Eating One’s Way Through the British Isles

When I turned to page one, I knew I was reading the right book. There’s a half page photo of Plantaneget, a terrific seafood restaurant that hugs the hillside in the old Welsh fishing town of Tenby–the one with my very favorite cluttered bookstore just across the way. How can you not love a bookstore that looks like this one?

Bookstore in Tenby

I digress.

PloughmansLunchCover9781558324138-300x266But I do love wandering around the UK. And when I’m not wandering, on say, a cold winter’s day here in the US, it’s fun to find a book that causes me to think about my next trip. This morning, I enjoyed a wonderful book about British, Welsh, Irish and Scottish food entitled The Ploughman’s Lunch and the Miser’s Feast. It comes with the inconveniently long subtitle, Authentic Pub Food, Restaurant Fare, and Home Cooking from Small Towns, Big Cities and Country Villages Across the British Isles. The title accurately describes the book’s contents, but fails to mention that there are lavish (and luscious) photographs, and lots of recipes, too.

Of course, the names are fun. Let’s begin with breakfast. Scotch Woodcock contains no game; it’s a seasoned approach to scrambled eggs. Jugged Kippers is a herring dish, popular in the north, full of sea-driven flavor, strong for breakfast in a place where the extra nutritional kick in the morning is a good thing.

There’s tea throughout the day, and a nice article about why and how it has become so important to the day.

And there’s a thorough explanation of the ploughman’s lunch, perfectly served with artisanal cheddar cheese, a good thick slice of rare roast beef (often, from last night’s dinner), mixed greens, chutney, and a mini-baguette. Pickled onions are nice, too.

I never acquired a taste for the go-anywhere, anytime Scotch Eggs, a hard-boiled egg coated in sausage and crumbs, and often, carried for lunch away from home.

Author Brian Yarvin and I share something in common: we will travel for food. He, to Stoke-on-Trent in the county of Staffordshire for freshly made oatcakes. These are made on the grill, often purchased by the dozen for use at home, or enjoyed one-at-a-time, filled with, say, cheese and mushroom (Yarvin’s favorite). There’s a distinctly local specialty, but you’ll find various small “cakes” throughout the islands.

Scottish Oatcakes from Brian's  book, "The Ploughman's Lunch and the Miser's Feast"  (Use allowed for book promotions and reviews only.)Author Brian Yarvin is also a superior food photographer. Here's a look at a Curried Mutton Turnover. There's lots more to see--mostly Asian--by clicking on the image.

Scottish Oatcakes from Brian’s book, “The Ploughman’s Lunch and the Miser’s Feast” (Use allowed for book promotions and reviews only.)
Author Brian Yarvin is also a superior food photographer. Here’s a look at a Curried Mutton Turnover. There’s lots more to see–mostly Asian–by clicking on the image.

Cock-a-leekie is another of those wonderful Scottish names, this time assigned to a soup that contains, rather obviously, chicken and leek, and not very obviously, prune, too. The prune recalls a history when dried fruits were quite the delicacy, exotic and expressive of a higher station. Cullen Skink is another great name: it’s potato soup with smoked haddock… spectacular!

Beef Wellington suggests a dish that we made up here, like Chow Mein, but it is, in fact, quite British, and every bit as delicious as it was two decades ago (the last time I had one). Basically, it’s a good piece of beef wrapped in mushrooms and then in puff pastry. Old-school, but terrific.

There’s a nice bit about how to choose the best of fish-n-chips shops, or, in the local lingo, a chip shop. If you see a sign for “fish tea,” that’s a good thing–the term resonates with the locals (who, presumably, know both their fish and their tea). If the menu lists only fish, chips, peas, and tea, that’s a good, thing, too–it suggests focus. It’s not good if the same place lists burgers or kabobs. Anything suggesting “Best in Britain” without appropriate documentation posted in the window. Nix on pre-fried fish in the window, and pre-battered fish, too. Extra points for using local fish (nothing in Britain is very far from the sea).

Also, a useful note regarding bacon. What we call bacon, they call streaked bacon. What they call bacon is a boneless pork chop, sliced thin and fried.

What’s a faggot? It’s a meatball, heavy on the liver. Just so you know. One the next page: Lamb’s Tongue (with Raisin Sauce).

Brian Yarvin

Mr. Yarvin

What’s the most popular food in Britain? Probably Chicken Korma, the lead player in an extensive Indian cuisine that’s found just about everywhere. Nice coverage of various Indian dishes here, resplendent in their bright colours.

When in Britian, I like my pies. Set me in front of a menu with, say, Chicken, Ham and Mushroom Pie, and a local ale, and I’m a happy traveler. Leek Pie, Shepherd’s Pie, Fish Pie with Mashed Potato Crust, all good with me. Not so much for the Steak and Kidney Pie, which is made not with Kidney Beans, but instead, with the kidney of a lamb (tubes removed). No thank you. Yes to Cornish Pasties, essentially a local take on an empañada. And a definite yes to Yorkshire Pudding, which is a pudding in the British sense, which means, well, I’m not sure how the British use the term because it seems to apply to most desserts, of which Yorkshire is not one.

The term Flapjacks was a surprise to me; I picked up a pair at a train station for a quick snack. Turns out, they’re similar to granola bars.

At a tea shop in Cardiff, I tried my first (and probably, my freshest) Clotted Cream. It sounds a bit unappealing, but it is, in fact, it’s a bit sweet, a bit thick, and a perfect accompaniment to, say, a scone.

Other terms I learned… Perry is a pear cider (excellent at the small stand in the local market just next to the West Canterbury train station)… Fairy Cake is, more or less, our cupcake… Bap is something like a cross between a hamburger roll and sandwich roll… and Chocolate Vermicelli is our Chocolate Sprinkles.

What fun! Get the book. Then, go!

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