Welsh Rarebit recipe, does anyone have the original one?

Joined Mar 4, 2010

I was reading about Welsh Rarebit recipe, however I saw too many variations of it. Does anyone have the original one??


Joined Jan 5, 2007
There is no ORIGINAL Welsh rarebit recipe - most British familes have their own versions.  Mine is from a family receipt book from the early 1800s.

Some use mustard, some don't - some use  guinness (mine doesn't) some use ale... most use strong cheddar.  My version is made in a double-boiler.
Joined Feb 1, 2007
And they go back further than that.

In her 1745 The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse provides a recipe "To make a Welsh Rabbit." She also has recipes of the same kind to make a Scotch Rabbit, and an English Rabbit.

All three of those are closer to what we'd call a melted cheese sandwich, only open faced. For instance, for the Welsh Rabbit: "Toast the bread on both sides, then toast the cheese on one side, lay it on the toast, and with a hot iron brown the other side. You may rub it over with mustard." The English Rabbit differs in that the bread is first soaked in wine.

These are followed by a method more akin to what we currently think of as Welsh Rarebit:

"Or do it thus.

Toast the bread and soak it in the wine; set it before the fire, cut your cheese in very thin slices, but butter over the bottom of a plate, lay the cheese on, pour in two or three spoonfuls of white wine, cover it with another plate, set it over a chafing-dish of hot coals for two or three minutes; then stir it till it is done and well mixed: you may stir in a little mustard; when it is enough, lay it on the bread, just brown it with a hot shovel. Serve it away hot."

It would be interesting to uncover when the switch was made from wine to beer/ale.

Beer/ale & cheese soups go way back, at least to the 1600s. I wonder if it wasn't a case of somebody overcooking the soup, looking at the thickened "sauce," and saying to him/herself: "hmmmmm? I bet that would go great poured over toast."
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Joined Feb 1, 2007
Kind of ironic, but not unusual, that Williamsburg uses a modernized version in its restaurants.

If you check The Williamsburg Art of Cookery, published in 1938 and containing all historically documented recipes, you'll find that they merely picked up (with credit) Hannah Glasse's recipes.

What is surprising is that there's not a more modern-sounding recipe in the historical book. It includes recipes from as late as 1837, and we know, from sources such as Ishbel, that it was being made in our familiar form as far back as that.

It's possible, too, that the anti-British sentiments that drove us away from tea might have been extended to those sorts of dishes. Neither the 1796 American Cookery nor the 1828 Virginia Housewife include variations. But, then again, neither of them have any recipes in which cheese figures prominently. Nor, for that matter, does the 1833 American Frugal Housewife.
Joined Feb 20, 2010
What's so amusing is that as restored to original design and appearance as Williamsburg buildings are, they still meet current building, fire, and health codes.  Chowning's Tavern was considered the working man's gathering place as opposed to the more patrician King's Arms Tavern; both are somewhat authentic in their interiors but open those kitchen doors and the 20th century awaits.  I guess they use the modern recipe for rarebit as it works in today's kitchens, let alone the availability of modern ingredients at supermarkets versus what was purveyed in King George's time.  <LOL!>  By the way, I recall the rarebit as being quite tasty when I last ate it at Chowning's; the rarebit was not offered at the King's Arms.
Joined Feb 1, 2007
I have no problems with historic sites meeting current health & safety regs. At least at Williamsburg the modern "improvements" are as out of site and unobstrusive as possible.

And I understand, too, why most recipes are adapted and modernized. They are, after all, in business, and have to meet patrons' taste requirements.

But when it comes to something like Welsh Rarebit, or other dishes that modern palettes would not find objectionable, there's no reason not to go with historic recipes (or, actually, reciepts, as they were then known).

Other places do that. For instance, the stewed tomatos dish served at Michie Tavern, near Montecello, is indistiguisable from the one served at raceday breakfasts in Kentucky as early as 1781. And, of course, venues such as City Tavern, in Philadelphia, serve only historically documentable dishes.

let alone the availability of modern ingredients at supermarkets versus what was purveyed in King George's time.

A common misconception. Due to the influence of Hollywood and popular "historic" novels, we tend to think that food in the 18th century was all plain and rustic, when, in fact, much of it---especially among the landed gentry---was very sophisticated. There weren't many foodstuffs available to us today that our forebears didn't have.

The big changes aren't so much with what's available, but in the convenience, forms, and time of year. For instance, looking again at Michie Tavern's stewed tomatoes, their recipe starts with canned tomatoes, whereas Bill Whitlock (well, his cooks, actually) would have had to first cook the tomatoes (more likely, cook them longer than the 15 minutes Michie specifies), then use them in the final recipe. And the dish would only have been made in the summer.

Kind of reminds me of the perennial argument of "fresh from scratch" vs. "convenience."
Joined Feb 26, 2007
Interesting thread.

I imagine the replacement of wine with beer (I'm sure I'll get corrected here),  was that it was easier and perhaps quicker to produce the beer at home rather than wine.  Especially in the cooler climes.  Grapes tend to have a harder time in the cold, so beer was probably more available/producable.

As has been mentioned, it probably stemmed from an over-cooked sauce where cook said " 'Ere what the 'eck am i gunna do with this lot then?" and thought "I'll chuck some plonk in, bung it on some toast and tell them its a delicacy".  The lords and ladies would have said "Ooh Ahh summat new!" and gobbled it down.  And it was christened as a Welsh Rarebit.

Likely story - no idea.  Hope it gave you at least a little smile.

More likely it was made for hard working tired men by their hard working women when they had no meat to cook but wanted their man full at the end of the day.  Hey, not PC at all, but that's life.
Joined Feb 1, 2007
Ya know, DC, you've hit on the bane of food historians.

For any particular dish, there are always at least two origination stories: what is probably the truth, and the romanticized version. We love the romanticized legends, and tend to pass them on, even when the truth is known. Sally Lunn is, perhaps, the best example of this.

You are more than likely correct as to how Welsh Rarebit began. And it likely started that way simultaneously in several places by several people---you know, one of those generalized in-the-air kinds of thing. But the story you told in dialect is so much more fun.

I imagine the replacement of wine with beer

Another danger that we're all guilty of. Was wine replaced with beer? Although it seems so, consider this. The Rabbits described by Hannah Glasse and others were directed at well-to-do households. Those are the ones who bought cookbooks. Welsh Rarebit, as we know it, was, as you've pointed out, working class food.

It's quite possible that both existed simultaneously. Then, over time, the dishes using wine-soaked bread fell out of favor (food is, if nothing else, fashionable). Meanwhile, as we approached being a more egalitarian society, Welsh Rarebit become known to the non-poor.

And, of course, in the 19th century, cookbooks were directed at the poor and working classes, and included dishes like that.

So, while it's possible that wine was replaced with beer, it's just as likely that the two dishes share a similarity of name and nothing else.
Joined Mar 4, 2010
Do you know what makes me happy about posting threads on this forum? It is that you always go beyond my expectations!! What a history and interesting opinions behind Welsh Rarebit!!

By the way, last friday I did one at home.. It was not so good as I expected and it reminds me of the french Croque-Monsieur (this last one much better in my opinion).

The good thing is that I served it with grilled tomatos and watercress salad... At the end it was a good idea!!/img/vbsmilies/smilies/smile.gif

Thanks again!!
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