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French Toast

By Lyberty; Content last updated: 2004-04-24 (April 2004)


Abstract/ Summary: Based on various sources, French Toast could just as easily be called "German Toast" or "European Toast". There's no real evidence that
the basic recipe was invented by the French, though they did have something called "pain perdue" (lost bread) that is quite similar. Many Europen countries, however, also had a somwhat similar
recipe, often called "poor knights [pudding]". An original idea for reviving old bread might even date back to Roman times ("Roman Bread"). And, no, it is not named after someone named "French"...


Does renaming "French Toast" to "Freedom Toast" make sense?

Not if you believe the story that French Toast is actually named after Mr. Joe French...
Here's the myth:
[ ]

First made at a roadside tavern not far from the city of Albany in 1724, there are few dishes more truly American than the breakfast favorite known as "French toast". So American is the dish that very few can understand why it is not called "American toast", "Albany Toast" or even "New York State toast".
The confusion comes about because the owner of the tavern at which the dish was invented had a very poor knowledge of grammar. When Joseph French decided to name the dish after himself he should have written his invention as "French's toast" (that is to say, the toast of French). Because he did not know how to use the possessive apostrophe, however, the dish appeared on his menu simply as "French toast". In short, the dish has nothing whatever to do with French culinary history but in the two hundred and seventy years that have intervened, no one has taken the time to correct the grammatical error.

But most references I've found skip this story entirely, instead implying that it's called "French Toast" due
to its similarity to the dish in France called "pain perdu" (lost bread).

Encyclopedia: French toast
A breakfast dish made by dipping bread into a milk-egg mixture, then frying it until golden brown on both sides. It's usually served with syrup, jam or powdered sugar. In England, French toast is called "poor knights of Windsor." The French call it "pain perdu" (lost bread) because it is a way of reviving French bread, which becomes dry after only a day or two.

© Copyright Barron's Educational Services, Inc. 1995 based on THE FOOD LOVER'S COMPANION, 2nd edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst.

So my next question was: why in the world do the English call it "poor knights of Windsor"?
That name is a bit long, too....

Here's what I found:

"Called 'poor knights pudding' or 'poor knights of Windsor' in England ...."

So I guess 'poor knights of Windsor' is short for 'poor knights of Windsor's pudding'.
observation by Geitner Simmons: Does that mean that before 1917 they referred to it as “Poor Knights of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha”?

Here's a recipe for Poor Knights:
Poor knights - heirloom recipe from 1500's br

Yield: 4 Servings
4 Thick slices of bread
2 Eggs, beaten
200 ml White wine
1/2 ts Cinnamon
1 1/4 tb Sugar
Oil for frying
Confectioners sugar : to serve
Cinnamon : to serve
(the following description may contain more inaccuracies )
"This dish originated during the middle ages in England and spread all over the world with many variations.
Traditionalists should use bread, but stale cake is a good substitute. Red wine can be used instead of white. Substitute milk for wine and you have a more recognizable dish called incorrectly french toast. Bread: Cut off crusts and cut into quarters. Place in a deep dish. Mix eggs with wine cinnamon and sugar in a bowl. Pour once mixed over the bread and leave to soak for 3 minutes. Heat the oil [1/4 inch deep]. Drain the bread and slide it into the hot oil {Watch your hands as it 'spits'}. Fry until golden brown on both sides Drain on absorbent kitchen paper. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar and ground cinnamon."
- From Ron's Place in Blackpool, Mar 1996.

Another web tidbit:
It's actually called "Poor Knight" (short for "poor knight's bread") in many European languages:
e.g. Finnish, Swedish ('fattiga riddare'), Danish ('arme ridder'), and German ('armer ritter').

According to one web source:
"A recipe is given in 'The Accomplisht Cook' by R. May (1660) for
'French Toasts. Cut French Bread, and toast it in pretty thick toasts on a clean gridiron, and serve them steeped in claret, sack, or any wine, with sugar and juice of orange.'"

If true, this would be evidence against the-man-named-French theory; but note that dipping bread in wine is a far cry
from American French Toast. Not clear where / when the specific idea of a bread in eggs and milk really caught on.

Another web tidbit:
"Somewhere along the way I recall picking up that French fries actually came from Belgium. Someone please correct me if I am wrong. I don't know the rest of the story (other than the fact that Belgium is a francophone country), so sometimes I just tell the kids that it sounds neater to say French fries than Belgian fries.

I remember my grandmother telling me that French toast was actually originally called German toast, and that the change came about in World War I because of the negative view of Germany that was evolving, especially in Europe. "

In other words, some claim that French toast was referred to in the US as "German toast" prior to World War II. (However, this "fact" has not been confirmed. Documented confirmation is needed for widespread use of term "German toast".)

So, okay, if we originally called it "German Toast", then why does everybody make a big deal about "pain perdue"?
Maybe it's just "European Toast"?

According to The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink,
John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 134) :
" At one time or another in America it has been referred to as "Spanish," "German," or "nun's toast," and its first appearance in print as "French Toast" was in 1871. "

If Mr. Maiani's unattributted date can be trusted, that would seem to soldly contradict the Mr. French - Albany - 1724 thing...(as 1871 is 174 years later).

According to another web source, even the French might have originally called their recipie "Roman Bread"

see also: "Freedom Fries" (single US reference for a little while in 2003)

An old joke (Stephen Wright):
"I went to a restaurant
that had a sign out front that said `breakfast at any time'.
So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance."

post script: "recipe" spells "reh-sype". I demand we change the spelling to "res-e-pee" (rehs-eh-pee): resepee. ;-)


Links: sources for this article include:
Food Timeline : ancient Pain Perdue recipies

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