Brander Matthews, Americanisms and Briticisms, 1892, p. 39-40; also in Brander Matthews: "As to 'American Spelling", Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 85:506:277-284, p. 279
  27. ^ Sivert N. Hagen, "On the Origin of the term Edda", Modern Language Notes 19:5:127-134 (May 1904), p. 132
  28. ^ Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary in The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce, v. 7, 1911, s.v., p. 274
  29. ^ Fowler, H. W., A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Oxford University Press, 1926
  30. ^ Alice Ross, "Hunting The Welch Rabbit", Journal of Antiques and Collectibles, May 2000
  31. ^ Gyula Décsy, Hamburger for America and the World, 1984, ISBN 0931922151, p. 31
  32. ^ Dawn Simonds, Best Food in Town: The Restaurant Lover's Guide to Comfort Food in the Midwest, 2004, ISBN 1578601460, pp. 47, 48, 59
  33. ^ "Universal sauces for main courses", Michael Greenwald, Cruising Chef Cookbook, 2000, ISBN 0939837463, p. 280
  34. ^ "From One Hostess to Another", Good Housekeeping, May 1919, p. 44
  35. ^ In two known editions, one undated. W. Carew Hazlitt (Ed.), A Hundred Merry Tales: The Earliest English Jest-Book, facsimile (privately published, 1887), fol xxi, verso Read here. See also Hermann Oesterley (Ed.), Shakespeare's Jest Book. A Hundred Mery Talys, from the only perfect copy known (London 1866).
  36. ^ Betty Crocker's Cookbook. Prentice Hall. 1989. p. 184.
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