My friend Mary brought me a fine hostess gift when she visited from England recently: the Gordon Ramsay's Great British Pub Food cook book. She knows I love to cook, and I love linguistics.
This is fantastic on both counts. It's a fine cook book, but it still reads like a foreign language. Even though it's plain English.
The names of some of the dishes are fabulously mysterious, like enchantments and spells: "angels and devils on horseback", "pan haggerty", "Scotch woodcock" (huh?), "creamed haddock" (that's fish, right? right), "Welsh rabbit", which is not rabbit at all, but toasted bread with a flour-butter-cheese-beer mixture on top, and "cock-a-leekie soup".
The most mysterious name to me is "pig's liver faggots". The recipe starts with, "Faggots may not sound too appetizing, but as long as they're properly made, they are delicious and easy to prepare." The ingredients include liver and pork belly and breadcrumbs, as well as several spices and herbs. Reading through the instructions, it sounds like this will turn out like some kind of meatballs. Liver and pork belly meatballs. (Wikipedia concurs.) Faggots? I have never heard this word in a culinary context.
But my favorite mystery of all of them is this ingredient listed in the recipe for Cornish pasties:
"1/2 swede, about 400g"
A half Swede at less than a pound? That seems pretty small for a Scandinavian person. (My friend Mary said a swede is a kind of turnip. My friend the Wikipedia concurs: it's a rutabaga, or Steckrübe to my German brain.)