Our family just finished our traditional post-Easter dinner of colorful Woodchucks, and once again I am wondering about the origin of this odd recipe name. Some searching on the internet has turned up various recipes similar to my family's. There are variations, but all feature the basics of hard boiled eggs sliced into a cheese (or occasionally white cream) sauce and a distinct lack of actual woodchuck1. (Common variations include the addition of various herbs, vegetables, and/or tomato soup, and serving over various forms of noodles or bread.) You can see one such recipe here and another here.
The first clue I found for the name's origin is in Yankee Magazine's New England Today. A 2007 article posits two hypotheses for the origin of the recipe—a reader who contributed the recipe in 1966 claimed that 18th century shipwreck survivors marooned on an island with a lot of cheese invented the dish, or perhaps instead it is a 1930s variation on Welsh rarebit2—but doesn't offer an explanation of the name. The second theory may perhaps hold a clue, since both "Welsh rarebit" and "woodchucks" are cheese-based dishes notable for the absence of the small furry animal implied in their names.
In fact, the famous cookery book Joy of Cooking (originally published in 1931; the version I was able to find online is from 1975) includes a recipe for Tomato Rarebit or woodchuck, directly connecting rarebit and woodchuck.
Another hint I've found about the origins of the name comes from a video demonstrating how to make "Chinese Woodchucks". One of the makers of the video says (starting around 30 seconds) that his mother found the recipe in a newspaper in the 1960s or 1970s, and that it came from former mayor of Chicago Richard Daly. The time frame is similar to the Yankee Magazine recipe contribution, and a Chicago connection would make sense geographically for my own family's acquisition of the recipe. Several of the recipes that I found online recommended serving it over lo mein or "Chinese" noodles.
If the recipe is in fact a variation on Welsh rarebit, the name Chinese woodchuck could be a sort of snowclone of the form [deprecated? nationality] [deprecated? food animal]. The OED lists Scottish rabbit3 as a dish related to Welsh rabbit/rarebit, and one of its attestations mentions "English" and "Irish" versions of the dish as well, so there is some precedent for such a variation. However, the Mayor Daly story doesn't seem to be common to many of the sources I've found, and there are many "woodchuck" recipes that seem to predate the Chinese version.
Of course the name may still be a variation or evolution along these lines, even if it wasn't originally this form exactly. For example, perhaps it was meant to be an American version of Welsh rarebit, on the theory that the woodchuck is a uniquely North American rodent.4 This could make sense if it is a term/dish that originated in or is somehow primarily associated with North America.
More discussion of the recipe here, including an attestation for a version of the recipe in the 1962 edition of Joy of Cooking.
So, my questions:
Can anyone provide a more definitive answer about the etymology of the name woodchuck(s) or some variation thereof for a hard-boiled-eggs-in-sauce dish?
What is the approximate geographic location of the use of this term for dishes like this? (I suspect it's a primarily North American usage, but am interested in whether it extends further or, conversely, is limited to only part of the US and/or Canada.)
Just to be clear, I'm not asking about the origins of the recipe or the main meaning of the word woodchuck, just how the term woodchuck came to be used for this kind of dish. I'm most interested in when, where, and especially how the term arose.
1 Woodchuck is another name for the groundhog of Groundhog Day fame, a North American type of marmot. See Wikipedia.
2 The OED says of Welsh rarebit:
Etymology: Alteration of Welsh rabbit n., apparently after rare adj.1 and bit n.1, probably with the sense ‘delicacy’.
There is no evidence of the independent use of a simplex rarebit , except later as a shortening of this compound (see rarebit n.). ("Welsh rarebit, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2017.)
On Welsh rabbit's etymology it has only
< Welsh adj. + rabbit n.1, probably humorously. Compare slightly later Scotch rabbit n. at Scotch adj. and n.3 Special uses 2. ("Welsh rabbit, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2017.)
Unfortunately, the OED has no information about the recipe version of woodchuck.
3 "Scotch, adj. and n.3." OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2017. Special uses 2.
4 I am aware that rabbits aren't actually rodents; however, if this label does date from the early twentieth century, it is likely that whoever chose it would not have made that distinction. Per Oxford Dictionaries,
Until the early 20th century, zoologists classified the rabbit and other lagomorphs (as members of the order Lagomorpha are known) within the order Rodentia (rodents), which includes rats, mice, squirrels, and marmots.