The origins of the crumpet are mysterious. As early as 1382, John Wycliffe, in his translation of the Bible, mentioned a crompid cake, whose name may be the precursor of the modern term, but the actual ‘cake’ itself does not bear much resemblance to the present-day crumpet. It seems to have been a thin cake cooked on a hot griddle, so that the edges curled up (crompid goes back to Old English crump, crumb, ‘crooked’, and is related to modern English crumple). The inspiration behind its naming thus seems to be very similar to that of crêpe, which means literally ‘curled’. Earliest recipes for crumpets, from the late seventeenth century, continue this theme, standardly using buckwheat flour, and it is not until nearly a hundred years later that crumpets as we know them today begin to emerge. Elizabeth Raffald (The Experienced English Housekeeper, 1769) was the first to describe their making: ‘Beat two eggs very well, put to them a quart of warm milk and water, and a large spoonful of barm: beat in as much fine flour as will make them rather thicker than a common batter pudding, then make your bakestone very hot, and rub it with a little butter wrapped in a clean linen cloth, then pour a large spoonful of batter upon your stone, and let it run to the size of a tea-saucer; turn it, and when you want to use them roast them very crisp, and butter them.’ During the nineteenth century the crumpet—toasted before the fire, its honeycomb of cavities filled with melting butter—established itself as an indispensable part of the English teatime scene, so that in 1912 E. H. Ryle could write, in giving advice to athletes, that ‘the usual indigestible concomitants of a heavy tea—buttered buns and crumpets—ought to be eschewed’.
The use of crumpet as a collective term for sexually attractive young women seems to have emerged in the 1930s. Its origins are not clear, but it may be more than a coincidence that in the second half of the nineteenth century the crumpet's constant companion, the muffin, was used in Canadian English as a word for an attractive young female companion. In the 1980s sexual equality caught up with the crumpet, and the term is now applied to sexually attractive men too (as in ‘Paul Newman—the older woman's crumpet,’ Double First, BBC1, 13 September 1988).
Subjects: Cookery, Food, and Drink.