By Suzanne Plunkett
Jellied eels. Toad in the hole. Bangers and mash. The Full English. An Eton mess. Trifle. Crumble. Yorkshire pudding. Scotch eggs. A menu of oddly named and sometimes oddly tasting traditional British dishes awaits adventurous diners visiting London for the Olympic Games this summer.
To an American like me, the names of English foods take some getting used to. Take the term “pudding”. In the States, a pudding is specifically a runny, milk-based desert. In England it refers to anything sweet served after the main course– unless it is from Yorkshire, and then it is savory, resembles a popover, and is served with roast beef. The closest thing the English have to American pudding is custard — a luminous yellow sweet sauce which they insist on drowning their deserts in. They consider it a comfort food but I find it revolting, even when my English husband tries to pass it off under the exotic French title of “crème anglais”.
I discovered my favorite English desert after I had been touring the country on a bus for four days. My taste buds had been numbed by a steady diet of egg salad sandwiches and salt and vinegar crisps (or chips, as we Americans call them) so the first time I tried an Eton mess, I swooned. The simple combination of crumbled meringue, vanilla ice cream, strawberries and whipped cream was heavenly. The name of the desert refers to Eton college, a posh school in Queen Elizabeth’s hometown. I imagine mess comes from the appearance of the dish. Recently I made one with my three-year-old daughter and she now shares my passion and nightly begs me to “make the mess again”. I admit, my taste buds might not be the most sophisticated.
Moving away from puddings, the dishes don’t get any less confusing.
I’m happy to report that no amphibians die in the making of toad in the hole — a bizarre combination of sausages entombed in Yorkshire pudding batter. This isn’t as bad as it sounds and toad in the hole recipes using quality sausages and fancy seasonings by celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay can be quite tasty. Done cheaply, as a ready meal from grocery store, it’s as grim as you’d expect.
The “full English” is a mountain of greasy breakfast foods that I imagine must be aimed at the hardworking construction worker with an appetite — or hangover — the size of a skyscraper. The ideal full English includes varying amounts of eggs, bacon, sausages, baked beans, fried mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, chips (by which I mean french fries) and toast. There’s also the option of black pudding — a terrifying slice of blood sausage.