Those of you who know me know that I am given to the occasional rant opinion. I’m giving you fair warning that this is one of them, and it’s only loosely on-topic at that. Please feel free to click on by if you’re not in the mood.
I had originally planned this to be a short footnote to my Sourdough Ciabatta Rolls post, but I realized I had somewhat more than a footnote’s worth to say. And I want to make it clear up front that my little tirade has nothing to do with the merits of what we bake (or cook or do), and everything to do with how we talk about what we bake (or cook or do).
First, about those rolls: I had originally been calling them “Rustic Sourdough Rolls” because I have been told by a professional baker I admire that if it’s sourdough it’s not truly ciabatta, but is more aptly termed “pane Francese” or something like that. But I decided to call them “Sourdough Ciabatta Rolls” after all, because I thought more people would understand the type of bread I made (or meant to make) with that name than with “rustic rolls” or anything else.
Now the professional in question is not only an extraordinary baker but a gracious, astute, and good-humored man, and I’m certain he would never chastise someone for the “incorrect” use of the term “sourdough ciabatta.” And in truth, I have never seen or heard anyone’s use of that term (publicly) questioned. I have seen, however, lambastings of “Beet Carpaccio,” “Edamame Hummus,” and “Pad Thai Noodles with [an assortment of nontraditional ingredients],” to name a few. Or to be more precise, reprimands not against these dishes themselves, but against their monikers, against the coopting of names of certain dishes to refer to something other than the “real deal.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m thinking that a primary function of words is to inform, describe, communicate. Be honest, doesn’t the term “Edamame Hummus” conjure a succinct image in your mind as to what this dip is about, notwithstanding that traditional hummus is made with garbanzo beans? If you saw “Beet Carpaccio” on a restaurant menu, wouldn’t that name convey a good bit of information (more than, say, “Beets au Chef Marcel”)? And if you ordered it, would you really be shocked and indignant when you were presented with a dish that wasn’t the “authentic” preparation of thinly-sliced raw beef?
I’m all for using words to mean exactly what they mean, when they need to. It would be inadvisable for me to decide to use the word “red” to mean “the color between yellow and blue on the spectrum” when teaching my daughter how to drive a car and obey traffic signals. But language is rich, beautiful, and useful because words can do more than the simple jobs they were originally assigned, creating infinite variety and texture. Sometimes meaning becomes more precisely honed even as the words themselves are applied less literally. Have you ever had the urge to take William Shakespeare aside and sanctimoniously remind him that the world is much too big to be a stage, let alone an oyster? Me neither.
So here’s to spinach Caesar salad and celery root slaw, to mushroom tartare and courgette spaghetti, to oven-baked fries and sourdough ciabatta. Know what I mean? Of course you do.