Dinner With The Omnivore

Posts Tagged ‘British food

Innuendo. Fnar, etc.

At the risk of being accused of innuendo, I have to admit to being fond of a nice bit of hot crumpet. Well, who isn’t. (Apart from JC, apparently, though he confesses to a weakness for buttered muffins. And that’s all the double entendre I can muster for the moment.)

But while you can buy (frankly rather nasty and overpriced) muffins in the supermarket here, crumpets are off. I had thoughts of buying a load whilst on our annual Blighty outing last week, but for some reason I didn’t bother. We did come home with a big box of Rice Krispies and a year’s supply of  Golden Syrup, but completely failed to get decent loose-leaf tea for the parents, a result of going to a distinctly low-rent branch of  Tesco rather than shopping in Lewes as usual. This also meant we ended up with some rather average cheeses, as we didn’t get round to going to the cheese shop either, and on top of that we forgot to stop off at Middle Farm for scrumpy, so we ended up with a case of Dry Blackthorn, which turns out to be rubbish. I’m sure it used to taste of something back in the day, but maybe I’m imagining that. Clearly we need to raise our game on the shopping front.

On the plus side, I did manage to acquire a couple of crumpet rings, the better to promote self-sufficiency on the baked goods front.

What do you mean, cooking? Get lost.

Delia maintains that crumpet-making is an ideal activity for a cold snowy day, a ridiculous assertion if I ever heard one. What the bloody hell would I be doing in the house on a cold snowy day? Mind you, Delia is a self-confessed footy fan and clearly wots not of skiing, so presumably that explains it. Strange woman.


You will need: 276ml milk; 55ml water; teaspoon caster sugar; tablespoon dried yeast; 225g strong flour; teaspoon salt; butter

Heat the milk and water until hand-hot, add the yeast and sugar and leave in the warm for 10-15 minutes until it goes frothy. Add to the flour and salt to make a smooth batter, then cover with a teatowel and leave in a warm place for about 45 minutes, by which tim the batter will be light and frothy. Grease the crumpet rings and put them in a frying pan over a medium heat. Put a tablespoon of batterinto each ring and cook for 4-5 minutes until bubbles appear and burst, leaving those little holes you get on crumpets. Then lift out the rings, turn the crumpets over and cook for another minute.

Unfortunately I fell at the first hurdle here – when she says hand-hot, the Goddess means lukewarm, not hot. Hot will kill the yeast, resulting in a definite absence of froth. But the addition of an extra yeast sachet to the now rather cooler milk mixture sorted that out, and froth was duly forthcoming.

The next bit went quite well, and the batter came out of its warm place looking more than adequately risen and smelling reassuringly yeasty.

Unfortunately though, things proceeded to go somewhat Pete Tong in the final stages. First of all the bubbles which are supposed to lead to that all-important holey butter-trap effect were conspicuous by their absence. Then the dough mixture stuck like glue to the crumpet rings, resulting in a wrestling match with knife, oven gloves and red-hot rings.

I abandoned this whole ring strategy for subsequent batches, which wasn’t too bad as the dough was thick enough not to spread all over the place, but once again the entire thing with the bubbles just wasn’t happening.

So the upshot of the afternoon’s activity has been a load of  alleged crumpets which look more like scotch pancakes only more rubbery. They don’t taste bad, and are quite nice when smothered in butter and forest fruit jam (though let’s face it, what isn’t?), but they’re not what they should be. So it’s back to Tesco for crumpet again, much to my disappointment. Maybe I’ll try hot cross buns instead.

That's more like it. Pass the jam, someone.

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British tea, what.

Britain, according to the ever-inaccurate Wikipedia, is the second largest per capita consumer of tea in the world. Ever since enterprising English merchants in China started swapping the stuff for class A drugs in the nineteenth century, tea has been seen as a quintessentially British tipple. Which makes about as much sense as the expat’s constant lament that he can’t get ‘proper British curry’.

The French have caught on to the Britsh tea thing even though they are clearly baffled by it, and various varieties of teabag are now fairly readily available in supermarkets. As well as the standard Lipton Yellow (nasty by anyone’s standards) you can also get some Gallic version of Tetley, and usually PG Tips in those stupid pointy teabags at an eye-watering price.

The question really is why on earth you’d want to. Teabags of whatever brand contain floor-sweepings, not tea. That’s what teabags are for – it’s nothing to do with your convenience, just a way of disguising the fact that you are being ripped off for something which has been harvested in a dustpan. Hats off to the evil marketing genius who came up with that one.

Have a good look at the contents of a teabag sometime. Now sweep the kitchen floor. I bet you can’t tell the difference between the two (apart from the cat hairs, crumbs and odd bits of chopped onion, obviously).

How long have those teabags been in there?

Mind you, given the sort of abuse to which British drinkers subject their tea, it could be argued that the good stuff is wasted on them and they might as well carry on buying low-grade rubbish. How many times have you been to some caff where the tea-maker has blatantly just thrown a handful of PG Tips teabags into a huge tin tea bucket and then left them there for hours before serving up a mug of unspeakable stewed muck cut with 50% milk? I’d sooner drink coffee. From Starbucks.

Here is some news for you all: tea is not orange. It does come in all sorts of colours, from a delicate yellow tint through to rich golden brown, but at no time and under no circumstances should it be bright orange. It’s not supposed to be made with half a pint of milk either. Some milk, if you like it that way, fair enough. But I can’t see how you can face the prospect of a cup of what amounts to watered down warm milk with orange colouring in it.

Ultimate British teapot

In fact, if you drop the milk business altogether, a whole new world of tea-drinking opens up before you. Teabags like PG are designed with the British market in mind, so they are specifically made to produce that evil-tasting orange liquid on the grounds that even if you do add all the full fat gold top in the fridge it might still taste of something. It doesn’t work either – the stuff still tastes like those horrible little bottles of milk they used to give you in school.

This is why you all think tea without milk is disgusting – it’s because you’re drinking the wrong tea. And you’re right, PG Tips and others of its ilk are indeed slightly more disgusting without milk than with it.

But most teas aren’t blended with milk in mind. Next time someone tries to dump dairy product in my Darjeeling I might have to get violent. And what are you all thinking about, pouring semi-skimmed into the Earl Grey? Vile, I tell you.

Rancid yak butter. Err .... not for me thanks.

Not that I’m going to get all snotty about tea additives and the ‘proper’ way to drink the stuff. Plenty of cultures add things to their tea – I’m told the Tibetans favour rancid yak butter, and while I’m generally open to new culinary experiences, I think I might be tempted to file that one away with the andouillette. So drink it with milk if you must, but you’ll enjoy your tea a whole lot more if you apply a bit of moderation. Apart from anything else, it’ll taste of tea. And lay off the teabags. Get a teapot. Buy some decent loose leaf tea – Ringtons and Adagio have plenty of it. You never know, they might even stock it in Sainsrose. Trust me, you’ll never look at PG Tips again.

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Or at least not the stuff you’re talking about, most of which is not actually food. I lose count of the number of times I’ve heard British resort staff  bemoan the lack of ‘proper bread’ (ie sliced polystyrene), ‘real bacon’ (pink spongy stuff which pours with water once in the pan) and Cheddar ‘cheese’ (by which they don’t mean decent farmhouse cheddar but those lumps of industrial cheeseoid you can buy in Tesco). For God’s sake people, you’re in France. It’s famous for bread and cheese, what are you talking about? But no, they carry on bribing coach drivers to bring them British ‘sausages’ and complaining that they’re tired of baguettes (having completely failed to spot the two dozen other types of bread on offer in every boulangerie). I despair.

French bread - not 'proper', apparently

Not that the paying public is much better. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that having forked over good money to travel abroad on holiday, people would want to make the most of the experience – eat things they can’t get at home, look out for local dishes, whatever. But no. Every major resort is littered with English bars offering over-priced Full English Breakfast made with the lowest quality ingredients. You wouldn’t dream of paying upwards of a tenner at home for budget sausages, watery bacon and frozen hash browns, so why on earth do you do it on holiday?

Long-term expats don’t seem to be a great deal better at surviving without weird semi-foods at stratospheric prices either, judging by the number of British gorcery shopping websites out there. Birds Dream Topping at nearly £5 for three sachets, tins of  ‘Celebrity Bacon Grill’ (don’t tell me, I don’t want to know), ready-to-eat orange jelly …. hideous.

So I’ve got some alarming news for everyone out there – people in other parts of the world do actually eat stuff. No, honestly, they really do. And it probably tastes a whole lot better than Crosse and Blackwell Hunger Break followed by Angel Delight and washed down with Maltesers Hot Chocolate Drink.

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Food for thought

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.” ― Orson Welles

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