Delia Smith joins Welsh Rabbit v Rarebit debate

Where Delia leaves the mark of her whisk, so amateur chefs and foodies end up in a froth. Now the culinary goddess of Middle England has entered the age-old debate on whether Welsh rarebit versus Welsh rabbit is the correct term for glorified cheese on toast.

In Delia Smith: How To Cook Book Two, she defies tradition by referring to Welsh Rabbit with Sage and Onions. "Rarebit or rabbit?" she says. "I like the latter, which (so the story goes) is what the hunter had for his supper when the rabbits had escaped his gun."

The woman whose mere mention of an ingredient sends store managers into a frenzy, joins the eminent grammarian H W Fowler, whose views on the matter were forthright."Welsh Rabbit," said Fowler, "is amusing and right. Welsh Rarebit is stupid and wrong."

But Delia's version is likely to be hotly disputed. Mared Sutherland, the assistant curator of domestic life at the Museum of Welsh Life, said it was a never-ending debate. "It's so difficult to know what was the original used, so we can't really be definite," she said. The museum says the name "remains a mystery".

Type "Welsh rarebit" into the internet and find no fewer than 947 references. "Welsh rabbit" gleans some 3,444. Each side fiercely disputes the correctness of the other.

Nearly all agree that the dish is basically derived from cheese, flour and eggs. "I think (it) was part of Welsh fare much too early on and the term rabbit too commonplace throughout Britain to give credence to the popular tradition that the dish was meant to replace the rabbits English landlords forbade their Welsh tenants to catch," says Bobby Freeman, author of First Catch Your Peacock, a book of Welsh food.

Freeman says it was originally described as "Welsh rabbit" and converted at the end of the 18th century into "rarebit".

The internet "word-detective" disagrees. "Welsh Rabbit," otherwise known as melted cheese on toast, (was) invented by commoners in a time when real rabbit was a delicacy reserved for the wealthy," it says. The only thing about the dish that prompts more argument is what should go in it.

But perhaps Delia should note. According to Mared Sutherland, neither term is strictly correct. The true term is Caws Pobi - cheese, roasted, in Welsh. That is how it is referred to in cookery books as far back as 1547.

The Welsh weakness for caws bobi was recorded by Andrew Boorde in his First Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge. "I am a Welshman," he wrote. "I do love cause boby, good roasted cheese."