Thursday, September 28, 2006

Great British Grub

As you know, we popped back across the pond for a month, straddling July and August. Although the US boasts some culinary delights of its own, we were nevertheless hankering after some good ol' British grub that is hard to find here. We used our month in Britain well -- to get a fix for as many of our cravings as possible. Here's Mark's take on it:

One of the real pleasures of returning to the UK over the summer was to taste again all sorts of food and drink that we had been missing while in the USA. In the weeks and months ahead of our summer trip, we would often discuss what British foods we were most looking forward to, making a mental list. Emily would often ask if we could get some McVities Digestives when we were shopping in Kroger (@ $3.00 a packet in the UK import section) and I would always have to say, "Wait till we get to England".

Black Pudding
Black Pudding
There was no question about what I was most looking forward to -- black pudding. You cannot get hold of black pudding in the States for love or money. Actually we once had a bit in an Irish pub in Cary, but that's the only time, and it was not great black pudding. For those who have not tried it, black pudding is a large, thick black sausage, made in part from pig's blood and fat (not terribly kosher). Happily, we found ourselves in the black pudding capital of the world for one week of our stay, when we went on holiday to Bishop's Castle in Shropshire. There was a local black pudding there which was absolutely superb and I think we must have bought four or five during the week we were there. In fact there was a nice (but expensive) family butcher there too that made the best local back bacon one could imagine. It's not possible to get back bacon where we live -- there are shelves and shelves of streaky, some even in odd flavours like maple, but no back bacon in sight. And, of course, there were some first class British sausages, thick, meaty, tasty and not the diddy, salty and fatty things we get here.

Emily did get her digestive biscuits and we all enjoyed some good Cadbury's chocolate (which is available here, but licensed to Hersheys, or imported from England at four times the price). One surprise treat was British squash -- orange squash, blackcurrant squash etc. -- we hadn't realized how much we had missed those. [Explanation for Americans: squash is fruit-flavoured drink concentrates that one dilutes before drinking. We especially missed Robinson's Lemon Barley Water. (Ed.)] I don't think I had realized either just how much I had been missing a good English hand-pulled pint of real ale. One real highlight was sitting outside an old pub called The Tinner's Arms in Zennor during our week in Cornwall, and then in Shropshire to pick up regular pitchers of the locally brewed ales from the local pub in Bishop's Castle.

Steak and Kidney Pie
Steak & Kidney Pie
I should also mention, of course, fish and chips. We had it twice during our month's visit, and each time the key thing -- for us -- was the curry sauce -- tops it off wonderfully. [Although sea-food restaurants around here tend to deep-fry everything -- from white fish to oysters and serve them with some variety or other of fried potato, we craved proper batter and chip-shop style chips (Ed.)] We had a great Chinese takeaway too when in Peterborough, a great Indian takeaway in Shropshire, a nice Indian meal out in Birmingham, where Balti is the local dish, and a great meal at Pizza Express in London with my brother Jonathan on Lauren's birthday. Come to think of it, we also had three pub meals and on all three occasions I had steak and kidney pie, one of my favourite dishes. [In the UK, pie can be almost anything that involves pastry and an oven. Click here to watch the Geico Gecko AdvertThis means that pies can be savoury (eg. steak and gravy) or sweet (eg. apple). Hence the Geico gecko's love of "pie and chips", which translated is savoury pie with fries (Ed.)] And in Cornwall we had a cream tea, which was even more delicious than I had remembered.

On top of these, we had many fantastic meals made for us while touring the country. Viola and I are lucky in both having Mums who are brilliant cooks, and family and friends who are also great cooks. And happily, everyone we know enjoys a glass of wine (or two) as much as we do. It's amazing that we did not put any weight on while in the UK, not least given the huge amount of cheese we consumed too (a new favourite: Haloumi; an old favourite: Blue Dovedale). [Good, reasonably priced cheese is scarce in our part of NC (Ed.)] What is less surprising is that I had some serious indigestion problems while in England!

NC Barbecue, Rice and Hush Puppies
BBQ, Rice & Hush Puppies
I do not, of course, want to suggest that there are not wonderful things to be had here. Now back in America, there are many American treats to enjoy. I love what is called "barbecue", which in North Carolina means a kind of pulled pork [pulled off the bone -- has a shredded texture (Ed.)] in some delicious spices, and not what Brits and Aussies mean by barbecue [Here, barbecue is pulled pork, to grill is to barbecue and broiling is grilling (Ed.)]. Viola recently posted on our growing love of sushi. And it is great that we can get fresh fish and seafood locally. We have a seafood market locally with the extraordinary name "Jezebel's Salty Fare" and on our wedding anniversary, I cooked a dish with some local squid and prawns (the latter always called "shrimp" here, even if enormous). We are also big fans of Bojangles, which is a southern "chicken 'n' biscuit" place, but we can't go there too often because it is very, very fattening.


Michael Pahl said...

You've made my mouth water! We've missed the sausages and the cheeses, the fish and chips, and many other things since we've come back from England. They're just not the same here.

crystal said...

Black pudding ... eek! Talk about untruth in advertizing, said the vegetarian :-)

Anonymous said...

Q will have to be careful about what time he reads your blog in future. It has resulted in serious food cravings just after breakfast, and with no visible prospect of luncheon. Crystal's comment about black pud amuses; it's the usual reaction of everyone who hasn't tasted it...

Seriously though, one thing I have noticed about US supermarkets is that despite the enormous packets, ther is a fairly small range of products on offer, rather like in the UK, where DIY superstores have a narrower selection of useful tools and fixings than an ironmonger's shop small enough to fit into their kitchen cupboard door section.

(Actually, are the huge packets necessary simply to list all of the chemical additives found in most packaged food these days? I am told that many used in the US are banned by the EU, but I suspect that getting rid of most of them, and sticking to fresher food would be much better for all of us.)

Stephen C. Carlson said...

I'd like to see how black pudding compares with the Estonian verivorst. They look almost the same.

Do you bake it was a strip of bacon around it and eat with cran- or lingenberry sauce?

Viola said...

Taste-wise, I think that even within Britain black pudding varies in taste and texture from being very wheat/barley intensive to being very fatty.

Wikipedia lists a number of countries that have different variations on the whole "blood sausage" theme and the Estonian verivorst is listed among them.

Wikipedia has further info. on some of the varieties, but unfortunately the verivorst is not one of them. I did, however find a nice, mouth-watering picture at this blog.

Perhaps we should all get together to have a blood-sausages tasting session.

Stephen C. Carlson said...

Thanks for the blog post. It made me hungry.

Around here, blood sausage is a Christmas treat; we don't eat it year round. It is usually on the barley side and not very fatty (hence the need for the bacon).

Frank Jacks said...

As to the expected American aversion to blood pudding, when I took my son to Scotland (ten years ago), we did the "B&B" route and often found that blood pudding was offered us for breakfast; while I enjoyed it hugely, my son found knowing its content was just too much, even to try. Ah, well ... I am delighted that you have found the pleasures of "Bojangles" for it is one of the pleasure of my visiting my son (in Hickory) as there is only one such in all of the metro Atlanta area ... and it is on the other side of town from me - I love their fried chicken and country ham biscuits and french fries ["Macdonald's" version does not even come close to being as good, I think!] and corn on the cob ... great "fast food"!

Viola said...

(In the style of Homer Simpson)"Mmmm Bojangles (drool)."

Did you try haggis while in Scotland? I love haggis with mashed swede.

Whit said...

Blood Sausage or Blood Pudding is very popular in South Louisiana. You could find it pretty easily online. You might try this cajun treat as a U.S. substitute.

Viola said...

Thanks for the tip. I'll look out for it.