LX and Vagabonde have triggered more thoughts of proper English food - how could I not have mentioned scones? British scones, not American ones, which are more like our drop scones, I think. Simply butter rubbed into flour with a little sugar and mixed into a dough with milk. You can add an egg and you can add some raisins or sultanas, but you don't have to. Gently roll or pat it out, not too thin, cut into rounds with a cutter or simply divide into pieces with a knife, put on a baking sheet and into a hot oven for ten minutes or so, while you put jam and whipped cream or butter into dishes and make tea. Simply perfect.
We love our cakes, the traditional English cooks. They tend to be variations on a theme - whisked sponge cakes, either baked in a round tin or in a flat rectangular one, when the filling is spread on and they're rolled into a Swiss roll; or else creamed butter and sugar, egg added, then flour, with whatever flavourings you want. The tradition is to cook in two shallow round trays, as a Victoria sandwich (you can sandwich with fruit and cream or butter icing) - but it was much this mixture that I steamed into a sponge pudding. We loved fruit cakes, as everyday or rich as we wanted - I don't often make cakes, but when I do, the simplest is a boiled fruit cake, where you put the butter, sugar, dried fruit and some water in a pan, simmer it for a while, then cool and add eggs and flour, then bake. There are pound cakes, Dundee cakes, Simnel cakes, gingerbread, parkin - parkin is a fabulous one, made with oatmeal - lemon drizzle, chocolate sponge, coffee and walnut ... it's a wonder we're not all fat.
Oh. So we are.
We like preserves, too. Do other countries make chutney? I don't know if they do, to the same extent. I've had mango chutney in India and some very spicy pickles. Tim and I had pickled walnuts with our pâté and cheese for lunch. I've never made them, because you have to have a walnut tree so that you can pick the walnuts when they're very young, before the shells have started to harden. My father loved pickled walnuts but I didn't eat them for years, until I noticed a jar in the local deli. Now, I buy them until they've sold out that season's produce. Piccalilli (sp?) is one that I've never seen in another country. I've not made that either, but it's mixed vegetables in spiced vinegar with the addition of turmeric, basically, I think. My mother didn't make preserves generally, except pickled red cabbage. I've not found the perfect red cabbage yet. I made some, but I'd had to get a commercial mix of pickling spices and it had too much chilli in, it was wrongly proportioned and wasn't a great success. We do make quite a range of chutneys and pickles, though.
I mentioned toad in the hole - the same batter is used to make Yorkhire pudding, which is so delicious that a lot of people nowadays eat it with any roast meat. Correctly, it only goes with roast beef and is made in one big tin, not individual ones. But hey. Whatever anyone likes.
What I do love is a fresh seasonal vegetable. I won't buy imported asparagus. If served it, I wouldn't refuse to eat it, but it's one of the few things that, as far as I'm concerned, has to be locally grown and in season for me to buy it. It's a traditional Norfolk crop, which is just as well. I was telling Tin the other day about a meal I cooked in May or early June, coming up to 16 years ago. I bought a whole fish from the fishmonger - I'm not sure if there were three or four of us, but it was big enough for the family and I baked it whole, seasoned with home-grown herbs. I had dug up the first new potatoes, picked the first peas and some broad beans. Everything was fresh and seasonal and simply cooked. It was immensely special, as meals go, for that reason, and we all enjoyed it. But, looking around, I realised that no one in my family knew why it was so special. First potatoes and peas, all homegrown herbs and veg, perfectly simple fish, perfectly cooked - the only person I knew who would have felt exactly the same as I did was my mother, and she'd died in March.