Well, there you have it, in red ink: English food stinks. A definitive statement with admirable literary brevity, consigning a nation’s culinary tradition, developed over centuries, to the dumpster. A view stated in last month’s issue by a prominent Serenity writer in three words. I feel lucky that there was no exclamation mark! No ifs, ands or buts, no pussyfooting around… let’s just put it out there. Of course, you never know when the writer in question is joking, hoping to get a rise out of someone, or exaggerating for comedic effect. I have enjoyed his many humorous contributions to the Canyon Courier and Serenity over the years, as many of you must have done. Could be he’s also in training for the Grumpy Old Men’s Club exam, a path I aspire to myself.
Is that just English food, England being only one of the four nations of the United Kingdom? What about the national dish of Wales—Cawl—a sort of ragout? Does that stink, also? Now, I’ll admit privately that anything cooked in a sheep’s stomach doesn’t exactly turn my taste buds on. I would need a few largish drafts of something very strong at Hogmanay to consume Haggis, but what about Scotland’s Cranachan—a superb fish soup? No? Well, down the drain with that too then, along with the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Perhaps singling out English food is intentional. It’s traditional for Americans to cringe at steak and kidney pie, or liver and bacon, or anything that smacks of offal, but, forgive me, that viewpoint is at least 20 years out of date.
Neither could I find any justification for the assertion about English food, beyond those three, glaring red words. Europe, as a whole, bears the brunt of the remaining criticism. Last time I looked, Brexit had happened, so England, for good or ill, is not a part of Europe anymore and that saves me from having to defend France. One wonders what terrible experience or gastronomic abuse has given rise to such strong feelings, for nowadays, the general standard of food in England is very good, and frequently excellent. But don’t let me dissuade you: If you have any thoughts of going to England… don’t, because, apparently, you may surely fall ill or starve. Of course, you will miss the hearty, traditional English breakfast, the steak and ale or venison pies (no kidney), the pork pie with Branston pickle, the sticky toffee pudding, bread and butter pudding, or treacle sponge, all to be served warm with heavy cream (not whipped cream or ice cream, you understand), and the cream teas (scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam), but hey, they’re all fattening anyway.
Let’s talk about ice. It costs a lot of energy to make ice. If I could remember my high school physics, I could probably work out how much, but that’s long gone, I’m afraid. Let’s just say that if the restaurants and bars throughout the nation did not have to toss away bucketloads of ice at the end of the day, the energy savings might halve the national debt. Getting half a glass of ice with your meal, whether you want it or not, is not my idea of a necessity. Imagine all that icy water solidifying the oils and fats in your stomach when you eat your favorite steak! There are studies that conclude that this not only impedes proper digestion, but it also drains the body of the energy that is required to heat everything back up to body temperature—the very same amount of energy that was spent in making the ice in the first place. Go figure! Thank goodness for warm beer!
Many traditional dishes were formulated to save food being wasted and to use readily available rural ingredients, hence the use of kidney and liver in meat pies, and fruit, butter, bread and milk in desserts. To show there’s no hard feelings, I’m including a recipe below for Queen of Puddings, a very old English recipe. Enjoy a fine dessert!
Queen of Puddings
2 cups milk
1/4 cup sugar (for pudding)
2 tbsp. butter
1 lemon (grated rind only)
4 beaten egg yolks (save the whites for the meringue)
3 cups bread crumbs, made from white bread (not Wonder bread) with crusts removed.
1/4 cup raspberry jam
4 egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup sugar (for meringue)
Combine the milk, 1/4 cup of sugar,
2 tablespoons of butter and the grated rind of one lemon. Heat just until the sugar melts (do this in a large Pyrex measuring cup in the microwave.) Cool to room temperature.
Add the breadcrumbs and beaten egg yolks. Pour into a buttered casserole dish and bake at 350ºF for 30 minutes or until firm. Warm the raspberry jam (jelly) to soften it, and spread over the pudding.
Never use a plastic bowl! Combine 4 egg whites and beat until frothy. Add 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar and a pinch of salt. Beat until stiff. Add 1/4 cup of sugar and beat to stiff peaks. Spread over the pudding and bake at 325ºF until golden brown (10-15 minutes).
Serve while hot. Serves 6 people (however, you’ll need to keep two of the servings aside for seconds!).
© David Cuin 2023