Date: Wed, 27 May 1998 16:16:39 +0000
From: Jim Rader
Subject: Food folklore, pt. 1 [very long]

This posting deals as much with American folklore and culinary
history as with facts of language, so if you're not interested, close
the message and hit your delete button NOW--don't say you weren't
warned. These three areas are closely intertwined, so I don't think
the extended discussion that follows is totally out of place on the

A recent posting on the list--at least I think it was this
list--discussed _Buffalo wings_ and their late (alleged) originator.
This led me to do some Nexis searching on _Buffalo wings_ and the
supposed creation of the appetizer itself by Teressa Bellissimo at
the Anchor Bar & Restaurant on the corner of East North and Main in
Buffalo in 1964--a tale repeated many times with slight variations in
the food columns of dozens of newspapers.

The narrative, which I'm not going to recapitulate here, reminded me
of some work I had done on and off on the origins of _Reuben
sandwich_ and _Caesar salad_, which heretofore I've never reported.
The stories behind these three menu items have a common folkloric
outline that I'm sure can be found in tales of the inventions of
other dishes. The item is always improvised by its creator,
typically late at night, for a group of hungry people, with a small
number of ingredients that happen to be at hand. The dish is an
immediate success and is placed on a restaurant menu. It springs
into being without evolution and in an immediately classic form that
later imitators modify and degrade.

The factual origins of culinary items are surely more complex than
the folkloric outlines would lead us to believe, and there are
several historical stages to be distinguished, namely, the
development of the item, the dissemination of the item once it has
reached a certain stage, and--what is of lexicographical
relevance--the naming of the item.

In the case of _Buffalo wings_, the naming is most likely going to
follow the development of the dish by an interval of time. If
deep-fried chicken wings coated with hot sauce and served with celery
and blue cheese dressing actually originated in the Buffalo area, the
probability is that no one would have thought to call the dish
_Buffalo wings_ until people either inside or outside the region had
become conscious that the dish was regional--likewise, presumably,
with other foods named after places (unless the name was a deliberate
coinage by, say, a particular restaurant). A Nexis search turned up
1984 as the earliest date for the collocation, but there is an entry
for _Buffalo chicken wings_ in John Mariani's _The Dictionary of
American Food and Drink_ (1983), and Mariani reports that "in 1977
the city of Buffalo declared July 29 'Chicken Wing Day.' " Calvin
Trillin wrote a piece on Buffalo wings that appeared in the Aug. 25,
1980 _New Yorker_ ("U.S. Journal: Buffalo, N.Y. An Attempt to
Compile a Short History of the Buffalo Chicken Wing"); it dissects
the subject in considerable detail for anyone interested. Trillin
makes a fairly convincing case that the dish was popular in greater
Buffalo, but had not yet diffused much beyond it. He does not use
_Buffalo wing_, only _Buffalo chicken wing_.

The standard _Caesar salad_ legend credits the creation of the recipe
to an Italian immigrant, Caesar Cardini, who operated a restaurant
(or hotel and restaurant in some versions) in Tijuana. According to
the canonical version, told by Caesar's daughter Rosa, he tossed the
first Caesar's salad on the evening of July 4, 1924. The most detail
I've been able to find on the supposed background of Caesar Cardini
is in articles in the _Tulsa World_ (July 9, 1997) by Rik Espinosa
(whom I've also spoken to by phone), in _The Santa Fe New Mexican_ (May 28,
1997) by Alan C. Taylor, and in the _Chicago Tribune_ (July 23, 1987)
by Peter Kump. Caesar was born near Lago Maggiore, Italy, in 1896;
he and his brother Alex emigrated to the U.S. after World War I. The
Cardini's lived in San Diego but operated a restaurant in Tijuana to
circumvent Prohibition. The canonical version claims that the
restaurant was frequented by Hollywood stars such as Clarke Gable,
Jean Harlow, and W.C. Fields; if this was ever the case, it isn't
relevant to 1924, when Gable was a young unknown, Fields was still in
vaudeville, and Jean Harlow was 13 years old. The only person who
actually claims to have dined at the restaurant is Julia Child, who,
according to Paul Kump, said she was brought there by her parents and
ate the salad at its source. After the repeal of Prohibition (1934)
and the outlawing of casino gambling in Mexico (1935), the Cardini's
sold the Tijuana restaurant and moved to the Los Angeles area. The
restaurant still exists in Tijuana, though it has changed location a
number of times. In L.A. , the Cardini's are supposed to have sold a
homemade version of their salad dressing from a store. In 1948,
Caesar and Rosa began to commercially bottle the dressing, though
because _Caesar salad_ was in the public domain--which suggests it
was pretty well-known--they could trademark only _Original Caesar's_
and _Cardini_. Rik Espinosa reports "Rosa told me that in 1953, the
Paris-based International Society of Epicures called the Caesar's
Salad [sic] the 'greatest recipe to originate from the America's in
50 years.'" (Allan C. Taylor gives as a source for the same
information a public relations firm for the dressing manufacturer.)
Caesar Cardini died in 1956.

There are also a number of non-canonical versions of the Cardini
legend: according to Rik Espinosa, Paul Maggiora, a partner of the
Cardini's, claimed to have tossed the first Caesar's salad in 1927
for American airmen from San Diego and called it "Aviator's Salad."
(Maggiore and the two Cardini's were all veterans of the Italian air
force during the war.) Paul Kump claims that Diana Kennedy (an
oft-quoted authority on Mexican cooking) had met Alex Cardini in
Mexico City before Alex's death in 1975, and that Alex claimed to
have developed the salad (he too allegedly called it "aviator's
salad"). (For those interested in the culinary details, Alex's
version included anchovies, but that was not the way Caesar made
it--in the canonical telling he got the fishy tang only from
Worcestershire sauce.) Neal Matthews (_San Diego Union-Tribune_,
March 2, 1995) quotes one Livio Santini, an elderly resident of
Tijuana, who claims he made the salad, from a recipe of his mother,
in the kitchen of Caesar's restaurant when he was 18 years old, in
1925, and that Caesar took the recipe from him.

A totally heterodox origin for _Caesar salad_ appears in the 3rd
edition of _Webster's New World_: "so named in honor of (Gaius)
Julius Caesar by Giacomo Junia, Italian-American chef in Chicago, who
invented it c. 1903." Journalists only bring this etymology up to
heap scorn on it (demonstrating by the way their complete
incomprehension of the meaning of "Webster" in dictionary titles.) Is
anybody out there in Cleveland on ADS-L? Where did this etymology
come from?

The documentation of the collocation _Caesar salad_/_Caesar's salad_
is thin. The first cite Merriam has is from the _Britannica Book of
the Year, 1950_, from the article "Fads of 1949": "In foods, fads
were limited. Caesar salad was in vogue through the summer and fall,
and slot-machine hot dogs still prevailed in the larger cities" (pp.
273-74). There have to be earlier cites out there, even if only from
1949, when the salad was supposedly popular (suggesting it had been
regional until then?). The _Tulsa World_ article includes an
illustration from an old postcard of the Cardini restaurant in
Tijuana; I'm hoping to get a copy of the postcard from Rik Espinosa,
who owns the original. This would at least document, to my personal
satisfaction, the existence of the restaurant at one of its locations.
(Espinosa, who grew up in southern California, and whose grandparents
owned a hotel in Tijuana two blocks from the legendary restaurant, is
a font of knowledge on Caesar salad lore and the Cardini's, not to
mention Tijuana.)

(to be continued)