Sunday, April 3, 2011

Shells, Jacobus or Combs: A Good Child Has Many Names As We Say In Estonia

 Scallops are a culinary delicacy with a unique texture nothing like meat, nor fish, nor prawns. A muscle so tender it melts in one or two bites under just a little pressure from the tongue. Scallops require minimum “treatment” and perhaps only a little added flavour, a squeeze of lemon or lime, some garlic on the frying pan or why not a little parsley pesto for different nuances. It is to be treasured in limited quantities rather than munched to satisfaction.

Throughout many years I have been puzzled about the origin of this word in different languages. The English scallop comes from old French escalope (shell), concha de vieira also denotes the shell in Portugese and similar in Spanish, coquille St Jacques in French refers to the pilgrimage badge, pettine di mare (sea combs) or capesanta in Italian, Jakobschelp or kammossel  in Dutch, Jakobsmuschel or Kammuschel in German, kammkarp (comb box) in Estonian.

The reference to St James, Jakob or St Jacque whose emblem the scallop shell was and later on the many followers of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain have strongly printed the mark on the name and now in shops in Switzerland you can see Jakobsmuschel or coquille St Jacques being sold instead of Kammuschel.

So far the logic of the shell as well as the connection to St James is clear but what has it got to do with a comb? Does the mollusc comb the sea bottom or does it move in some way that resembles hair or did people use the shell to comb their hair? I can’t imagine how…

The scallop remains a sweet culinary adventure forever and an etymological mystery till I understand the link to a comb.

(In the meanwhile, Mike, a friend, has explained to me this:
"Because the lines radiating from the centre look a bit like the ancient Roman combs.....also similar to the garden instrument for gathering leaves (rake) which I guess is a comb for the grass? I assume its just that...")