Do you know this old (but new to me) food word?

Learned a new food word recently: Kickshaw. (No, not related to “rickshaw.”)

I bumped into it in “Food in History,” by Reay Tannahill (Crown Publishers Inc., 1988). The author is discussing food during the Industrial Revolution, and the development of the modern-day menu of three to four courses.

On the creation of the second course, or “afters,” she writes:

“This was a motley assortment in the old tradition, consisting of cold meats, savouries, aspics, vegetable dishes and sweet dishes, collectively known as ‘entremets,’ or ‘between-courses,’ since they came between the meats and the concluding pastries and ices …

“This was the system followed in France, but not when the British and others began to adopt the new style of menu planning. The British had always been scornful of French kickshaws — which covered almost everything that came under the headings of hors-d’oeuvre, entrée or entremets — and therefore felt it necessary to make a few adjustments. As one well-travelled diner remarked, kickshaws in England usually consisted of ‘very mild but abortive attempts at Continental cooking, and I have always observed that they met with the neglect and contempt that they merited.'”

Goodness me. I’d never heard or seen the word — nor could I unpack it fully from context.

All right then. A swift online check showed that it comes from the French “quelque chose” (pronounced KELL-kuh-shoze), which means “something.”(I guess if you couldn’t figure out what food was being placed before you, it was a “something.”)

My American Heritage dictionary defines it simply as “a fancy dish,” but the online sources decode it more along the lines of “a fancy dish for no really good reason, and of no real substance.” (A judgment no cook would be pleased to hear about any of his or her dishes.)

It’s a juicy new word for me, though. I make you a present of it (if you didn’t already know it, and some of you may have). Enjoy!

(c) copyright 2015 Laura Groch


One thought on “Do you know this old (but new to me) food word?

  1. OK, that’s an awesome etymological bite. I love the evolution of the word (like you, I’d never heard it before, and, also like you, I’ve been doing some reading about food before, during, and after the Industrial Revolution, but I have not read Tannahill’s book on the subject).


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