ESCALLOPED: to bake (food cut into pieces) in a sauce or other liquid, often with crumbs on top *

escallopedI’ve always been a little confused about the difference between the words scalloped and escalloped.  Growing up around the kitchen in our home, I remember distinctly reading the top of the page in the cook book from which my grandmother was taking her recipe for scalloped potatoes. It clearly said “escalloped potatoes.”   I began pronouncing it that way, with the “e” providing a third syllable.   My grandmother never corrected me.  She just smiled whenever I said it.

When I was working in the A&P grocery store in high school I noticed that the boxes of prepared “scalloped potatoes” didn’t use the “e.”  Don’t ask me why I noticed that, or even cared about it.   But I did.

Over the years, I have seen it spelled both ways, but mostly without the “e.”   Having just feasted on “scalloped potatoes” the other night, I decided it was time to check it out.  I’m still confused.

If I read it right, the term escalloped depends upon the French origin of the word, where the meaning was basically the same as the Old English origin:  “a vegetable cut thinly into the shape of a scallop shell and baked in a fluid.”  It is meant to be a side dish (although I have relished left-overs for the solitary dish at lunch on several occasions.)

The Oxford Dictionary (in good British tradition) maintains the “e” at the front of the word, and even agrees with my childish pronunciation.  [es-KAL-uppe]   The “e” is a separate syllable.

The meaning, however , is just the same as scallop.   Escallop is shown as a variant on the term, but both mean “a vegetable cut thinly in the shape of a scallop shell and baked.”   So it really doesn’t matter which spelling (or pronunciation) you choose to employ.

I did find something interesting, however.    When the vegetable was something other than potatoes, the escalloped spelling was employed.  But almost consistently, potatoes prepared in this manner were spelled scalloped.   Maybe it is a hierarchical phenomenon.  Scalloped potatoes are a “common dish” regularly on the table of “common people” (like me)  whereas more elegant dishes such as escalloped corn or escalloped oysters (hmmm…not a vegetable) are more frequently found on tables with a “higher” level of gastronomy.   (Probably not, but it makes for good print. If I were a restauranteur I might employ the “e” word in my menu.   It adds a little flourish to the item, even potatoes.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary added another thought. They pointed out that escallop can refer to:

a decoration in the form of a scallop shell; specifically :  a scallop-shell device in heraldry usually borne as a charge with the fluted edge downward and the convex side toward the viewer

So escallop is not an exclusively-culinary word.  When I stop to think about it, I have heard it refer to clothing design and other art forms where the scallop-shell is included.  I’ve only heard it aurally so I have no idea how designers spell it. I suspect it might have the “e” included.

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Image Credit:  Huffington Post

* Dictionary.com

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