If you are powerful, celebrated or heroic you may be remembered by having things named after you. Schools, airports, roads, squares and public buildings are all dedicated to politicians, royalty, celebrities and heroic figures from a nation’s past. One way to be immortalised is to have a popular food, drink or dish named after you. The only danger is that the product becomes so ubiquitous that the name’s roots are forgotten. So this is the second of three posts to remember the people behind the menu.
Queen Victoria is in no danger of being forgotten. Anyone who has visited London’s top tourist spots will have seen the giant memorial in front of Buckingham Palace. They may also have spotted her unmistakable likeness in statues at the Royal Exchange, Carlton House Terrace or Blackfriars Bridge.
You may catch a train at Victoria Station, not only in London but also in Manchester, Belfast and Southend. She is commemorated in everything from Canadian cities (the capitals of British Columbia (Victoria) and Saskatchewan (Regina)) to Australian states (both Victoria and Queensland are named for the Queen-Empress), Africa’s natural wonders (Victoria Falls and Lake Victoria) to Britain’s highest military decoration awarded for valour (the Victoria Cross).
As the iconic and eponymous Queen of the Victorian age, reigning at the apogee of Britain’s imperial reach, it is perhaps unsurprising that her name attached to a staggering long list of places and things. More prosaically, this included foods.
The most obvious of these is the Victoria Sponge. I must confess a conflict of interest when writing about the Victoria Sponge – it is an enduring favourite and an unavoidable weak spot for any diet. In principle, it is a very simple cake – two layers of sponge joined by a jam and cream filling and dusted with sugar.
This apparent simplicity belies some pretty fundamental questions – fresh cream, vanilla cream or buttercream? Strawberry or raspberry jam? Icing or caster sugar?
Victoria was also commemorated in a plum, apple and pea.
If the Romanovs held the imperial crown, the Stroganovs held its purse strings. Since the days of Ivan the Terrible, the family had been singularly successful at navigating the largely separate worlds of royal court and commercial endeavour.
The result was a dynasty of fabulous wealth. They were elevated to the aristocracy and built one of the finest mansions in the new capital of St. Petersburg (Stroganov Palace on the famous Nevsky Prospekt). They served a succession of Tsars as advisors, ministers and administrators.
The Stroganovs’ hold on Russian business ended with the Revolution, but their name lives on in a dish that has become a quintessential symbol of Russian cuisine. It isn’t clear which member of the family the dish is named for. It might even have just been named to honour the dynasty and add some aristocratic sparkle to a menu.
Beef Stroganoff is essentially sautéed pieces of beef served in a sauce with sour cream. Over the decades, however, it has become a favourite around the world and is made to hundreds of different recipes. It has even been used as a topping for baked potatoes, as a filling for crepes and on pizzas.
I’m not sure that Count Stroganoff would have approved of a dish where tomato paste is substituted for ketchup and sweetcorn is added, but I’m sure he would have been happy that at least his illustrious family is remembered, albeit tangentially, in menus around the world.
In the 1930s, Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry’s Bar in Venice, developed a dish based on the Piedmonetes carne cruda all’albese. It featured raw meat thinly sliced or pounded thin. Soon after, an exhibition dedicated to Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio was staged in Venice. How did the two become connected? The Daily Telegraph suggests that the recipe took on the painter’s name “possibly because the colours of the dish are reminiscent of his vivid use of reds”