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British Food - Cuisine and Culture

Some of my fondest memories as a child are of visiting my grandparents in both the North of England and the Eastern coastal area of England. Those visits were not only wonderful times, but they were also accompanied with delicious food. I had one grandmother who could be equated with a British version of Martha Stewart and another grandmother who'd open her handbag which was laden with penguin bars and bar clubs, or an assorted variety of flavored crisps.

Let me reminisce a minute and with that reminiscing share some favorite traditional British cuisine. I do have to acknowledge, however, that the Brit's cuisine, especially the English dishes, hasn't always had the greatest reputation. Still, they have some of the finest restaurants in the world and with the added diversity in the population, and an increased experimentation with new dishes, the culture has created new culinary styles - curry recipes being one of the most popular trends right now.

So back to the reminiscing, back to my Martha Stewart nanny. Every morning in her home, on schedule, was a full English breakfast which would usually consist of sausages, bacon, fried eggs, fried tomatoes, and fried bread or toast. Some would opt for scrambled eggs, or throw in some fried mushrooms, baked beans, and if you were really adventurous -- black pudding. Black pudding is a type of blood sausage - something I've never opted for, but others love.

Next would be the traditional lunch, which is a bit like a Sunday dinner in my home today. Nanny would cook some kind of roast meat - beef, pork or lamb - and with that were her crispy roast potatoes and a fresh garden vegetable. Steaming windows from boiling cabbage was a common occurrence. The lamb would be complimented with mint sauce, and the beef with gravy and Yorkshire pudding. Yorkshire pudding was always a favorite of mine, a dish made from baked dough - almost like roasted bread.

Tea-time was promptly at five o'clock. This was one of my favorite meals: cakes and biscuits, scones and jams. Both my grandmothers usually had jam tarts (bakewell tarts) pre-made and stowed in their pantries. This consisted of a pastry shell filled with jam and a spongy filling. Shortbread biscuits - melt in your mouth buttery cookies - were always stocked and stored in old Christmas tins. Now remember our cookies are their biscuits, and our biscuits are their scones. To this day, I've never discovered a version of our scones overseas.

Supper-time was just before bed - a quick snack before lights out. My supper was cheese on toast and hot cocoa.

My other grandmother wasn't as much about order and tradition, but loved filling her cupboards with food her grandchildren loved. She was famous, at least to me, for her sausage pie. And never would a visit go by without at least one trip to the fish and chip shop: Battered and fried cod or plaice with chips (French fries) and usually sprinkled with salt and lathered with vinegar. Some would opt for the mushy peas on the side which was merely a green soup made from peas.

Let me list briefly some of the most traditional dishes that I haven't included up to this point.

  • Roast chicken with chipolata sausages (thin sausages), bread sauce, and cranberry sauce or redcurrant jam.
  • Bangers (sausages) and mash (mashed potatoes).
  • Toad in the hole (sausages cooked in Yorkshire pudding batter), somewhat similar to piggies in a blanket.
  • Shepherd's pie. Traditionally the bottom layer was ground lamb, although in my family we used ground beef, and this was followed with a layer of mashed potatoes. We also usually put cooked carrots in between the beef and potatoes. There are many variations to this though and also under the names of cottage pie and fisherman's pie.
  • Steak and kidney pie -- speaks for itself.
  • Lancashire hotpot which was meat, onion and potatoes baked in a pot or casserole dish for a long time on low heat.
  • Cornish pasty. This is a baked pie is smaller distinct shape which was traditionally filled with beef, onion, and potato.
  • Kedgeree. This is flaked fish combined with boiled rice, eggs and butter. Smoked haddock was usually the fish of choice and this dish dates back to the time of the British Indian Empire.
  • Mince (ground beef) and tatties (mashed potatoes).
  • Spotted dick. This is a steamed pudding which contains dried fruit and raisins, and is usually served with custard.

So there you have it, a quick version of my enjoyment of English cuisine and some of the traditional dishes. Good luck on your English cooking adventure!