Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Foreign cuisine in Liverpool

In the sitcom Till Death Us Do Part, Alf Garnett's socialist son-in-law was played by Anthony Booth, whose daughter later became the wife of Tony Blair. Alf frequently called him (Booth, that is) randy scouse git.

The word scouse for a Liverpudlian or the way he speaks was first used because the Mersey in Roman times was called Scusa Fluvium. The dish known as lobscouse, still popular in the region, was named for scouses or scousers, with the addition of a prefix from the Old English lobben, meaning to munch.

Such etymological tit-bits are sometimes widely accepted as gospel, but often they are total rubbish, as in this case; the first paragraph above is perfectly accurate, but the second I made up.

But there is something called lobscouse and the Oxford Companion to Food gives the true story:

Lobscouse is the English name for a group of dishes which almost certainly had their origin in the Baltic ports, especially those of Germany. In all its forms, the name refers to a seamen's dish and is particularly associated in recent times with the port of Liverpool, which is why Liverpudlians are often referred to as scouses or scousers, though the dish has a long history in other nearby parts of England.
There are many variations, but typically it is made in a single pot by frying onion, carrots and turnips in dripping, then adding beef, lamb or mutton, chopped potatoes, water, and a cow-heel or pig's trotter to give a gelatinous body to the dish; crumbled ship's biscuit may also be added. Then it is put in the oven to cook for a very long time.
Labskaus, the German version, may be made either with fish (Fischlabskaus) or meat, in either case preserved rather than fresh. In Denmark the dish, traditionally made with salt beef, is known as skipperlavskovs and is supposed to be thick enough to eat with a fork but not so thick that the fork can stand up in it; some Liverpudlians agree and say that it should be firm enough for a mouse to be able to trot over it but mushy and capable of being spread to make a 'lobby butty'.

That's all very well, but where does the word labskaus come from? The Oxford English Dictionary is inadequate on scouse, giving it 'obscure' origin and making no reference at all to the fact that lobscouse relates to a foreign dish. Anyone got a German etymological dictionary?

1 comment:

Tony said...

An erudite French friend of mine went to the trouble of consulting the Encyklopadisches Deutsch-Franzosisches Worterbuch (a rattling good read this is, by the way) and tells me that the verb LABEN
can mean "to refresh oneself" and KAUS can also mean "cheaply", which takes us a little further along the etymological trail.