Sandra’s Taste of Britain – September 2012
“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream”
“The best way to execute French cooking is to get good
and loaded, and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon Appetit!
– Julia Child
I ALWAYS admired Julia Child, she was such an inspiration, and I love these two quotes of her! She was a no nonsense cook, who was brilliant, and made such a difference in the culinary world, and I loved her quotes.
And now for something completely different! (to quote another favourite, Monty Python)
I am an avid collector of recipes and articles, and have been having a bit of a clearing out of mounds of stuff collected through the years. One article I saved was in the Daily Mail, a few years ago, and was based on Nigel Slater’s (another brilliant top British cookery writer), book ‘Eating for England: The delights and eccentricities of the British at Table’) As I will be in England in late September, I plan on hunting out this book.
The article picked out so many favourite British ‘cuisine’ items, most from our childhood still going today, and I found it very interesting. So instead of an actual recipe this month, thought that this would be of interest to many of you. Here are my takes on some of our uniquely British goodies:
You love it or you hate it, there is no in-between. Personally I love it, if I’m feeling a bit off it is a perfect thing to have on toast to help settle the tummy. My husband hates it and refers to it as ‘axle grease’! This is a dark, salty, sticky substance that is yeast based, I think from the by-products of the hops in beer making, and it is so British (The Australians have a similar product called Vegemite). It is a very popular spread in Britain, in the familiar black jar and yellow, white and red markings.
I have memories of having it served hot, after we had swimming lessons in the 50’s, in the cooler months, but it is usually served cold. Apparently, thirteen billion blackcurrants (I wonder who counts them!!!) are made into Ribena each year, and it was touted as being a good prevention for flu and colds, probably due to the Vitamin C in the blackcurrants. It has been made in the same factory in Coleford for over 70 years.
This is a candy/sweetie that includes sugar, gelatin, glucose syrup and citric acid. They were first produced by Bassett in Sheffield, and shortly after WW1 were called peace babies, the name changed in the 1950’s. We used to bite off the heads first before consuming the rest…pretty gruesome when you think of it, but I still like them to this day!
Well, I still have a dripping bowl in my fridge. There is nothing like it for proper roast potatoes, but also I recall we used to have it spread on bread and toast, mostly after the WW2 years. It has lost some favour I think with the advent of trying to eat healthier and olive oil has taken over, but it’s just not the same! Also we eat less bacon than we used to, so it takes a while to build it up for cooking, I often need to supplement it with lard…that’s another thing that isn’t used a much…sigh, we have become too healthy methinks!!
This is one of the most popular pickles; apparently some 28 million jars are sold each year, and it has been made since 1922. It is used with cold cuts, and burgers, but the most popular choice is to have it with cheese, it’s a great combination for that cheese butty or Ploughmans Lunch. I found a recipe a while back, and will have to give it a go, although my Christmas chutney I featured is very close. Traditionally the pubs would make their own chutney to go with a Ploughmans, and I always found it interesting to try the many varieties, however I still consider Branstons to be my favourite.
Birds Custard Powder of course, in the familiar red, yellow and blue tin. This has been a staple since 1837, and I can’t imagine having a piece of pie, treacle tart, or spotted dick without it. It’s also good cold too, and I still use it when I am making a trifle. Childhood memories of it were a teaspoon of jam in the bowl, and a sliced banana over it, then the cold custard…joy!!
I remember when I first started writing this column … nearly 20 years ago … the custard powder was not available in the shops, and I experimented with seven different ways to make it from scratch. Memories of these seven individual bowls on the counter top, and my Jack going along tasting all of them before we came to a consensus! I do not like the instant or canned ready made though, and continue to use the Birds brand … it’s so easy when doing in a microwave.
Bisto Gravy Powder:
Although making gravy really isn’t hard, I still supplement it with Bisto. I love gravy, and after doing a nice roast, scrape up all the leavings in the pan from the roast, then use stock, or the water the potatoes get cooked in, with the Bisto. I like it medium, not too thin, and usually cover my whole plate with it … the joke in our family is that I don’t get the gravy boat until everyone has had their share! The ingredients in the Bisto are very simple with starch, yeast and onion powder. I have recently tried the instant versions which are pretty good, and easy, but don’t have the full flavour to me.
This is the original brown sauce that has been made since 1899, and as their ads say ‘everything goes well with HP (as the photo on the label depicts: Houses of Parliament) sauce’. It is really great with sausages, (Toad in the hole, Bangers and Mash), bacon sandwiches, chips etc. Some where I found a recipe to make it, and will have to experiment with it. The sad thing is that it is no longer made in England. It was part of the products that were bought by Kraft when they bought Cadbury’s in England, and is now made in Holland. Recently they tried changing the format to lower the salt content, but there was such a hue and cry from the pubic, that they reverted back to the original blend.
I always liked salty things, and the Oxo cubes were originally made with real beef, I would like to eat them as they came! However they are usually used crumbled up in hot water and added to things like Shepherds Pie, stews or Bolognese. When there was the “Mad Cow Disease’ in England, they stopped making them with the beef, and actually are made with a yeast extract, starch and flavourings such as sugar and onion powder. When we had the tea room, the US wouldn’t allow the importation of them, and we couldn’t get them again for nearly a year. In the UK apparently two million are sold every day!
I hope this little jog down memory lane has been of interest, and I will have more items to feature in the October column.
(I welcome comments, recipes and requests and can be reached at Yourcuppatea1@yahoo.com.)