In a letter that she wrote to her sister in December 1797, the English novelist, diarist and playwright Madame d’Arblay (née Frances Burney – 1752-1840) gave an account of a conversation with Princess Augusta, daughter of King George III (Sarah Siddons (1755-1831), one of the greatest English tragediennes, had bought Sadler’s Wells, a London theatre of ill repute):
(from Diary and letters of Madame d’Arblay, edited by her niece – Henry Colburn, London, 1854)
In mentioning Mrs. Siddons, and her great and affecting powers, she [= Princess Augusta] much surprised me by intelligence that she had bought the proprietorship of Sadler’s Wells. I could not hear it without some amusement; it seemed, I said, so extraordinary a combination—so degrading a one, indeed,—that of the first tragic actress, the living Melpomene, and something so burlesque as Sadler’s Wells. She laughed, and said it offered her a very ludicrous image, for “Mrs. Siddons and Sadler’s Wells,” said she, “seems to me as ill fitted as the dish they call a toad in a hole; which I never saw, but always think of with anger,—putting a noble sirloin of beef into a poor, paltry batter-pudding!”
The noun toad-in-the-hole denotes a dish consisting of sausages (of a piece of meat originally) baked in batter.
Its earliest occurrence, as toad in a hole, is from A General History of the Stage, From its Origin in Greece down to the present Time (London, 1749), by the bookseller, publisher and dramatist William Rufus Chetwood (died 1766). The author quoted one of the “humorous Songs” written by the Irish actor and dramatist John Leigh (1689-1726):
A Toad in a Hole was their Dinner that Day.
A note explained toad in a hole:
A Cant Word for any bak’d Meat with a Pudding.
In A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (London, 1785), the English antiquary and lexicographer Francis Grose (1731-91) thus defined toad in a hole:
Meat baked, or boiled in a pye crust.
And the same author, in A Provincial Glossary, with a Collection of local Proverbs, and popular Superstitions (London, 1787), gave the following definition of the Norfolk term pudding-pye-doll:
The dish called toad-in-a-hole, meat boiled in a crust.
The origin of the word is simply the analogy between a piece of meat in batter and a toad in its hole. In summer, the toads spend the days in hollows in the ground, coming out after dark on warm damp evenings to feed on ants, slugs and earthworms. They spend the winter buried down in mud, under compost heaps or amongst dead wood.
The anonymous author of The Sighs and Lamentations of Patrick O’Dermody, published in The Evening Packet and Correspondent (Dublin) of 8th January 1833, used the image of a toad in its hole:
Och! hone! It’s meself that’s unhappy and lost!
My head’s in a mist;
To that Serjeant wid blarney, who first my hand cross’d—
Oh! why did I list?
It’s a lobster I am! and already for war,
And stiffer than starch!
I’m red as a rose—but who ever saw
Gay roses—in march?
O! I’m sad and I’m lone, like a toad in a hole,
Wid stones for a bed!
For a soldier, I find, when they call the long “roll,”
That I am not bred!
pigeons à la crapaudine – source: When is a frog not a frog? When it’s a bird, by Marc Abrahams – The Guardian
The following is from The Vocabulary of East Anglia (London, 1830), by the English philologist Robert Forby (1759-1825):
Pudding-pie. A piece of meat plunged in batter and baked in a deep dish, thus partaking of the nature of both pudding and pie. An ancient name of a very savoury but homely dish; and a far more seemly one, than that by which the same dish is often called, and more generally known—a “toad in a hole,” which is even positively nasty. Yet it is not more so than the French “pigeons en crapaud,” which is to be found in the most exquisite collections of culinary treasures.
In fact, the French expression is not pigeon en crapaud, but pigeon en, or à la, crapaudine, literally toad-like squab. In Masters of Disguise: French Cooks Between Art and Nature, 1651-1793 (published in Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies, 2009), Jennifer J. Davis explains that the expression refers to the shape of the squab once it has been cut in half above the legs and cracked at the back so that its breast forms the toad’s ‘face’, with the ‘legs’ extending behind. The tenth edition of The Professed Cook (London, 1812), by B. Clermont, contains a recipe which thus begins:
Pigeons à la Crapaudine.
Pigeons like a Toad.
Singe the pigeons, and truss them with the legs inwards; and, to give them the form required, leave the head on, split them at the belly, and turn the breast over the head; otherwise cut the pinions and the neck off, and split them at the back.
In The Art of Cookery, made plain and easy (London, 1758), the English cookery writer Hannah Glasse (1708-70) gave the following recipe:
Pigeons in a Hole.
Take your Pigeons, season them with beaten Mace, Pepper and Salt; put a little piece of Butter in the Belly, lay them in a Dish and pour a little Batter all over them, made with a Quart of Milk and Eggs, and four or ﬁve Spoonfuls of Flour. Bake it, and send it to Table. It is a good Dish.