Monday, June 15, 2009


When I went to England for the first time, I had a list of things to try and see and do and buy and experience, quite a few of them food-related. I wanted a bowl of porridge in Scotland (related in another post), Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding, treacle tart, a real afternoon tea with scones and cream and jam, and several other traditional things (all of which were accomplished and enjoyed very much).

So the first night on the road, we had dinner at our little hotel, and it was the only buffet of the trip, save for the bountiful breakfasts for which England is so famed. As I passed the gentleman who was "carving the joint," I asked for the beef. He misunderstood and carved off two hefty, steaming, juicy slices of the pork instead. I just accepted it, went right down the line, retrieved the nice muffin-pan shape of golden Yorkshire pudding, poured a bit of the rich brown gravy from the silver boat onto both, and had one of the best dining experiences of my life. It was rich and salty and BEEFY with the essence of the meat.

Later in the week, we stopped for lunch in the Lake District, and Yorkshire pudding was one of the features of the day in the restaurant/souvenir shop we were ushered into. I thought I'd try it one more time, and it was a bit different from the first. My plate arrived, or at least I hoped there was a plate under the weight of that huge bowl-shaped piece of browned dough holding its pint of gravy. The gravy was not so rich this time, nor did it have that tang of good meat essence nor the satisfying flavour of anything but browned flour and whatever liquid was used to make it. But it made up in quantity.

It was enormous. It covered a dinner plate, with just room on the edges for the server to get a tiny thumb-grip on either side. It looked as if a brown cake-pan had been appropriated from the kitchen, filled with brown liquid, and sent to table, its little ridges of sides barely holding in the flood. It sloshed when it was set before me, and the quandary arose: dip a spoon in that bread bowl and eat gravy soup until the ramparts could be breached, or cut right in, thus granting exit to enough brown sauce to flood the pretty tablecloth and perhaps flow back toward the kitchen. I'm a generous cook, with a lavish hand with the groceries, but I think I've served MEALS without that much gravy on the table.

Then we looked around us. Whole families were chowing down on plates of the kiddie-pool-sized servings. Twig-sized young women were tucking into the stuff with the gusto of lorry-drivers, and small children had their OWN great moats of brown in front of them. It was amazing. This was food for hearty hikers, tramping into the house in Wellies, beaming and rosy-cheeking their way through great trenchers of heavy food and gallons of steaming tea. Flour and water were the order of the day, and we were all consuming enough carbs to bankrupt Atkins several years early.

The pudding appeared to have been baked in a pieplate or cakepan, with inch-high sides which rose up and held its juicy burden, and the bottom was just about the depth of a piecrust, though springy and tender. I shared spoonfuls of the gravy all round the table; my companions scooped up spoons and bowls of it. One lady had no receptacle save her plate, so she lifted her teacup to the tablecloth and accepted a saucerful.

We all dipped and slurped and it made immediate "English dip" for the hearty sandwiches of all others at the table. I managed to down about a third of the rich eggy bready pudding, saturated as it was with the salty sauce, and passed samples to fellow travelers at other tables. When we finally lugged our stuffed selves out and back onto the bus, we left one semi-circle standing like a dough map of Stonehenge, listing toward the gravy. The stuff could have made a Biblical legend, a story passed down through whole families as they gathered on Friday nights, with children for generations asking, “Tell about the gravy which never ran out.”

When we left to go trekking through Wordsworth country, there was STILL a great moat of gravy left on that plate, with the golden pudding swelling and growing limply pale in the light of the grey afternoon.


Tonja said...

I've only sampled Yorkshire Pudding once in my life. And, that was enough. Of course, it was in the States, so that could have made a difference. If I ever get to England, I'll try the 'real stuff'...but what I had here was tasteless and bland and yuck!

racheld said...

I've tried several kinds, the most of them here, of course, and even Nigella's recipe which puffed and browned so beautifully in a 9x13 was a bit reminiscent of undercooked puff shells of choux pastry.

The first-one-in-England, though, whether it was the time and place and atmosphere or a skilled hand in the kitchen, or even maybe that perfect dripping covering a multitude of sins---was perfect and perfectly memorable.

Keep trying.