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Music – “Rule Britannia” from Elgar Variations by Brass Band Willebroek & Raf Van Looveren. Released: 2007
For many years, while I was growing up in Toronto, my sister and I had a regular babysitter, who later became a member of the family. She emigrated to Canada in 1918 on a troop ship, eventually making her way from Halifax to Toronto, where, much later, we met her through mutual friends of my parents.
“Phyllis”, was born in Sutton-Surrey, England and used to regale my sister and I with stories from the UK. She recalled the gloom in London the day after the Titanic went down in 1912, and newsboys walking around the city announcing the devastating news. She remembered her fear at hearing German planes overhead, following the path of the River Thames near Sidcup, where she was living at the time during WW1, and hearing and seeing the zeppelins overhead. I was duly impressed with her vast life experiences, but what I was most fascinated with was when she talked about English fare. Out would come a stream of nearly unintelligible names of recipes, but without a picture, I was left completely in the dark as to what was in them. Toad in the Hole, Spotted Dick, Bubble and Squeak, Syllabub, Bangers and Mash, Angels on Horseback.
What were these oddly sounding dishes? Later, I found more equally strange sounding names: Stinking Bishop, Stargazey Pie, Whim-Wham. The English just have a wonderful way with words and this is apparent in giving their dishes whimsical names.
There are many good cookbooks on English cooking and some of my readers can probably add to the list. In addition to some of the more popular ones by Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, Robert Irvine, Two Fat Ladies, I have some older cookbooks, which I am fond of. There is “Good Food from Old England” by Gladys Mann, published in London in 1956. Her recipes range from “Bedfordshire Clanger” and “Bucks Bacon Badger” to “Treacle Posset” and “Cumberland Rum Nicky”.
“The Good Fare and Cheer of Old England” by Joan Parry Dutton, was published in the US in 1960. “Bakewell Pudding”, “Herrings in Oatmeal”, and “Scotch Woodcock” are just a few of the recipes from the author, born in England.
Gordon Grimley edited “The Victorian Cookery Book”, published in London, in 1973, and features some of the classic Victorian English dishes such as “Bubble and Squeak”, “Calf’s Head”, “Jubilee Tea Cakes”, and “Flummery”. Not to be upstaged, “Mrs. Bridges’ Upstairs, Downstairs Cookery Book”, edited by Adrian Bailey, features recipes from the popular Masterpiece Theater TV series of the same name.
Also fun is “Dinner with Tom Jones”, by Lorna J. Sass, published in the US in 1977. The recipes are 18th century, adapted for the modern kitchen, from “Almond Pastry” to “Yorkshire Pudding”.
“English Provincial Cooking” by Elisabeth Ayrton, was published in the UK in 1980 and recipes are broken down regionally: East Anglia, The North, The West Country, London, and more. “Pokerounce” anyone? How about “Sweet Devil” or “Chickens as Lizards”. A really great book, full of historical and contemporary English dishes.
“Seven Hundred Years of English Cooking”, by Maxime McKendry, was published in London in 1973 and features English cooking from the 14th century through to the 20th century. Here you can find “Eel in Herb Sauce” (14th to 16th century), to “Steak and Kidney Pudding” (20th Century). Other books of interest include “Eat Britain – 101 Great British Tastes” by Andrew Wheeler (2007), “Colman’s Book of Traditional British Cookery” by J. Audrey Ellison (1980) and “Great British Cooking – A Well-Kept Secret” by Jane Garmey (1992)
So, what is a “Stinking Bishop”? A type of cheese with a “distinctive” smell, although the original “Stinking Bishop” referred to a type of pear from which the cider made from the fruit was used to wash the rind of the cheese, imparting it’s aroma.
As for “Stargazey Pie”, think pastry and some fish standing on their tails!
Please share your favourite English recipes!