Classic Recipes from the British Isles: Rumbledethumps, Colcannon, and Bubble-and-Squeak; Yorkshire Pudding, Toad-in-the-Hole, and Onion Gravy

Scottish Rumbledethumps

Traditional Scottish Rumbledethumps

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Robert “Rabbie” Burns, the Bard of Scotland

With tonight being Burns Night, I thought I’d start with the wonderfully-named Rumbledethumps: a traditional dish of the Scots Borders, from whence he hailed – and from which a good chunk of my father’s family likewise hailed! Indeed, we shared a town – Selkirk – with the Ploughman Poet, and had our own subtly distinct version of the well-known “Selkirk Grace”:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some have nae that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit!

Now for two close cousins of Rumbledethumps: Irish Colcannon, and English Bubble-and-Squeak:

Colcannon recipe

Traditional Irish Colcannon

“Colcannon is a favorite Irish recipe, especially on St Patrick‘s Day. Seriously, what is not to like? Creamy mashed potatoes, fresh, crunchy curly kale, a bit of spring onions, and pats of butter.”

Delicious, and not just for St. Padraig’s! The spring onions and kale give it both a fresh flavor and a health boost. I don’t pulse or chop them mechanically, just give the kale a thin chiffonade, and slice the green onion into 1/8 to 1/4″ rounds. Be sure to include the green tops!

Bubble and Squeak

Traditional Bubble and Squeak

The first specifically British dish I ever made, many years ago (many, many years, now…), Bubble and Squeak is the lovely, quirky, evocative name for what is mostly fried leftover vegetables, usually from Sunday’s roast dinner (sometimes leftover meat, or bacon, is incorporated). The name comes from the sound it makes as it’s frying! It can be breakfast, brunch, lunch, or supper, as circumstances may dictate.

Yorkshire Pudding

Traditional Yorkshire Pudding

In Yorkshire itself, these puffy pastries, baked in oil (yes, you heard that right…), are often served as a starter; in rest of Britain, they’re the classic accompaniment to a Sunday roast (see here for more on the Sunday roast or “Sunday lunch”). In either case, plenty of gravy is an essential accompaniment – see below!

Toad in the Hole

Family-sized Toad in the Hole

Another evocatively-named dish, Toad-in-the-Hole combines “bangers” (sausages) with a Yorkshire-pudding-like pastry batter (in fact, the Yorkshire pudding recipe could be used for this dish, although the one given here is a wee bit different). A classic supper dish, but could also be the centerpiece for a (slightly less traditional) Sunday lunch. The bangers are rather jumbled in the illustration; I like mine arranged a bit more neatly!

Onion Gravy

Rich Onion Gravy

Several – arguably all! – of the above could deliciously benefit from being served with onion gravy, and Yorkshire pudding and Toad-in-the-Hole practically demand it. As the linked recipe notes,

“The ultimate in comfort food must be any meat dish, or meat and creamy mashed potatoes, smothered in a rich onion gravy. The bringing together of sweet onions and a dark rich sauce—which is both sweet and savory—is a classic of both the British and Irish kitchens.”

And darned tasty on this side of “the Pond,” I must say.

Enjoy!

 

Plough Monday, 2020

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Today is Plough Monday, the first Monday after Twelfth Night and Epiphany, and what used to be an important date in the agricultural calendar. Traditionally it was the day on which farm workers returned to their duties after the Christmas and New Year break. On this day,

“A plough would be taken to the local church to be blessed in order to ‘speed the plough’ and ensure a bountiful harvest later in the year. It was a difficult time of year for ploughman, as the ground was hard and difficult to work on, so the ploughmen would decorate their ploughs and take them around the local villages where they would ask for money from the wealthy landowners.”

This money was formerly used to pay for “plough lights”: candles lit in the church, to pray God’s blessing upon the agricultural work. And if a donation was not forthcoming, the miserly one might find that his yard would be plowed!

Today would be the perfect day for a classic English “ploughman’s lunch,” which at its most basic consists of rustic country bread, one or more varieties of (originally local, now any British) cheese, pickled onions, chutney and/or some other sort of “pickle,” and ale or (generally “hard,” but sweet would be a perfectly fine substitute) cider.

Some would add an apple, others some type of greenstuff (watercress would seem a traditional choice, as it might have been picked fresh from the stream running at the bottom of the field), or perhaps a boiled egg; but though one occasionally sees them with smoked meats, pork pies, or even Scotch eggs, there seems little need to go too far beyond the basics, to me.

Plough Monday, Cottage Loaf and a Ploughman's Lunch (Recipes)

This one includes spring onions and a (somewhat anachronistic, in my view) tomato, but otherwise sticks pretty close to the basic plan!

In conclusion:

Let the wealthy and great
Roll in splendor and state:
I envy them not, I declare it.
I eat my own lamb,
My own chickens and ham;
I shear my own fleece, and I wear it.
I have lawns, I have bowers,
I have fruits, I have flowers;
The lark is my morning alarmer.
So, jolly boys, now,
Here’s God speed the plough!
Long life and success to the farmer!

(I am almost positive that this verse is on the other side of the mug seen in the picture, above!)

Blighty Boys: The UK’s Countryside Alliance

“The Countryside Alliance is the campaigning organisation that promotes the rural way of life in Parliament, in the media and on the ground.”

Source: Countryside Alliance – Home

Just as the urban / coastal elite in the US ridicules what was once called “America’s Heartland” as “flyover states,” and conservative, traditional country people as “rednecks” at best, “deplorables” at worst, so the urban elites in the UK disparage countryside people, pastimes, and traditions.

The Countryside Alliance was founded, IIRC, in 2005, in the aftermath of the ban on mounted foxhunting under the Tony Blair administration. As it says of itself on its website,

“The Countryside Alliance is the campaigning organisation that promotes the rural way of life in Parliament, in the media and on the ground. We campaign for the countryside, for rural communities and for hunting and shooting.

“We publicise the economic, social and environmental contribution the countryside makes to the national economy and quality of life.

“Our aim is to promote understanding and acceptance of the rural way of life and activities such as hunting and shooting in a managed landscape, and to protect them from bias, misinformation and over regulation.”

Campaigns and causes sponsored or supported include the Campaign for Hunting, Campaign for Shooting, Game to Eat initiative, Food and Farming, and Rural Communities – among others.

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Any true Blighty Boy would, or at least should, be a member!

If the World Could Just Snap Green Beans With Granny Again | Appalachian Magazine

Green-Beans

Though I make my living writing articles online and sharing posts on social media, I cannot possibly thank God enough that I was born prior to the days rectangular-shaped screens conquered society.

Source: If the World Could Just Snap Green Beans With Granny Again | Appalachian Magazine

Another good one from Appalachian Magazine.

“I’m not so naïve to believe that simply by gathering around a front porch and snapping green beans all of the problems of this generation would be erased; however, I believe it would sure be a heck of a great place to start…

Though I make my living writing articles online and sharing posts on social media, I cannot possibly thank God enough that I was born prior to the days rectangular-shaped screens conquered society.”

Amen. I feel the same way.

And I have many good memories of snapping green beans, shelling peas, and shelling lima beans on the big, screened-in porch of my Grandma Reamer’s un-air-conditioned farmhouse in Dennisville, New Jersey. How I do miss those days! And the activities, and – especially – the people who made the memories golden.

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A Brief History of the Great British Sunday Roast

Sunday Roast

Source: A Brief History of the Great British Sunday Roast

When mighty Roast Beef was the Englishman’s food,
It ennobled our brains and enriched our blood.
Our soldiers were brave, and our courtiers were good
Oh! The Roast Beef of old England,
And old English Roast Beef!

— “The Roast Beef of Old England,” by Henry Fielding (1731)

I’m a bit late in the day for this week, but perhaps some inspiration for next Sunday…?

“The British love of beef, and particularly for lunch on a Sunday, is nothing new, as it is such a part of the national identity, that even the French call us ‘rosbifs’ (roast beef). The Sunday Roast came to prominence during the reign of King Henry VII in 1485 and the Yeoman of the Guard – the royal bodyguard – have affectionately been known as ‘beefeaters’ since the 15th century because of their love of eating roast beef.”

Read on for more! See also How to Cook the Perfect Sunday Roast, these Tips and Recipes for Cooking the Roast Beef, and of course, this guide to cooking the Traditional Yorkshire Pudding that is the classic accompaniment to the Sunday roast.

My own dear late mother cooked a roast of beef, with most of the traditional accompaniments (sans Yorkshire pudding), for midday dinner every Sunday through most of my childhood and into young adulthood. It was such a fixture that one of my brother’s girlfriends was once reported as asking, “Does she know how to cook anything else?” – since she only came over for dinner on Sundays, and of course, that was what was on the menu!

Ma’s version was of the “pot-roast” variety – the beef, potatoes, onions, carrots, and sometimes celery were cooked in the pressure-cooker, while we were at church, rather than in the oven, and she served it with “essence” (what the French would call au jus), rather than gravy – but for all that, it was nonetheless a continuation of the old tradition, and one I must say I rather miss.

The classic Ploughman’s Lunch: a how-to, from the UK’s “The Guardian”

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How To Eat is in a country pub trying to enjoy a ploughman’s lunch. But an argument is raging…

Source: How to eat: a ploughman’s lunch | Food | The Guardian

“This month, How To Eat is in a country pub trying to enjoy a ploughman’s lunch. But an argument is raging about what that means. Ham? One cheese or three? Is pate OK? Are pickled onions edible? Is this a sharing dish or best enjoyed solo?”

And here I had always thought that a “ploughman’s lunch” was the soul of simplicity: a thick slice of bread, a wedge of cheese, and a pickled onion, with a pint of ale! Who knew that there was this much controversy…? But there is, seemingly. To begin with,

“Pedants will take great pleasure in pointing out that this ‘classic’ was only actually given a name and a PR push in the 1960s, by the Milk Marketing Board; but people, including some ploughmen, had been eating bread and cheese with beer for aeons. Therefore, no matter how it has been glossed, this stands as a much-loved British meal, and one which people feel passionately about.”

Indeed! I would venture to guess that this was probably one of the most common, if not the most common, midday meals for working people in the countryside at least back to the Middle Ages, and probably beyond – so long a bread, cheese, and beer existed!

Bread and aged, hard cheese have the inestimable advantages of being easily portable, keeping well, and being relatively resistant to being dropped and knocked about; they also provide a good balance of protein and carbohydrates, to keep a person’s energy levels up whilst working in the fields.

And of course beer has been ubiquitous at least since the Sumerians… in fact, it’s been argued that grains may have been used for beer-making even before bread-making, making the brewing of beer the foundation of civilization!

Bread and cheese are similarly ancient: bread is now thought to possibly predate agriculture itself; while the first solid cheese dates back at least to the 13th century B.C., while “the earliest evidence of cheese-making in the archaeological record dates back to 5500 BCE, in what is now Kujawy, Poland, where strainers with milk fats molecules have been found.”

It doesn’t take the proverbial rocket scientist to imagine our forebears quickly realizing that these are (if I may adapt from an old advertising jingle) “three great tastes that taste great together”! And of course, the mildly intoxicating qualities of beer may have helped to ease the pain and stiffness of muscles strained by hard work in the field.

But now, back to Britain and the Ploughman’s Lunch: “How to Eat” includes these minimal components of the meal: “Bread, cheese, ham and some sort of pickled dimension. Traditionalists may question the necessity of ham, but without it this is just bread ‘n’ cheese, not a ploughman’s.” Call me a traditionalist (for I am, in many ways), but I was surprised to see ham in there!

No objection, mind you, from a culinary perspective. But I do wonder how authentically “ploughman’s” that is: unlike the bread, cheese, and beer, ham is more inclined to go “off” (spoil) in the hot sun. But if one is enjoying in the cool of the local pub, then by all means! I’m never one to refuse cured pig flesh… At least they are cautious to warn that the ham in question “should be baked, thick-cut, ‘proper’ pig, no limp, wet boiled ham” or “thin, pallid, suspiciously uniform slices.” Hear, hear!

At any rate, read the article for more mouth-watering suggestions for taking this meal from a convenient, if unassuming, packet for a ploughman’s satchel to a culinary experience of high degree. Whether you limit it to bread, beer, cheese, and something pickled – with maybe an apple thrown in – to include boiled eggs or a slice of cold pork pie, watercress, radishes, or celery, and possibly even a “dessert” of fruit bread, it’s a sturdy, filling, and flavorful meal for anyone: not just an authentic ploughman!