I know I make a lot of fun of people who call French toast ‘freedom toast’ or who tell me that a French Poodle is a ‘courage dog’ but I was grilling 24 chickens on my grandmother’s patio, reading William Diehl’s “27” (not his best work) when I was reminded about how in 1917 there was a similar push for renaming that sticks with us to this day.
Have you ever had Salisbury Steak? These days you don’t see it too much west of the Mississippi unless you’re in a posh restaurant or getting a TV dinner. For those who don’t know, a Salisbury Steak is really the most normal, everyday food in America: the hamburger.
But how did it get that name? For years I assumed that it was given the name much for the same reason that the Shirley Temple drink existed. Something a posh parent (or in my case grandparent) could order for the kiddies. Junior wants a ‘drink?’ Get a 7Up throw on a cherry and call it a Shirley Temple. Dad has a rum and Coke? Give the little girl a coke with a cherry and tell her it’s a Roy Rogers.
I always felt more grown up when I got my Virgin Bloody Mary (without the booze, not the blood), so growing up it felt right to have a special name for my burger when Mom ordered her chicken divine.
And yet …
Liberty cabbage was created during World War I, when Germans were changing their names and our young men were ‘joining the fight.’ A whipped Woodrow Wilson had to ask Congress and the Senate to declare war on Austria-Hungry, Germany and the Turks to ‘preserve Democracy.’ Rumor has it that his soul was in agony when Congress and Senate cheered for the impending death.
But mere months after, we ended up with ‘Liberty Cabbage.’
So what is it?
Can you guess?
That’s right, sauerkraut. That yummy picnic cabbage that we’ve all had on the 4th of July. Yes, that all-American holiday, on our day of freedom and birth, we eat the kraut.
But in the 1940s we called it Liberty Cabbage.
Because we wanted nothing to remind us of the enemy, nothing to reflect upon the good in our lives, and nothing to be celebrated about them. So sauerkraut became Liberty Cabbage and hamburger became Salisbury Steak.
Maybe the Freedom Toast concept isn’t as crazy as we thought. Or maybe it is and it’s even sadder that this piece of hysterical history has repeated itself.