Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wonderous Words Wednesday 27

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy at the Bermuda Onion where you "can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love. Feel free to get creative!"

I haven't done a mysterious dessert in quite a while so from Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn ... 

She had provided a large slice of Dundee cake for Lady Josephine without asking, Daisy noted with amusement.

Dundee cake a famous traditional Scottish fruit cake that can be identified by the circles of blanched almonds on the surface of the cake. The Scotsman newspaper (about seeking special protection from the European Commission)...

One popular (and almost certainly false) origin story is that Mary Queen of Scots did not like cherries in her cakes so blanched almonds were substituted. Keiller's marmalade company, makers of the first commercially available orange breakfast preserves, also claims to have created the term Dundee cake though there seems to be some disagreement about this. They do seem to have made the first mass produced variety though. According to an article in

“We can trace its origins back hundreds of years to the kitchens of the marmalade inventor Janet Keiller, making it a thoroughly Dundonian delicacy which deserves European recognition for its unique characteristics and long association with this city.”

“Dundee Cake has an iconic appearance, in that the carefully laid-out pattern of whole, blanched almonds immediately distinguishes it from other fruit cakes. It is light and buttery containing sultanas, almonds, Amontillado sherry and candied orange peel. It is a fruit cake made by the creaming method, the mixture contains about 25 per cent more flour than normally expected and contains sugar with dried vine fruits, candied peel and chopped almonds, and the cake is flavoured with grated orange zest.”

 Here is a good article if you are interested in the history of marmalade and Dundee Cake

"The first part's me auntie's birthday, sir," Piper explained eagerly, "and the last bit's the number of inches in an ell. Forty-five, sir," he added as they all look at him blankly.

An ell is a former unit of measurement of length equivalent to six hand breadths according to the Oxford Dictionaries. I just measured the breadth of my hand and it is about 4 inches (with the thumb tucked in) which would equal 24 inches ?!?!?  If I extend my hand by spreading my fingers the distance from finger to thumb is about 8 and a half inches - which gives you 51 inches.  

Different countries interpreted the ell differently so an English ell was of a different length than a French or Flemish ell. Somewhere along the way an English ell become entangled with a yard or something like that and was defined as 5/4 of a yard. 

Wikipedia seems to have it it confused with a cubit which is approximately the length of a man's arm from the elbow (which means the bend or bow in the ell or arm) to the tip of the middle finger or around 18 inches or so. (i.e. an ell was not originally a cubit - they are related in that they are both derived from some dimension of an arm.) Old English eln, originally "forearm, length of the arm "I suppose is where this comes from. There do seem to be two distinct etymologies, but the one the lead to the ell as 45 inches is not the one related to the cubit so far I can see.

Origin: Middle English eln, from Old English; akin to Old High German elina ell, Latin ulna forearm, Greek ōlenē elbow, Sanskrit aratni
First Known Use: before 12th century

Well that was harder than expected!

 I had more words but have run out of time. Happy Wednesday!


  1. I always enjoy Carola Dunn's Daisy Dalrymple (Fletcher) mysteries. :-) The Dundee cake sounds delicious - how is it I never saw or tasted any in my two trips to Scotland?!

    1. Odd - the way they talk about it you should have been forced to try it at the boarder.

  2. The Dundee cake looks delicious. Great way to learn a new word.

  3. A post about a food word is always appreciated. Thanks for the photos too!

  4. Those are both new to me. That Dundee cake is gorgeous but I bet it's a lot of work to make.

  5. I make Dundee cake nearly every year at Christmas. It is a tradition as my Gran always made one and my aunt made a Christmas cake. My lot aren't keen on Christmas cake, too heavy, so the Dundee cake goes down well. Ell is new to me although rather inconsistent for a measurement if it is interpreted differently from country to country.

    1. The history of measurement is amazing. The search for units of measurement that were the same no matter where you used them was and is epic. When they took the kilogram - as in 'the official kilogram' out of the vault in Paris for the for the formal comparison with the international duplicates they found out that it had gained weight !

  6. That Dundee cake looks god to me, thanks! for sharing.

  7. Both words are new to me! That cake is pretty and looks yummy!


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