The last rarebit

I’ve come across some interestingly written recipes for the simple but delicious light meal of Welsh rarebit; the name for cheese on toast was first recorded as being ‘rabbit’ in the early 1700’s… fifty or so years later it had become rarebit, and Welsh rarebit to boot… no-one can quite pin down why, the change… maybe ‘rarebit’ sounded more posh, maybe Welsh was a joke… no-one really knows. According to Philip Harben, the first ever TV celebrity chef, it van be cooked in any number of ways – and I guess many of us have our own variations which may include bacon, ham, tomatoes, sausages, salami, chorizo, mushrooms… whatever is leftover in the fridge! Mr Harben’s full name is magnificent, Philip Hubert Kendal Jerrold Harben… I can’t imagine him ever being called Phil!

In his little book, Cooking Quickly, he gives recipes and hints which are exactly that, food which can be cooked quickly. Here is the final instalment of his series of recipes on rarebits:

Meat and Onion Rarebit

This recipe is not one that has to be followed exactly. It is a record of an experiment of mine which happened to turn out particularly well. You can omit, add to it or play about with it as the fancy takes you and as the state of the larder permits.

(2 people|)
Put into a saucepan ½ oz fat (any sort), ½ oz of flour, ½ oz of dried egg (the egg can be omitted, in which case make it 1 oz of flour), ½ oz powdered household milk, ½ oz dry mustard, a teaspoonful of ‘meat extract’.
Add ¼ pint of water or milk (if you use milk you can leave out the powdered milk). Mix all up well together and put it on the fire. Bring to the boil, stirring well, when it will thicken. Now add a small chopped onion and about a quarter of a pound of chopped cooked meat of any sort (remains of a joint, ham, etc.) and half a cup of grated cheese. Pile the hot mixture on buttered toast, and it is ready. Or better still brown it off in the oven or under a grill.
This dish can be prepared in advance and reheated or browned off when wanted.

This book was published in 1946, and no doubt many of his recipes and dishes were created during the war; there was still rationing in Britain, and this continued into the 1950’s so using powdered egg, dried milk and small amounts of cheese and meat in recipes must have been very helpful to his readers. However, it strikes me as exactly the sort of dish us impoverished students might have made in the 1960’s and 70’s before the abundance of cheap ready meals and frozen foods!


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