Today (September 3) is Welsh Rarebit (or sometimes Welsh Rabbit) Day. In case you’ve never had Welsh Rarebit before, there is nothing particularly Welsh about it, nor does it contain any rabbit. Simply put, the recipe for a Welsh Rarebit includes three steps: toast two pieces of bread, make a sauce out of beer and cheese, and pour it on the toast.
Who wouldn’t like that? Simple and delicious.
A copy of the “New Paducah Cookbook” (published in the early 1900s by Grace Episcopal Church in Paducah) includes the following expanded recipe: The proper ingredients for a rarebit are a quarter of a pound of grated cheese; two ounces of butter; two tablespoonfuls of beer; a teaspoonful of salt and a little mustard; pepper and a dust of cayenne.
So, other than the local recipe, why would the Local and Family History Department even acknowledge Welsh Rarebit day? Well, it turns out the young folks throughout Paducah (and the region) often entertained their friends with Welsh rarebit parties. A quick search of the society pages from the late 1800s/early 1900s reveals dozens of such parties, like this report from the Paducah Daily Sun on February 10, 1898: “On Tuesday evening Mrs. May Blossom Ricke entertained a few friends with crokinole, after which a Welsh rabbit was very successfully made.“
Welsh rarebit parties were all the rage. At first glance that might seem like a particularly strange food to base a party around, until you consider that sometimes the cheese sauce was put into a chaffing dish and hunks of toast were dipped into it. In other words, the young folks in early Paducah were fond of having fondue parties.
In subsequent years, the popularity of Welsh rarebits faded somewhat, perhaps usurped by the equally delectable grilled cheese sandwich. Yet, it seems that in a couple obscured forms, the tradition of rarebits have persisted in Kentucky. Take beer cheese for example, which was invented in Wincester, Kentucky in 1940. The ingredients are nearly the same as a rarebit (cheese, beer, mustard, cayenne pepper), and it can certainly be spread on toast.
Consider, too, the Kentucky Hot Brown, created at the Brown Hotel in Louisville in 1926. The Wikipedia page about the Hot Brown says, “It is a variation of the traditional Welsh rarebit,” and what is it but a cheese sauce on toast, with the additions of roast turkey, bacon and tomatoes.
So, there you are. Celebrate Welsh Rarebit Day in high Kentucky style and tradition, if not for the fondue parties of the early twentieth century then for the beer cheese, and if not for than the beer cheese then for the Hot Brown.
(Bonus fact: Crokinole, the popular party game mentioned earlier in the article, was played on a two foot wide wooden circle in which participants tried to flick discs into a hole in the center. Does crokinole seem awfully reminiscent of cornhole? Who knows?)
To learn more about all things cheesy, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library. And if you like this article, make sure to like our Facebook page.