A Beer Called Ruthie

Ruthie is a good name for a beer. It’s a craft brew made by Exile Brewing Company in Des Moines, Iowa. It was named the official craft beer of the Iowa State Fair this year.

Who needs a tray?

There’s a cute picture of Ruthie on the bottle pouring beer into a couple of glasses balanced on her bosom. Where else?

It turns out that Ruthie Bisignano was the owner of Ruthie’s Lounge in Des Moines, open from 1950-1970. She was nationally famous for this kind of serving style. She was married sixteen times to nine men, by her account, according to a Des Moines Register clipping from 1988. This was the year my wife, Sena, and I moved from Des Moines to Iowa City in a U-Haul truck so I could start medical school.

Exile was established in 2012 and they serve community healthy living awareness as well as beer and food. For example, they started the Ruthie Breast Cancer Campaign in 2018 and for every case of pink-labelled Ruthie beer sold, a dollar was donated to Susan G. Komen Greater Iowa. They have a well-balanced attitude toward health and life—sort of like the well-balanced way Ruthie served beer.

We noticed that one of the menu items was something called Mexican Rarebit.  It reminded me of a Gomer Pyle episode back in the 1960s. If you’re not a baby boomer, you might not know anything about this old TV comedy involving the stormy relationship between a naïve Marine private and his grumpy drill sergeant, Vince Carter. It ran for 5 seasons and, while it was one of the few programs my mother liked, Sena hated it mainly because of Gomer’s over-done North Carolina hick accent.

Anyway, one of the episodes was “Gomer the Welsh Rarebit Fiend.” In it, whenever Gomer or Carter ate what Gomer always sounded like he called “Welsh Rabbit,” they would sleepwalk and switch personalities. An article on the web about the episode showed many snapshots from it, one of them including a sign on which was printed “Psychiatric Unit.”

Of course, that piqued my interest since I’m a retiring psychiatrist. I didn’t remember that part of the episode. I searched the web and discovered that Welsh Rabbit was the original name of the dish, which is a simple dish of mainly melted cheddar cheese on toast. I admit I don’t understand the etymology of the name. Somebody either couldn’t catch rabbit or pronounce it.

However, it’s been associated with causing vivid nightmares, especially if you eat too much of it late at night. Maybe it’s the mustard.

In fact, there was an early 20th century comic strip called “Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend” by Winsor McKay. It was about spectacular dreams caused by eating Welsh Rarebit. The dreams often portrayed Freudian themes including phobias. Some speculated they might have inspired iconic movie creatures like King Kong.

Anyway, Exile’s Mexican Rarebit sandwich involves ground chuck in a spicy queso, bacon, and corn salsa. I wonder if the recipe calls for beer, which might be another way to enjoy the Ruthie. The web site doesn’t warn the diner to avoid eating it just before bedtime.

You can find a lot of different recipes for Welsh Rarebit, limited only by the cook’s imagination.

Sena just returned from the store and among the items was cheddar cheese and pumpernickel bread.

I made what we’ll call Ruthie Rarebit today—with a heck of a lot of coaching from Sena. The recipe was pretty traditional:

A stick of butter, about a tablespoon of flour; aged cheddar cheese, about one and a half cups, enough for both of us; a small carton of whipping cream; about a teaspoon of dry mustard, half of a 12 ounce bottle of Ruthie Gold Lager (could as well have used the whole thing); salt and pepper, a little paprika and cayenne pepper.

Toast a couple of big slices of bread (we used pumpernickel) with a little olive oil in a pan. Melt a stick of butter in a saucepan, add about a tablespoon of flour, a bottle of beer or ale, whipping cream, add the cheddar cheese, and keep stirring. Pour it over the toast and add whatever else you want on top.

Ruthie Rarebit

No Welsh Rarebit recipe calls for rabbit—that I’m aware of, anyhow. I’m not expecting any nightmares tonight. In fact, I think it might be as helpful for sleep as melatonin.

See how it’s done!

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