Just How Fancy is “Fancy?”

When I was a kid, a big treat in our house was a can of “fancy” mandarin oranges–and it actually read “fancy” right on the label. They were perfectly beautiful in their shiny can; no bits of peel or stringy stuff or seeds–just glistening translucent orange slices bathing in delicious juice. But it was that word, “fancy,” that really drew my attention.

So I began wondering what exactly is so fancy about foods labeled “fancy?” There is a surprisingly lack of answers about that. The only thing I could find was a Wikipedia entry about how “catsup” was tastier, i.e., fancier; than regular old “ketchup,” and therefore used to be labeled as “fancy.” Which is odd because as far as I could see, the ingredients are pretty much the same.

Maybe the term “fancy” paired with food items means their presentation. Say for example you ordered a tuna salad sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off; fancy or not? Would the “fancy” part be that someone cut off the crusts? Personally, I don’t think that a sandwich minus its crusts meets the “fancy” appellation.

But how about if you ordered the truffled egg salad sandwich on sourdough bread made by Tibetan monks, cut in perfect halves by a trained swordsman, with a hand-carved pecan wood toothpick stabbed through three olives stuffed with rubies, and served on a bed of lettuce painted in gold leaf? Now, that would be fancy!

Then there are those who feel that certain expensive foods are therefore fancy because of their price, such as:

  • Lobster
  • Crab
  • Oysters
  • Kobe beef
  • Caviar
  • Truffles (the ones located by pigs; not the chocolate ones)
  • Duck a l’orange
  • Filet mignon
  • Morel mushrooms

But to just name some food item as “fancy” willy-nilly is not only careless, but a great expectation shatterer. By golly, if I order something touted as “fancy,” I want it not only to look fancy but taste fancy as well!

Here’s another thing to consider about “fancy:” what if the fanciness comes from how we feel about something? If we say that something is fancy, does that actually make  it fancy? I’m giving this question a “yes” because first, this is my blog after all; and second, because I feel we all have the right to use the word “fancy” if we feel like it.

Therefore, I can definitely say that my homemade marinara sauce is “fancy.” Here’s why: I grow the plum tomatoes, pick them, clean them, peel and chop them, roast them with whole garlic cloves, onions, peppers and mushrooms, add my seasonings plus a good splash of red wine, then cook the sauce down until it is well and truly “fancy.”

So, there you are–that’s the best example I can come up with for what puts the “fancy” in fancy foods. You may not find it in Wikipedia, but you will find it here–I swear on my marinara sauce.

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