Whence the quiche?

So where does quiche come from? Quiche as we know it is from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, rich farming and dairy country that France and Germany have fought over for centuries. These days Alsace resides in France, for how long no one can say (those Germans really dig quiche).

What about before that? Most food historians reflexively trace the lineage of the quiche from Roman egg-and-cheese pies (known as patinae) to Medieval cheese pastries like Tart in Ember Day and Tart de Bry, down to the modern quiche. Me, I’m not convinced. Quiche is not, and has never been, about cheese. It’s a custard tart. We moderns forget that, what with all the cheese we pour into our quiches nowadays. No, for the origin of quiche, we need to look to custard history, which can be traced back to the Greeks, the first to combine beaten eggs with milk to make a kind of proto-custard or flan. But though the Greeks invented it, custard was never common fare on the streets of Athens. It took the Romans and their smelly, new-fangled flocks of domesticated fowl to make egg-eating an every day affair.

The Romans were crazy for eggs. So much so that they combined them with just about everything they could think of: meat, fowl, fish, eels, vegetables, cheese, nuts, fuits, honey and spices. They beat them into sauces, stuffed them (back) into game birds, you name it. Along the way they created probably hundreds of different custard dishes, some of which certainly evolved into the “flathons” and “crustards” that became so popular in Medieval Europe. These, I’m convinced, are the precursors to quiches.

Had the word “quiche” evolved from either of these two words, my theory would be complete. I’d blow this cyber-popsicle stand, buy myself an academic cap and gown and travel the world as a free-wheelin’ celebrity food historian (that is where the real bucks are, my friends). But as luck would have it the word comes from the German word for cake, kuchen, though the word can also mean a pie with a custard-based filling. Quite a versatile language, German.

“Modern” versions of the quiche go back to at least the 16th century. Then, they were simple custard pies, sometimes with a bread crust, sometimes with short crust or puff pastry on the bottom. Bacon was added later to create quiche au lard, though nowadays we just call it “quiche Lorraine” which sounds quite a lot better on lunch menus.

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