As I grow older and begin worrying about my mortality, I understand why people have children: who else will bother to remember you after you’re dead? But surely there must be an easier way than being pregnant for nine months (and all the nausea, hormonal changes, and inability to sleep on one’s stomach this implies), giving birth, and having to feed and care for a young person and prepare them to be a useful member of society. Plus they’re so expensive, all that food and clothing and electronic equipment, not to mention college tuition.
I suppose I could hope that this website will still be read in a few hundred years. Or that I will somehow come into an obscene amount of money, enough to put my name on a building with so much architectural importance that no one would dare tear it down. Or... I could have a food named after me! What is more precious than a foodstuff?
There are a few paths to food immortality. One is actually inventing a food with wide appeal and great lasting power throughout the centuries, or at least taking the credit. Was John Montague, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, the first person to think of sticking a piece of meat between two slices of bread? Probably not. But he gets the credit, and the name. As do Robert H. Cobb, Caesar Cardini, Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, Alfredo di Lelio, and Stephine and Caroline Tatin for the dishes that still bear their names, and Charles, Pierre, and Henri DeJonghe, the owners of the Chicago hotel where the garlicky shrimp dish became famous. (Their chef, Emil Zehr, actually did the cooking.) Sylvester Graham and James Salisbury thought they were inventing health foods, but instead they ended up fueling a classic campfire treat and thousands of horrors served over steam tables. If they could see this from the afterlife, they would be severely disappointed.
And then there’s Mrs. Chen, who ran a tofu restaurant Wanfu Qiao in Chengdu, China, at the turn of the 20th century. She invented a dish that combined tofu, chilis, and Sichuan peppers and served them in chili oil. It became very popular. But instead of Chen’s Tofu or Wanfu Qiao Tofu or something like that, it got its name from Mrs. Chen’s appearance: mapo, or “pockmarked old lady.”
Unfortunately, sometimes the inventor of the food has the misfortune to share a name with someone more famous. Such was the case with Louis Davenport, a Spokane hotel-owner and restaurateur who invented a very rich crabmeat salad that he named after himself; it was subsequently attributed to King Louis XIV, who died 150 years before Davenport was even born, because every Louis in the world fades before the Sun King (including the 16, or maybe 18, other King Louis). Two guys named Reuben—Reuben Kolakofsky and Arthur Reuben—both receive credit for the Reuben sandwich. What are the odds?
Another more common path is to be a patron or a friend of a famous chef. Marie-Antoine Carême, the great French chef, named many dishes after his noble patrons. Charles Ranhofer, who ran the kitchen at the New York restaurant Delmonico’s for more than 30 years, preferred paying tribute to celebrities: veal pie à la Dickens, salad à la Dumas, estomacs de dinde à la Gustave Doré, bisque a shrimps à la Melville, and Sarah Bernhardt cakes. (He also liked to honor famous dead people: Mozart, Thomas Jefferson, Joan of Arc.) Richard Foster, the chairman of a New Orleans crime commission in the early 1950s, found refuge from his tough job by hanging out in his buddy Owen Brennan’s restaurant where the chef, Paul Blange, one day took pity and made him a special dessert of flambeed bananas and ice cream.
Some people are just so damned famous that people can’t help but name food after them. Arthur Wellesley, the first duke of Wellington, and General Zuǒ Zōngtáng (sometimes translated Tso) had great military victories. It is probably not surprising that a Ben & Jerry’s customer suggested an ice cream flavor to honor Jerry Garcia. A light and fluffy dessert just screams to be named after a ballerina like Anna Pavlova. The opera singer Nellie Melba had two things named after her: the dry toast she ate when she was on a diet and the peaches-and-ice cream dessert she ate when she wasn’t. Baby Ruth was allegedly named after President Grover Cleveland’s daughter not the baseball player, even though baby Ruth Cleveland died 17 years before the candy bar was invented, but sometimes you say certain things to avoid being sued.
Queen Victoria had a whole bunch of stuff named after her, but the one that lingers is the Victoria sponge, thanks, in part, to The Great British Bake-Off. GBBO also continues to popularize the checkerboard Battenberg cake, named after the German nobles who married into the British monarchy and changed their name to Mountbatten and Windsor. (And here we get into a crossover with The Crown.) Meanwhile, Victoria’s contemporary, Otto von Bismarck, got a creme-filled doughnut. Which I think is a very nice way to be remembered. I’m not sure how many people, when they bite into a Bismarck, remember that Otto von Bismarck was responsible for uniting Germany. But we keep saying his name, right?
I’m afraid I lack the horticultural knowhow to create a new hybrid fruit that I could name after myself the way Enoch Bartlett (pears), Dom Pierre Pérignon (Champagne grapes), Père Clément Rodier (clementines), and John McIntosh and Marie Ana “Granny” Smith (apples) did.
So that leads to one more path. It’s a bit humiliating, but sometimes you have to pay a high price for immortality. Back around 1920, a kid called Henry used to hang out at the Williamson Candy Company in Chicago, and sometimes he would do chores for candy. Whenever anyone wanted him, they would yell “Oh, Henry!” And so a candy bar was born. (That’s one version anyway. Another claims that Henry was a lover who made all the girls sigh. A far more likely version is that when Williamson bought the Peerless Candy Company, it inherited a bar called the Tom Henry, named after Peerless’ manager, Thomas Henry, and promptly renamed it. There is no documentation for any of these stories, so choose your favorite.) No one mentioned how many years of servitude it took, or even if Henry thought it was worth it.