Culinary Dictionary – P

Linda’s Culinary Dictionary – P

A Dictionary of Cooking, Food, and Beverage Terms

Culinary Dictionary

An outstanding and large culinary dictionary and glossary that includes the definitions and history of cooking, food, and beverage terms.

Please click on a letter below to alphabetically search the many food and cooking terms

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pancakes – The pancake is a thin flat cake made from batter and fried on a griddle or in a skillet. The batter usually consists of eggs, flour, milk or water and oil or melted butter.  Whether they are called pancakes, flapjack, griddlecakes, flapjacks, wheat cakes, hot cakes, or funnel cakes, they are among our most popular food choices.  A piping hot stack of buttered pancakes drenched in maple syrup is an all-American image.  Pancakes, in one form or another, are found in almost every culture and all nations have at least one dish, which uses a pancake as container for fillings or toppings:

America:  Native Americans fry bread, cracklin’ bread, funnel cakes, johnnycake
Australia:  pikelets
Austrian:  palatschinken
British Isles:  Scottish Bannocks, English crumpets, oat cakes or biscuits, crempop, yorkshire pudding
China:  egg rolls, spring roll, po-ping
Egypt:  katief
France:  crepes, eierkuckas
Germany:  pannkucken
Holland:  poffertjes, pannenkoeken
Hungary:  Palacsinta
Italy:  cannelloni
Kosher:  Matzos pancake, blintzes
Latin America:  tortillas
Norway:  lefse
Romania:  spinach pancakes
Russia:  blini
Southern India:  lentil patties
Sweden:  plattar, flaeskpannkaka
Trinidad:  roti|
West Indies:  green corn cakes, or corn oyster fritters

History:  Nobody knows just how long people have been making and eating pancakes but you could call the flat bread made by primitive families twelve thousand years ago, a pancake.  Grinding grains and nuts and adding water or milk made pancakes.  This mixture was then shaped into flattened cakes and baked on the hot stones surrounding the fire.  One of the earliest known pancake meals dates back to 4th century B.C. China, where fragile pancakes of millet meal or wheat flour were popular because of their short preparation time.  Spring pancakes, a thin pancake made of ground rice, and filled with vegetables and meat have been traced as far back as the Song Dynasty.  Archaeologists excavating Stone Age Swiss lakeside settlements have found well-preserved examples of cakes made of pure wheat, millet or barley.

In colonial America, slaves carried homemade dry pancake “mixes” in a pouch to the fields with them.  When it was time to eat, they added water to the pouch, worked it into a batter and baked patties on a hot hoe over an open fire. In earlier times, English pancakes were sometimes moistened with ale, which had a leavening effect when the pancake was fried.  German pancakes were leavened by eggs and served thin, with jam or jelly.

Pancakes and festivals are often linked together:

1.  The best-known one is Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day, which heralds the beginning of fasting in Lent.  On this day there were feasts of pancakes to use up the supplies of fat, butter and eggs – foods that were forbidden during austere Lent.

2.  In England there are several celebrations on this day, but perhaps the best known one is the Pancake Day Race at Olney in Buckinghamshire which has been held since 1445.  The race came about when a woman cooking pancakes heard the shriving bell summoning her to confession.  She ran to church wearing her apron and still holding her frying pan, and thus without knowing it, started a tradition that has lasted for over five hundred years.

3.   In France, the main ceremonial day, for pancake eating is Candlemas on the 2nd of February.  This holy day is six weeks after Christmas and is the day that Christ was presented at the temple by his mother.  During this festival, French children wear masks and demand pancakes and fritters In various parts of France, there are different customs.  In Province, if you hold a coin in your left hand while you toss a pancake, you’ll be rich.  And in Brie the first pancake (which is never very good anyway) is always given to the hen that laid the eggs that made the pancake.  And it’s always regarded as bad luck to let a pancake fall on the floor while tossing it.

4.  Pancakes are the traditional treat of the Jewish Hanukkah festival.  They are fried in oil to commemorate the oil found by the Maccabeans when they recaptured Jerusalem from the Syrians, two thousand years ago.  The one-day’s supply of oil for the temple lamps burned miraculously for one week.  And, tradition says, the wives of the soldiers hurriedly cooked pancakes behind the lines for their warring husbands.

paella (pi-AY-yuh or pa-AY-ya) – There are hundreds of recipes for paella, all claiming to be authentic. The only ingredients that are necessary for paella are rice, tomatoes, and saffron. Other ingredients can be chicken, chorizo, mussels, shrimp, and peppers.

History:  There are several stories on the origin of paella:

(1) A Spanish rice dish originating in the town of Valencia on the Mediterranean coast.  Peasants working in the rice fields would collect snails and eels from the marshes and cook them with saffron and rice.

(2) Paella is named after the special two-handled pan (also called paella) in which it is prepared and served.

(3) That the dish was really created for a tiny, frail princess and was called paella “for her.”

Pain Perdu ( pahn pehr-DOO) – Also known as “French toast.”  In French, the term means “lost bread.”  It is usually made with stale chunks of French bread fried in butter and served covered with powdered sugar, thus the term “lost.”   In Spain it is called torriga. England it is called Poor Knights of Windsor.  Pain Perdu is considered dessert in France.  In the United States, it is considered a New Orleans-style French toast that is made with stale French bread.  Pain Perdu got its start as a way of using up leftover bread.

History:  Recipes for French toast can be traced to Ancient Roman times.  One of the original French names for this dish is pain a la Romaine’, or Roman bread.  Medieval recipes for suggest French toast was enjoyed by the wealthy, as cookbooks were written by and for the wealthy.  These recipes used white bread (the very finest, most expensive bread available at the time) with the crusts cut off, something a poor, hungry person would be unlikely to do.

pandowdy – It is a deep-dish dessert that can be made with a variety of fruit, but is most commonly made with apples sweetened with molasses or brown sugar.  The topping is a crumbly type of biscuit except the crust is broken up during baking and pushed down into the fruit to allow the juices to come through.  Sometimes the crust is on the bottom and the desert is inverted before serving.  The exact origin of the name Pandowdy is unknown, but it is thought to refer to the dessert’s plain or dowdy appearance.

History:  To learn more history, check out History and Legends of Cobbler, Crisps, Crumble, Brown Betty, Buckle, Grunts, Slumps, Bird’s Nest Pudding, and Pandowy.

panettone (pan-uh-TOH-nee) – In Italian it means “big bread.”  It is light-textured, spiced yeast bread containing raisins and candied fruit. It was originally a specialty of Milan.

panforte (pahn-FOR-teh) – An Italian confection (a round, flat cake) that is a cross between fruitcake, candy, and honey cakes.  It contains a tiny amount of flour (just enough to hold the fruits and nuts together).  The name panforte, “strong bread”, is due to its strongly spicy flavor.  In Italy it’s also called Siena cake. Originally a Christmas pastry, panforte is now enjoyed year round by Italian cuisine enthusiasts.

History:  To learn about the history of Panforte, check out History of Cakes.

panzanella (pahn-zah-NEHL-lah) – Panzanella salad always includes bread and tomatoes plus vegetables from the garden.  Vegetables can include peppers, cucumbers, and onions.  Lots of garlic, capers, black olives, and anchovies are added to the salad.

History:  An Italian salad that probably was an invention of necessity. Italian cooks waste nothing and this was a way to utilize stale bread and vegetables from the garden.  The record of panzanella goes back centuries.  In the 1500s, a poem by the famous artist, Bronzino, described the salad.  Of course, the tomato was quite a few years from being introduced into the Italian kitchen, so the ingredients didn’t include tomatoes.

paprika (papp-re-kar) – This is the Hungarian word for pepper.  The actual chile has a fleshy pod, a deep red coloring, and variable heat levels.  The pod is quite broad and can be pointed, elongated, and heart-shaped or aubergine-shaped.  It is related to the Spanish paprika pod called Pimento.  Paprika is the ground, dried pod of a variety of capsicum. Its growth habits are similar to those of the bell pepper, to which it is closely related.  It is native to Central America where it was found by the early Spanish and Portugus explorers.  It is now grown in central and southern Europe, as well as in southern California.  Heat level is 0-1.

parfait (pa-fay) – The parfait is French for “perfect.”  Originally the word referred to an ice sweet which was flavored with coffee.  Today it is a rich, frozen dessert made with egg whites, whipped cream, or gelatin to ace as a setting agent.

Parker House Rolls – Parker House Rolls get their special shape by making an off-center crease in a round piece of dough and then folding in half.

History:  The rolls were named for the Parker House Hotel in Boston where they were served during the late 1800s.  The restaurant was proclaimed as the first American restaurant to have an a la carte menu available all hours of the day.

parmigiano or parmesan cheese (PAHR-muh-zahn) – Parmesan is the name that is commonly used outside of Italy (sometimes in Italy), for a group of very hard cheeses that have been made and known in Italy for centuries as grana cheese.  It is a hard, dry chesse made from skimmed or partially skimmed cow’s milk and usually used for grating.  It is one of the finest cheeses in the world.  Can be eaten fresh but is best known as a hard grating cheese.  Do not buy too much at a time to avoid spoilage (grate as you need it).  It is made of cow’s milk and is very fruity to sharp flavor in taste.

History:  This type of cheese was first made in the vicinity of Parma, in Emilia, hence the name.

pastie or pasty (PASS-tee) – They are basically individual pies filled with meats and vegetables that are cooked together.  They should weigh about two pounds or more.  The identifying feature of the Cornish pasty is really the pastry and it’s crimping.  When pasties are being made, each member of the family has their initials marked at one corner.  This way each person’s favorite tastes can be catered to, identifying each pasty.

The solid ridge of pastry, hand crimped along the top of the pasty, was so designed that the miner or traveler could grasp the pastie for eating and then throw the crust away.  By doing this, he did not run the risk of germs and contamination from dirty hands.  The true Cornish way to eat a pasty is to hold it in your hands, and begin to eat it from the top down to the opposite end of the initialed part.  That way its rightful owner could consume any left over portion later.

History:  Pasties are one of the most ancient methods of cooking and of carrying cooked food.  It is said that the early Irish Catholic Priests created them in order to transport food as they walked about the countryside preaching and aiding the people.  The dish is mentioned in Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor (1598).”

Irish people that migrated to northern England took the art of pastie making with them.  Soon every miner in northern England took pasties down into the mine for his noon lunch.  Pasties were also called oggies by the miners of Cornwell, England.  English sailors even took pastie making as far as the shores of Russia (known as piraski or piragies.

The Cornish people who immigrated to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the U.S. in the middle of the 19th century to work in the mines made them.  The miners reheated the pasties on shovels held over the candles worn on their hats.  In Michigan, May 24th has been declared Michigan Pasty Day.

pate (pah-TAY) – (French) Refers to various elegant, well seasoned ground meat preparations (with a paste consistency).  Technically only meat wrapped in pastry should be palled pate.  Terrine, from the French root “terre” which means “earth,” means the loaf has been baked in a dish (classically one of earthenware).  Pate is served cold, usually on toast.  They are cooked one of two ways, either “pate en croute” (in crust) or “en terrine” (in a pork fat-lined container).  They come in various spreadable textures and are excellent hot or cold as hors d’oeuvre or a first course.

Pavlova (pav-LOH-vuh)  – The Pavlov consists a base made of a meringue crust topped with whipped cream and fresh fruits such as kiwis, strawberries, etc.

History:  To learn about the history of Pavola, check outHistory of Cakes.

Peach Melba – A dessert made up of poached peach halves, vanilla ice cream, and raspberry sauce.

History:  French Chef George Auguste Escoffier (1846–1935) created dish at the London Ritz Hotel in the early 1900s for an 1892 party honoring the singer, Nellie Melba, at the Savoy Hotel in London.  He named it after the famous Australian Internationally renowned opera singer Helen Porter Mitchell (1861-1931); better know as Dame Nellie Melba.  She took her last name from her native city of Melbourne, inspired others to honor her by naming things such as “soaps and sauces, ribbons and ruffles” after her.  Neither Escoffier nor Melba agreed with this version of events.  The pragmatic Nellie groused that she was missing out on royalties of “many millions of pounds” on the sales of these namesakes.  Her solution was to trademark her name. Peach Melba is first recorded in English in 1905 (in the form Phes la Melba).

Melba Toast – Melba toast is a very thinly sliced crisp toast that is served warm.

History:  Also named after Dame Nellie Melba.  Melba toast is said to be derived from the crisp toast that was part of Dame Melba’s diet during 1897 when she was strenuously dieting, living largely on toast.  It is said that she so enjoyed a piece of toast a young waiter had burnt, while she was staying at the Savoy Hotel.  It was bungled and was served to her in a thin dried-up state resembling parchment.  Cesar Ritz beheld with horror his celebrated guest crunching this aborted toast, and hastened over to apologize.  Before he could say a word supposedly Madame Melba burst out joyfully, “Cesar, how clever of Escoffier.  I have never eaten such lovely toast.”  The hotel proprietor Cesar Ritz supposedly named it in a conversation with chef Escoffier.

peanuts – Peanuts are widely grown throughout the southern United States and are in fact beans (legumes) not nuts.  Peanuts have many names around the world, such as ground nut, earth nut, monkey nut, and goober.

History:  They originally came from Brazil and Peru.  Peanuts spread to other countries from South America by slave ships, reaching this country from Brazil by way of Africa in the early slave ships.  The “nuts” come in tan-colored pods and have a strong flavor.  Both oils and butter are made from peanuts.


History:  An incredible taste for pears dates back to ancient times.  The alluring fruit even captured the praise of the well-known Greek poet, Homer (in 8th century B.C.), who referred to pears as a “gift of the gods.”  Evidently, the Romans agreed and proceeded to use grafting techniques to develop more than 50 varieties.  They also introduced the cultivated pear to other parts of Europe.  Since then, hundreds of varieties have been developed, and people have continued to benefit from the good taste of these early connoisseurs.

pearlash – Pearlash is a refined form of potash, and it produces carbon dioxide gas in dough. Baking powder was not developed commercially until 1857 (phosphate baking powder).  Pearlash was made by soaking hardwood ashes in water to obtain a weak lye solution, which produced carbon dioxide when heated.

History:  In the 1790s, pearlash a concentrated form of potash, was used as a leavening agent in baking. It produced carbon dioxide gas in dough, used in the first quick breads.  Salt-rising breads (using potash or baking soda as its primary leavening agent) typically have longer baking times.  These breads have a denser texture than modern, store-bought varieties, so even though self-rising flour is not in itself totally correct, it’s close and will give you a more authentic, dense-textured loaf.  In 1792, America was exporting 8,000 tons to Europe.  In 1796, American Cookery (the first American cook book) Amelia Simmons published recipes using pearlash.

pecan (pih-KAHN or pih-KAN) – A nut that is native to the southern U.S. and is a member of the hickory family.  They have a distinctive sweet rich texture and flavor.  Used in baking and sold roasted whole.  Care must be taken when storing pecans because their high fat content invites rancidity.

pecan praline – A confection made from pecans and caramel.  Considered one of the favorite sweets of the South, and particularly Texas and New Orleans.

History:  Pralines were originally introduced by the French Louisianans and were originally considered as an aid to digestion at the end of a sumptuous dinner.  Their name is derived from a French diplomat, Marechal du Praslin (1598-1675), whose butler is said to have advised a similar confection prepared with almonds and white sugar as an antidote to the effects of overeating.  In the American adaptation, the almonds were exchanged for pecans and the white sugar for brown.

pecorino cheese – peh-kuh-REE-noh) – In Italy, cheese that is made from sheep’s milk is called pecorino.  Pecorion cheese is and aged cheese that is hard, granular, and sharply flavored.

peppercorns – Ground and whole peppercorns come in various colors, and all but the pink type are from the same perennial plant called “piper nigrum.”  Peppercorns grow in warm, moist, and sunny climates (usually within about 15 degrees of the equator).  The world’s best black pepper comes from the Malabar Coast of India where the long hot summers and drenching monsoons make it perfect for pepper.

pepperoncini, pepperoncino (pep-per-awn-CHEE-nee) – Also known as Tuscan peppers, sweet Italian peppers, and golden Greek peppers.  The Italian varieties, grown in the Tuscany region of Italy, tend to be more bitter than their Greek counterparts.  The more popular Greek varieties are sweeter and commonly found in pizzerias tossed in salads for a crunchy, salty taste.  They have a bushy plant that grows to 30 inches tall and producing sweet green peppers that turn red when mature.  Usually picked at 2 to 3 inches long, these bright red, wrinkled peppers taper to a blunt, lobed end and are very popular for pickling.  These peppers are mild and sweet with a slight heat to them, and are commonly jarred for use in Greek salads and salad bars.

persimmon (puhr-SIHM-muhn) – Persimmons are often associated with the holidays as they are the most plentiful from late October to January.  Once ripe, eat them immediately or refrigerate briefly. T here are two types of persimmons:

Fuyu – It is the smaller of the two and has a shape similar to a tomato.  The inside texture is that of a plum and it can be eaten as an apple.  Skin on or peeled, they can be added to a salad, fruit compote, or eaten as a melon for breakfast.  This variety is tannin-free and non-astringent.

Hachiya – It is the most widely available and is the largest.  They can weigh as much as one pound and are shaped like a large acorn.  When ripe, they are very spicy and sweet but very astringent if under ripe.  When ready to eat, they will be very soft and feel like a water balloon.  They are often pureed for sorbets, for use in quick breads, puddings, and dessert toppings.  Superfine sugar and lime juice can be added to the puree, which can be frozen for future use.

pesto (PAY-stoh) – Pesto is Italian for a “pestle.”  The dish pesto was so called because crushing the ingredients in a mortar with a pestle produced the paste made.  It is an uncooked sauce used for pastas, grilled meats, and poultry.  It is made of fresh basil, garlic, olive oil, and parmesan cheese.  Some versions will also add parsley and walnuts or pine nuts.  The ingredients are ground into a paste and moistened with the olive oil.  Pesto is also used to describe similar sauces that contain other herbs or nuts.

History:  The dish originated in Genoa in the north of Italy.

petit four (PEH-tee fohr) – A small cookie or cake served on elaborate buffets or at the end of a multi-course meal.

Philadelphia Cheese Steak – A cheese steak sandwich is not really a steak at all – it is a sandwich made with chipped steak, steak that has been frozen and sliced really thin) and cooked on a grill top.  Locals think in terms of steak sandwiches with or without cheese.  Without cheese, the sandwich is referred to as a “steak.”  With cheese, it is a “cheese steak.”  According to Philadelphians, you simply cannot make an authentic Philadelphia Cheese Steak sandwich without an authentic Philadelphia roll.  The rolls must be long and thin, not fluffy or soft, but also not too hard.  They also say that if you are more than one hour from South Philly, you cannot make an authentic sandwich.

History:  To learn about the history of the Philadelphia Cheese Steak Sandwich, check out History and Legends of Sandwiches.

pickling – Pickling is the preserving of food in an acid (usually vinegar), and it is this acid environment that prevents undesirable bacteria growth.  People the world over preserve food through pickling in salt or vinegar.

History:  This preservation process has a long history in East Asia, especially in China and on the Korean Peninsula.  Pickling is one of the oldest forms of food preservation.  It has been traced back to the dawn of civilization, 4500 years ago when people learned to preserve cucumbers by pickling them in a salty brine.  Salt has been used for thousands of years not only as a condiment, but also to preserve foods.  Salt pickling was a very popular way of preserving foods before the existence of refrigeration

One old record claims that the cucumber was introduced into China as recently as the second century B.C.  At the beginning of the Christian Era cucumbers were grown in North Africa as well as in Italy, Greece, Asia Minor, and the countries to the east.  Pickles are mentioned twice in the Bible. (Numbers 11:5 and Isaiah 1:8).


History:  Check out History of Pies.

pilaf (pil-af) – The word is derived from the Persian (now Iranian) word “pilaw” meaning a “rice dish.”  Pilaf are also called pilaff, pilau, pilav, and palov.  It is a method or preparing rice which originated thousands of years ago in the Middle East.

pimiento (pih-MEN-toh) – Pimientos are simply a variety of a red bell pepper. Usually they are peeled and packed in brine.  The are different from roasted peppers in that they have not been roasted at all.  In cooking, pimientos are interchangeable with roasted peppers.

pine nut – Also known as the Indian nut, pinon, pignoli, pine kernel, and pignolia.  Not actually a nut, but a seed from the cone of the Mediterranean stone pine.  There are two main varieties of pine nuts, the Mediterranean and the Chinese.  The Mediterranean pine nut is more delicately flavored than the Chinese pine nut, which has a stronger pine flavor.  The nuts come from the inside of a pine cone, which generally must be heated for their removal.  Toasting brings out their buttery flavor. An important ingredient in pesto, also good in salads.

pinot gris (pee-noe gree) – A dry white wine.

pinot noir (pee-noe WAHR) – A classic red wine that is produced in California and Oregon.

piroshki (pih-ROSH-keel) – Pirozkhi are delicious stuffed pastries (turnovers) that are traditionally served with hearty soups in Russia.  They are also made in smaller sizes and are served as hors d’ oeuvres.

pistachio nut (pih-STASH-ee-oh) – The small bright green nut has a yellowish-red skin and is enclosed in a smooth pale shell.  They have a sweet, delicate flavor.  Pistachios are available year-round shelled and unshelled.  When buying unshelled pistachios make sure the shells are partially open (closed shells mean the nutmeat is immature).

History:  Pistachios date back to the Holy Lands of the Middle East, where they grew wild in high desert regions.  Legend has it that lovers met beneath the trees to hear the pistachios crack open on moonlit nights for the promise of good fortune.  A rare delicacy, pistachios were a favorite of the Queen of Sheba, who hoarded the entire Assyrian supply for herself and her court.  Pistachios are native to the Near East, but are now grown in California, Italy, Turkey, and Iran.  American traders imported the pistachio nut in the 1880s, primarily for U.S. citizens of Middle Eastern origin.

pita (Pee-tah) – A round, flat bread that is slit open to form a pocket that may hold everything from chicken salad to cheese.

History:  Its origins are in the Middle East where it has been used for hundreds of years in place of a plate, knife, or fork.  It was baked and carried with the caravans when cooking was done over open fires.  Meat was roasted on spits or skewers, and people took the spit in one hand and an open piece of pita in the other and slid the pieces of meat into the center.  The bread then folded around the meat.

pithiviers (pee-tee-vyay) – A round, flat cake which had layers of light puff pastry.  Traditionally, pithiviers are filled with almond cream.

History:  Pithiviers were first made in the small village called Pithiviers, which is located in the area of Loiret in Central France.

pizza (PEET-suh) – Pizza is the Italian word for “pie,” therefore English-speaking peoples who call it a “pizza pie” are being redundant.  The root word in Latin is “picea,” which describes the blackening of the crust caused by the fire underneath.

History:  Poor housewives of Italy had only flour, olive oil, lard, cheese, and herbs with which to feed their families, so combining them in a tasty and delicious manner became the goal.

In the 16th century, Maria Carolina, the Queen of Naples convinced her husband, King Ferdinand IV to allow the peasant dish pizza to be made in their royal oven.  In 1889, Raffaele Esposito, the most famous Pizzaiolo (pizza chef) created a pie for Queen Margherita with tomato, basil and cheese, (to resemble the Italian flag) which remains the basis for American pizza.  The original pizzas were did not have tomatoes (they hadn’t made it to Europe yet) and didn’t have cheese until the late 1800s.  Pizzas today are a crisp and chewy bread base topped with a variety of foods.  In 1905, the first Pizzeria opened in New York City.  For a more detailed history of pizza, read History and Legends of Pizza.

pizzelle (pit-sell) – Pizzelle’s come from Italy.  Pizzelle are also known as Italian wafer cookies and there are various ways which to spell pizzelle such as “piazelle,” “piazella,” “pizzele” and “pizelle.”  The name comes from the Italian word “pizze” for round and flat.  Many different cultures have adapted this cookie and re-named it accordingly.  In Scandinavia they are also known as Lukken and indeed the Krumcake is baked using a similar iron as the pizzelle.

History:  To learn about the history of Pizzelles, check out History of Cookies.

pizza peel   – Also known as a pizza shovel.  It is a long-handled, wide wooden or metal spatula-like implement that slides quickly and easily under the pizza, keeping hands safely out of the fiery oven.  It is used for moving pizzas to and from an oven.

plantain (PLAN-tihn) – Plantains are a part of most Caribbean meals, much like potatoes, rice, or noodles in the U.S.  The plantain is actually native to Southeast Asia, but it versatility has made it a staple in tropical climates all over the world.  It is a member of the banana family and is picked green and ripened off the tree.  When unripe, it has thick green skin and firm ivory-colored flesh with high starch content similar to that of a potato.  As the fruit ripens and its starch converts to sugar, its flesh grows increasingly soft and sweet while the peel yellows and becomes more mottled by brownish-black spots, eventually turning completely black.

plum pudding – Plum pudding is a steamed or boiled pudding frequently served at holiday times.  Plum pudding has never contained plums.  Plum is a dried grape or raisin as used for puddings, cakes, etc.  Dried plums, or prunes, were popular in pies in medieval times, but gradually in the sixteenth and seventeenth century they began to be replaced by raisins.  The dishes made with them, however, retained the term plum.

History:  Check out History of Plum Pudding.

Po’ Boy (poo-boy) – The generic name for the standard New Orleans sandwich made with French bread.  They are considered a New Orleans institution.  Also called poor boy.  Always made with French bread, po’ boys can be filled with fried oysters, shrimp, fish, soft-shelled crabs, crawfish, roast beef and gravy, roast pork, meatballs, smoked sausage and more.  They are served either “dressed” with a full range of condiments (usually mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomatoes) or “undressed” (plain).  This sandwich is purely American in its variety of sauces and condiments.  It is uniquely New Orleans because the oysters are local, as is the crisp and airy bread.

History:  To learn about the history of the Po’Boy Sandwich, check out History and Legends of Sandwiches.

poblano chile (poh-BLAH-noh) – Also known as the Ancho (when dried) and in some parts of California as the Pasilla, this pepper is shiny and has a pointed tip and flattened appearance.  It is mild in flavor with a good herbal aroma and it is great for stuffing and for adding lift to succotash, corn casseroles, fish, and egg dishes.  The poblano can be roasted, frozen, or stored in the refrigerator for one week.

pocky – Pocky is one of the key players in the competitive world of Japanese snacks.  Pocky Sticks are long, skinny wheat crackers dipped in various flavored toppings, including chocolate, strawberry, milk/tea swirl, cinnamon, almond crunch, and others, including such exotic varieties as melon.  It has also gone international, being one of the few Japanese chocolate snacks that you can easily track down in Europe, North America, and other places in Asia.

The first pockies came out in the 1960’s.  The original name of Pocky was actually CHOCO-TEK.  In the commercial for Choco-tek, the sound “pocky-pocky” was used as the sound of eating the snack. This sound (apparently) can be used for any long, breakable type of food.  It is one of the bizarre groups of onomatopoeic double words used in Japanese.  So the name “Pocky” kind of caught on from there.

polenta (poh-LEHN-tah) – Polenta is the Italian word for “cornmeal.”  This grainy yellow flour is a type of cornmeal made from ground maize, which is cooked into a kind of porridge with a wide variety of uses.  Polenta is very versatile and can be used for any number of recipes, ranging from rustic to highly sophisticated.  Combined with other ingredients to make a savory torte, polenta transcends its humble definition and becomes quite delectable.

History:  In ancient Rome, the forerunner of polenta, called puls, was considered to be the staple food of the empire.  Originally polenta (puls) once contained no cornmeal at all.  It is thought that centuries ago the Etruscans may have made a grain cake of wheat, barley, or flour.  The Venetians later adapted it to use cornmeal.  It was not until the 18th century; in the northern provinces of Italy that corn became a popular food.  President Thomas Jefferson was so taken with the polenta he was served in Florence that he taught his own cook how to prepare it and served it frequently at the White House in Washington D.C.

pollo (PO-yo) – The Italian and Spanish word for cooked chicken.

pomegranate (POM-uh-gran-uht) – Hidden beneath its hard, leathery skin are dozens of crunchy, translucent, scarlet seeds embedded in white membranes.  Pomegranates are the size of a small grapefruit (about 4 to 6 inches in diameter).  Choose fruit with a rich, red skin bearing no signs of shriveling (they should feel heavy).  Use the seeds as you would use nuts to garnish fruit, vegetables, salads, pasta, etc.  The juice is also used in cooking.

History:  This ancient fruit has been a star of Middle Eastern menus since Biblical times.  Although the Romans called it the “apple of many seeds,” it looks more like a petrified tomato.

pomelo/pummelo (PUHM-uh-low) – Also called Chinese grapefruit, shaddock, pumelo, pommelo, and pompelmous.  The pummelo is an exotic large citrus fruit that is an ancient ancestor of the common grapefruit.  Pummelo is the largest of the citrus fruits with a shape that can be fairly round or slightly pointed at one end (the fruit ranges from nearly round to oblate or pear-shaped).  They range from cantaloupe-size to as large as a 25-pound watermelon and have very thick, soft rind.  The skin is green to yellow and slightly bumpy; flesh color ranges from pink to rose.  Pummelos are available mid-January through mid-February from California.  It is sweeter than a grapefruit and can be eaten fresh, although membranes around the segments should be peeled.  Be sure to refrigerate and use quickly.  Use as you would grapefruit sections.  They are also good for jams, jellies, marmalades and syrups.  To learn more about Pomelo/Pummelo, check out Pomelo/Pummelo.

popcorn – Most of the world’s popcorn is grown in the midwestern part of the United States – principally in Nebraska, Iowa, and Indiana where it can get mighty hot in the summer.  Although popcorn has been with us since pioneer times, it was not until 1890 that popcorn became important enough to be raised as a crop for market.  Before that time, individual families raised their own popcorn or bought it from their neighbors.  Since that time, popcorn has brought enough income to its growers to earn the name “prairie gold.”

History:  Check out History and Legends of Popcorn, Carmel Corn, Crackerjacks, and Popcorn Balls.

poppy seeds – The opium poppy, from which the seeds are cultivated, is among the oldest cultivated plants.  Greeks grew the plant specifically for its seeds, which, among other uses, were mixed into cakes with honey and taken by Olympic athletes to provide an immediate burst of energy.  Poppy seeds have none of the narcotic qualities of the opium drug.

porcini mushrooms (pohr-CHEE-nee) – In Italian cooking these mushrooms are considered the “king of mushrooms.”  Their Italian name means “little piglets” which describes their bulbous stalks and rounded brown caps that can range from one to ten inches in diameter.

port – A strong, dark red wine that comes from Portugal and was traditionally drunk by gentlemen at the end of dinner when they withdrew from the ladies to smoke their cigars.

portbello (portbella) mushrooms – The name “portobollo” was what the mushroom was first called.  It still is in most parts of the world.  Somewhere along the line, somebody decided to make the name sound more Italian by spelling it “portabella.”  This spelling is the one now used by most commercial growers and wholesalers, but the name “portobollo” remains on menus today.  You will find both variations today.  This wonderful mushroom is one of the most popular mushrooms today.  It is a very large cremini (cremini is a brown or cream-colored version of the white button mushroom) and is the largest and hardiest of cultivated mushrooms, with flat caps and open veils, up to 6 inches in diameter.  This large, impressive mushroom makes a great meat substitute.  When grilled it tastes a lot like steak.

potato –  History:  To learn about the history of Potatoes, check out History and Legends of Potatoes.

Potatoes Anna – They are also known in France as Pommes de Terre Anna.  It is the classic French dish created by Chef Adolfe Duglere (1805-1884), chef of the fashionable Cafe Anglais restaurant in Paris.  He dedicated the dish to Anna Deslions (also known as Annette with men she was intimate with), a famous French courtesan who preferred the CafAnglais restaurant for her “professional meetings.”  In 1865, Anna was deemed “as queen as Paris has ever known” by literary critic Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve

potato chips – The English think of “crisps” what Americans call potato chips.  They are very thin slices of raw potato that is deep-fried in oil and then salted.

History:  In 1853, Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877), industrialist, financier, was vacationing at the fashionable Moon Lake House Hotel in Saratoga Springs, New York.  Note:  Some historians say it was not Vanderbilt but another guest at the hotel.  While dining, he sent his French-fried potatoes (prepared the standard thick-cut style) back to the chef, complaining that they were too thick.  The chef that evening was Native-American George Crum of the Huron Tribe, who was apparently miffed at Vanderbilt’s complaint, as a joke made a new batch of potatoes and sliced them paper thin and fried them to a crisp.  Vanderbilt loved the “crunch potato slices,” as he called them.  The restaurant immediately began featuring them on its menu as a new delicacy and called them “Saratoga Chips.”  They became a fad with the resort’s socialite patrons, the recipe soon spread to other restaurants along the East Coast.  Chef George Crum eventually opened his own restaurant across the lake featuring his chips. I n 1895, William C. Tappenden began manufacturing and selling the “Saratoga Chips” by horse-drawn wagon in Cleveland, Ohio.

potjie (poi-key) – Potjie is a lided, almost spherical cast-iron pot (usually black) with three legs, which is made for use over an open fire.

History:  It is thought that the ‘Potjie’ came from the Dutch ancestors of the South Africans, who brought with them heavy iron cooking pots that hung from hooks over the open hearth.  The pot’s re-emergence in the late 1970’s with the escalation of meat prices.

potjiekos (poi-key-cos or poy-kee-kawse) – It means, “pot food” or “food prepared in a pot.”  It is a food or stew that is cooked slowly in the potjie.  In South Africa this means only one thing, food prepared outdoors in a cast iron, round, three legged pot using either wood coals or charcoal.  Traditionally potjiekos is a stew, made either with lamb, beef, fish or poultry but always together with vegetables.  The potjiekos is “built” in layers with the meat and hard vegetables at the bottom of the pot and the quicker cooking vegetables towards the top.  It is always cooked over a “cool” fire (or low on the gas range) and should take at least 1 to 2 hours to completely heat up the pot and its contents.  Potjie is never stirred while cooking – only just prior to serving, will you stir the potjie for the first time, blending all of the food and flavors together.

South Africans are crazy about their potjiekos.  Potjiekos is an event or a gathering where good friends get together and while cooking, share the chores, lots of laughter, and a harmonious atmosphere.  Potjiekos is a social and culinary event and invariably no potjiekos recipe ever tastes the same!  Potjiekos cookoffs are popular in South Africa like chili cook offs are in the southwest of America.

History:  Potjiekos has been part of the South African culture since the days of the first settlement at the Cape when food was cooked in a black cast-iron pot hanging from a chain over the kitchen fire.  Early settlers in the Cape used this method of cooking for stewing tougher cuts of game, mutton and beef, and it later became very convenient for people on the move.

pot stickers – Small pan-fried Chinese dumplings (a Chinese dim sum treat) made of won ton skins or wrappers that are filled with ground meat, ground pork, or shellfish along with chopped water chestnuts, scallions and seasonings.  The name comes from the fact that the crisp bottoms of the dumplings tend to stick to each other and to the frying pan, and thus you need to use a spatula to carefully remove them from the pan.  The trick is to use the right length of time initially to fry them, the right amount of steaming liquid, and the right length of time to evaporate the liquid so that the dumplings stick to each other and to the pan but don’t end up burned or as a soggy mess.

History:  According to historical legends, they are traditionally pan-fried almost to being burnt on the bottom, commemorating a legendary fortuitous mistake by a royal chef.

Pretzel – in German the word is “bretzel,” not pretzel.  In medieval Old High German, it was even less like pretiola – it was brezitella.  Linguists think brezitella probably came from the medieval Latin brachiatellum, meaning a little brachiatum, which would be a bread baked in the form of crossed arms.  Not that anybody has found the word “brachiatellum” in any manuscript; the linguists only claim their explanation is less unlikely than the others.  In any case, the pretzel belongs to a German family of breads that are moistened before baking to give them a chewier texture.  In a bakery, pretzels are sprayed with a solution of lye, and the resulting alkalinity encourages their familiar dark brown color (fortunately, the caustic lye combines with carbon dioxide during baking and becomes harmless).  Bakery pretzels are then baked for about half an hour to make them absolutely dry and hard.

profiteroles – (French) Small (bite-size), hollow pastries made with “pate a choux” (cream puff pastry). The word is said to derive from the French word “profit,” meaning “small gift.”  The dough is put into a pastry bag and small mounds are squeezed out onto a baking sheet and baked until brown. T hey are often stuffed with various sweet or savory stuffings.

History:  They are probably French originally, or the name at least is.  The word originated in French as diminutive form of “profit,” and so etymologically means “small gains” – and indeed it may to begin with have denoted “a little something extra” cooked along with the master’s main dish as part of the servants’ perks.  Alexander Barclay, in his Eclogues (1515) writes, “to toast white shivers (slices of bread) and to make profiteroles, and after talking oft time to fill the bowl.”

prosciutto (proh-Shoo-toh) – The Italian word for “ham” and prosciutto cotto means “cooked ham.”  Prosciutto is a term used to describe a ham that has been seasoned, salt-cured, and air-dried.  It is very expensive per pound, but it is so flavorful that only a little is needed, making it well worth the cost.  The pigs for prosciutto are fed partly on the whey from the cheese-making process, which makes their flesh very mild and sweet.  Because they are always reared and kept in a shed and never allowed to roam outdoors, they tend to be rather fatty.  Parma hams are made from the pig’s hindquarters, which are lightly salted and air-dried for at least one year (and sometimes up to two years).  The zone of production of these hams are restricted by Italian law to the area between the Taro and Baganza rivers.

History:  It was in 100 B.C. that an author first mentioned the extraordinary flavor of the air-cured ham produced around the town of Parma in Italy.  At first, producing prosciutto was literally a cottage industry, with hams hung in homes from attic to cellar.  By the end of the 19th century, the local architecture became dominated by long, narrow, multistoried buildings where the hams are still cured.

provolone cheese – Provolone was first made in southern Italy, but it is now made in the United States, principally in Wisconsin and Michigan.  It is a string-like cheese, light golden yellow to golden brown surface with a light ivory interior.  Provolone is made in various shapes and sizes, each of which is identified by a more or less distinguishing name (pear, sausage, salami, and other shapes), and it is bound with a cord.

provolone burrino – There is a lump of butter buried in the center of this provolone cheese, so that when cut it resembles a hard-cooked egg yolk.

pumpernickel (pum-per-nick-el) – Pumpernickel is dark, coarsely ground rye flour that is used in making pumpernickel bread.  Pumpernickel flour is made in much the same way as whole-wheat flour, which is milled from the entire rye grain including the bran.

History:  Pumpern was a German word for “devil-fart” and nickel was a form of the name Nicholas, an appellation commonly associated with a goblin or devil (e.g., “Old Nick” is a familiar name for Satan).  Hence, pumpernickel is the “devil’s fart,” allegedly a reference to the bread’s indigestible qualities and hence the effect it produced on those who consumed it.

A German baker was said to have developed a hearty loaf (out of rye) with very little wheat flour during a famine sometime around 1450.  According to a legend about Napoleon (or Napoleon’s groom, or an anonymous Frenchman), who, while on a military campaign in Germany, was given some pumpernickel bread to eat.  The disdainful recipient of this loaf declared it unfit for human consumption, instead fed it to a horse named Nicol.

punnet – a small light basket or container for fruit or vegetables (approximately a pint).

(pu-ray) – A French term for “mashed.”  Puree is obtained by pounding, mashing, and sieving a food.

puttanesca (poot-tah-NEHS-kah) – A piquant pasta sauce made of tomatoes, onions, black olives, capers, anchovies, and chile flakes.  The hot pasta is tossed in this sauce prior to serving.  Some recipes leave the ingredients raw, allowing the heat of the pasta to bring out the flavors. T he name puttanesca is a derivation of the word “puttana,” which in Italian mean, “whore.”

History:  In Italian history and even folklore, it originated in the region of Naples (Campania), more precisely on the island of Ischia.  History has it that the recipe was invented by “ladies of questionable virtue,” hence the name puttanesca.  They had little time to eat and invented this quick sauce with the ingredients they had on hand in their beautiful.


Culinary Dictionary   

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