Q is for… Quiche. Before the sandwich, or the sushi box or the fro-yo, there was quiche. Along with pasties, a quiche was the perfect carry-around-in-your-pocket meal (so long as it was wrapped in a napkin). Hearty, fatty and full of flavour, the quiche is a staple of picnics and museum tearooms country wide. And with a crumbly, buttery pastry enclosing baked custard and salty deliciousness, what’s not to love?
Quiches come, originally, from Germany: their name is a variation on kuchen meaning ‘tart’. They were traditionally made with flattened bread dough – rather like a deep-pan pizza, perhaps. But as far back as the fourteenth century there are recipes in English for savoury custard baked in pastry; in, for example, the charmingly named ‘Crustardes of flessh’.
The most famous quiche is the Quiche Lorraine, which in its simplest form has only lardons as a flavouring, alongside the custard and pastry. It comes from the historical area of Lotharingia, now in France on the border of Germany. For most of its history, Lorraine was fought over by the Germans and French, only finally becoming fully French in 1766 with a forced annexation.
These days, Quiche Lorraine usually has some cheese in it, along with the bacon, cream and eggs. Gruyere is widely used in Paris and England, although as late as 1960 Elizabeth David opined that ‘Lorrainers will tell you that this is not the true Quiche Lorraine’. Quiche in general has branched out, too, to include variations with spinach, Roquefort, leeks, mushrooms and even seafood.
However, mass-produced quiche, from supermarkets, can be flabby and over-refrigeration spoils the delicate balance of ingredients. It’s best straight from the oven, cooked at home with either shortcrust or puff pastry. With a peppery green salad and a glass of white wine, it’s a perfect little supper. It’s also ideal for packed lunches or back-from-the-pub snacking.
There’s a saying in America that ‘real men don’t eat quiche.’ It comes from the title of a 1982 book by Bruce Feirstein on ‘all that is truly masculine’ which popularised the phrase ‘quiche-eater’ to mean a conformist, wet, fashion-chasing kind of guy. Real men, by contrast, eat egg-and-bacon pie: none of this shilly-shallying around with French names.
Thanks to Australian comedian Chris Lilley and his character Ja’mie, quiche has now taken on an entirely new meaning. First in the incomparable Summer Heights High and then in Ja’mie: Private School Girl, Lilley riffed on queen bee schoolgirl slang. For Ja’mie and her gang of miniskirted hangers-on, ‘quiche’ means ‘beyond hot’. The ridiculous patois soon caught on; Lindsay Lohan tags her Instagram pictures ‘#soquiche’ and used the word on the David Letterman show. What on earth would the Lorrainian peasants make of it?