It would appear that a popular pastime in the
British Isles is to create new dishes and give them silly and/or repulsive names. Here is a very partial list:
1) Bubble and Squeak—fried potatoes and cabbage.
2) Toad in the Hole—no actual toads in it, unfortunately, it’s sausage in Yorkshire Pudding dough.
3) Clapshot—turnips with potatoes and chives (and no gonorrhea, thankfully).
4) Cullen Skink—again, it’s a tease. There’s no skink flesh included, it’s a Scottish smoked haddock/potato soup.
5) Cock-a-Leekie Soup—made with chicken and leeks, and traditionally, prunes.
6) Fool—sweetened, pureed fruit folded into whipped cream.
7) Herpes-afflicted Slang Term for Genitals—mashed potatoes with—okay, I made this one up.
Spotted Dick sounds like something that would be involved with Cock-a-Leekie Soup, but in reality it’s a type of cake with raisins in it. The first documented reference to it was in an 1849 cookbook, “The Modern Housewife,” by famous Victorian Chef Alexis Soyer (who was French by birth). The actual reason for its weird name isn’t conclusively known: Theories range from corruption of the words “dough” or “dog”; corruption of the last syllable of “pudding”; or that the German word for “thick” (dick) was borrowed. Also, of course, “dick” being slang for “penis” is a late twentieth century development. A few places in
clearly were embarrassed, and changed its name to “Spotted Richard.” Which I find cowardly—if you give a food a ridiculous name, one that lends itself so easily to double entendres, at least have the balls to respect tradition and stick with it. England
I’ve had Spotted Dick twice. The first time was years ago, and it was bought for me by friends who (very correctly) assumed that I’d try it out of legitimate curiosity, and immaturity. The second time was last week. Both times it was of the canned variety (from Heinz), found by my friends in a British specialty store, and by me in the ethnic section of Wegman’s (a great supermarket in the Northeast). It’s okay—it tastes like sponge cake with raisins. Kind of molasses-y and a tad dry. Not great, but far from terrible. And, to be fair, this was canned—I’m sure fresh is better.
British cuisine has a poor reputation. Sometimes it’s deserved (the general blandness, all the boiled vegetables) and sometimes not (Yorkshire Pudding, Fish and Chips, their pastries and candy). Despite its absurd name, Spotted Dick definitely falls into the latter category.