How often do you cook breakfast? Time rarely allows for a solid breakfast meal before you hit the door. It’s true that we spend less and less time in the kitchen. Preserving seasonal food is not as much of a norm as it used to be. Perhaps we do re-use our leftovers, most often into sandwiches and seldom into pies. We only forage our way through super-market isles. Have you ever considered how much our eating habits change? Quite a bit. This also involves some classic British foods. There are some great dishes out there you have almost forgotten still exist.
Bubble and squeak – British breakfast
When it comes to British breakfast, there is not just the full British you can enjoy. Ubiquitous from hotel to restaurant menus and worker cafes the classic British breakfast has another, lesser known sibling, it comes by the name bubble and squeak. Hmmm, and what could that be? Well, it’s for sure very homely, a quick fry-up of mash potatoes and cabbage, perhaps a bit of sausage and other greens. Bubble and squeak uses up the leftover vegetables of the Sunday roast. Keep an eye out for it, although forgotten, it has started making a come-back not just in homes but restaurant menus too.
If you ever wished to go Edwardian for breakfast, kippers would be the breakfast of choice. Butterflied, salted smoked herrings were once the easiest way to start your day. From middle-ages to modern day Britain kippers stayed on at the daily menu and nourished many tables throughout the ages. You shouldn’t just limit kippers to breakfast, however. They make wonderful pate and also kedgeree. This cold-smoked fish once enjoyed a prominent place amongst the daily table and for good reason. It is a very cheap way to gain the most valued omega-3 fish oils. Why it fell out of favour? Perhaps being the war generation breakfast didn’t do wonders for marketing, perhaps we were all smoked out. Do keep an eye out for it and certainly give it a go. It is still out there.
Whilst oysters have made it from poor man food to superstar food, their cousins, cockles didn’t enjoy the same fate – not just yet at least. It is much easier to find cockles anywhere along the British coastline, boiled and seasoned with malt vinegar and white pepper from seafood stalls. Staying true to breakfast traditions, Welsh breakfast can be a delight: fried cockles with bacon and a slice of laver bread. A meal true to the sea and the treasures it provides.
Eel – jellied eels
Jellied eels used to be East London’s bread and butter. Back in the time when The Thames teemed with life the eels were flooding its banks, jellied eels were proper 18th century street food. The snake-like fish is still boiled and seasoned with nutmeg and lemon, set in its own gelatine and served alone or with pie and mash. At the end of WWII there were a good 100 eel and pie houses around, not to mention street vendors. The latter is not as easy to find any more but jellied eels are still available in eel & pie houses. If you have a yearning for spiced fish, you only need to seek this classic British food out.
The odd bits
When did you last have tripe in red sauce? Or perhaps oxtail soup? Veal tongue or pork cheeks? Back in the day when local butchers had cuts and all bits of the animal were readily available, these made for really inexpensive and hearty dishes. Somewhat their tedious preparation, somewhat the demand of safe food (they have to be consumed fresh) the tide turned. Our reluctancy to cook them made their appearance scarce behind the counter and somewhat pricey. These classic British foods are not forever forgotten however.
Giblets are most often the unsung heroes that make our stuffed birds tastier. There are a couple of dishes we still savour: chicken liver pate for instance. I do hope you are in for a decent steak and kidney pie. As for the more ‘exotic’ cuts, keep an eye out on restaurant menus. Modern chefs have introduced them in the menus of British pubs and make wonders with them.
Stinging nettles and wild purslane
Of course, forgotten British foods don’t only include seafood and obscure animal bits. There are also leafy greens that haven’t made it to our daily table. Have you had nettle pudding? Nettles are not just a French thing (think soup), it used to be a staple of the British diet as were many other greens that could have been easily foraged as back as Roman times.
If you are a gardener, you probably find these weeds in your crops. Embrace them, tender nettle tips (no flowers) beat both spinach and broccoli for vitamins and minerals. You shouldn’t frown upon wild purslane either. It’s mild lemony taste will boost your lettuce salad.
Do you have any forgotten classic British foods in your books? Let us know in the comments.