Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

From Scratch

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 16, 2010

In April 1887, the Fort Wayne Gazette reported on a cycling race where everyone started “from scratch” and no handicaps were considered.   From that point onward, the term “from scratch” was used to refer more specifically to the starting point for competitors who received no odds, which heralded the advent of the “scratch” game — a game without handicaps.

“It was no handicap. Every man was qualified to and did start from scratch.”

However, the term “from scratch” is even older than that.  John Nyren‘s “Young Cricketer’s Tutor” from 1833 records this line from a 1778 work by Cotton:

“Ye strikers… Stand firm to your scratch, let your bat be upright.”

Later on, James Joyce used “from scratch” in this sense in his 1922 masterpiece “Ulysses,” in which he wrote of a “poor foreign immigrant who started from scratch as a stowaway and is now trying to turn an honest penny.” The version of the phrase “from scratch” is a better known version these days.

The term “from scratch” as it pertains to cooking means the dish is prepared from fresh ingredients rather than from a packaged mix.  None of the steps are eliminated as they are with packaged foods. In this context it means any food that is prepared from the very beginning by the chef, baker or cook.

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