Adventures in British Food

Sunday Roast. Carvery. Haggis.
Fish & Chips. Bangers & Mash.
Spotted Dick. Rumbledethumps.
Bubble & Squeak. Fish Pie. Clotted Cream.
Cucumber Sandwiches. Cornish Pasty.
Jellied Eels. Yorkshire Pudding.
Black Pudding. Sally Lunn.
Toad in the Hole. Treacle.
Scones.
~British Foods

British food doesn’t have the best reputation in the foodie world, and I guess I understand that thinking if one (non-Brits) considers jellied eels, black pudding, and haggis.  Labeling all British foods awful does a disservice to classic dishes such as  roast chicken, Yorkshire pudding, and Shepherds pie. One of my friends asked me what the best meal I had in Britain was, and it was a tie between a breakfast of fruit scones (basically raisins) and a Sunday carvery lunch. Of course, Mike’s banoffee (photo at top) was pretty good, too.

I’m not going to go into every food I listed above, but let me begin by saying there was no way on God’s green earth that I was going to try haggis even though some people told me I should since I like oatmeal.  Oatmeal is fine, I tell you, but do you know what else they put in that savory “pudding?”  Sheep’s stomach. Lamb’s heart.  Lamb’s lungs. Stock made of said heart and lungs. Onions. Spices (including mace, pepper, nutmeg). Oatmeal . Water.  They serve it with clapshot (tomatoes, carrots, turnips) and whiskey (because, I figure, you have to be a few sheets to the wind to eat it once you know what’s in it).

Puddings are a favorite in the UK.  There’s Spotted Dick, another pudding (although this one is sweet) which is made from suet pastry and dried fruit.  And, black pudding, another savory that is really a sausage made from pig blood and either beef suet or pig fat. I think some country we know has a pudding-identity problem. (more on that later).

Being the very unadventurous eater that I am, I stay away from savory pudding and anything jellied and stuck to beef and poultry.  My opinion is that the Brits have good pastries. Great pastries. (Note the photo at the top of this post.) The first time we were in London about 15 years ago, we had a cinnamon-pecan pastry every morning. I still crave it though I’ve never been able to find it again.

During our last trip to the UK, I announced to Mike, “There are four things I want to eat while we’re in Britain. Real scones, Cornish pasties, Sunday roast, and a carvery lunch.” While he wondered why, he agreed that we should try some typically British foods.

Meat Pie
Beef and Mushroom Pie

The only one we ended up not trying was a Cornish pasty, but I had a beef and mushroom pie in its place, so that was okay.  Cornish pasties are typically meat pies, also, but they are the kind that you hold in your hand.  Mine, as you can see, was a pie I ate with a fork.  (By the way, depending on whether you eat your pasty in the shop or if you take it away, you’ll notice a price difference.)

My beef and mushroom pie was quite good, although it came with a lump of mashed potatoes, a small pot of brown gravy, and a clump of watercress that were mostly flavorless.  The pie itself was tasty, but the crust was a little too much for the filling.  I ended up cutting off its head (the top) which earned me a stern look from the waitress.

Sunday Roast

The Sunday Roast is a traditional British meal that they eat, believe it or not, on Sunday.  (The belief is that Sunday Roast came out of the time when Catholics and Anglicans fasted from meat on Fridays, so after church services on Sunday, they were able to eat a meal where everything—meat, vegetables, dairy—was okay.

Roast Chicken
Sunday Roast (chicken)

Sunday Roast includes a roasted meat, roasted potatoes, stuffing, vegetables, Yorkshire pudding, and gravy. (You might remember from my first food post that I had roast chicken surrounded by potatoes, stuffing, carrots, etc. while in London.) Some cooks put all of the vegetables into the pan with the roast, and they absorb the juices and fat.  Others, however, cook them separately.  Vegetables, by the way, include parsnips corn,  Brussels sprouts, carrots, turnips, cauliflower, beans, peas,  cabbage, broccoli, and leeks.  The vegetables that came with my roast were cooked with beef (not the chicken I’d ordered) to absorb the flavor of the meat.)

Carvery

The Carvery meal is quite like the Sunday Roast in that diners get meat and sides. The difference, though, is that someone carves the meat in front of you, and you pick the what you want to go with it (Buffet, anyone?).  The carveries date back to 1950s London, and are found in pubs and hotels and held on weekends, particularly on Sunday.

“Oooo! They have a carvery this Sunday,” I said to Mike as we walked by the Swan Hotel in Bradford-on-Avon.  He looked at me.  “I really want to experience a carvery,” I continued.  He rolled his eyes but said nothing because he knew that we were going to that carvery on Sunday.

The Swan Hotel Carvery consisted of three meats (Everyone got three slices—one of each or any combination), and a variety of vegetables.  They had beef, turkey, and ham, and their slices were quite thick.  In addition, the sides included Yorkshire pudding, roasted potatoes, boiled potatoes, roasted parsnips, and more.  From the

Swan Hotel Carvery
The Swan Hotel Sunday Carvery

photo, you can see what they had.  Except for the brown sauce (gravy), which tasted like the packaged stuff you can get anywhere, everything was good. It was, however, way too much. We ended up taking more than three slices of meat back to the apartment with us and having then for dinner Sunday evening.

While it wasn’t the most tasty, the bland white cheddar sauce on the cauliflower masked the vegetable’s flavor, and the brown sauce/gravy was too salty and without meat flavor. I liked the beans, but Mike didn’t because he likes his to be barely cooked and almost hard. My favorite of everything was the Yorkshire pudding which, as you probably know, is one of those British puddings that is not a pudding as we know it.

Puddings

And that, my dear friends, lead me to look up the origins of pudding.  In the US and Canada (and much of the world), a pudding is a dairy-based sweet dish most often served as a dessert or snack.  In the UK, however, those dishes are ‘custards,’ and puddings—be they savory or sweet—are a combination of butter, some grain (cereal, flour, etc), suet, eggs, etc.  Boiled, steamed, or baked, the ingredients form a solid mass—the pudding.

I’ll never look at Jello Pudding Cups in the same way again.

 

 

 

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