In case you come from a dry nation it’s simple to be seduced by inexperienced locations. England’s many shades of inexperienced have at all times charmed me, ever since I briefly lived and labored in London a long time in the past, and through quite a few subsequent journeys I remained underneath this inexperienced spell.
Due to this fact my first post-Brexit and post-Covid go to, within the firm of my French household, was a somewhat unsettling expertise. I had by no means seen London and the English countryside so dry, so brown, so brittle. The often lush inexperienced lawns of Hyde Park, Regent’s Park and different metropolis parks and squares nearly resembled the South African veld. Inexperienced Park may have modified its identify to Brown Park, which would definitely be extra descriptive.
However some issues by no means change, thank heavens, and I may nonetheless discover consolation in just a few favorite meals traditions. What made this meals journey more difficult was that I needed to share a few of these conventional tastes with my French beloved, our French daughter and her French boyfriend. Generally it was simple, particularly within the morning. All of us love a croissant or a ache au chocolat early within the day, however no quantity of French pastry can come near a full English breakfast.
On this all of us agreed. Breakfasts the Brits can do. The complete monty consists of again bacon and British sausage with eggs, fried tomato, fried mushroom, baked beans, black pudding, and toasted bread. Sadly the daughter who doesn’t eat purple meat couldn’t admire the bacon or the sausage, and I declined the baked beans, which I’d at all times considered an abomination on a breakfast plate. And none of us actually appreciated the black pudding. Even my husband, who loves French blood sausage, discovered the British model too wealthy, too fatty, too no matter. De trop, as they are saying in French, an excessive amount of of all the things.
Moreover, the daughter requested with a puzzled expression, wasn’t pudding presupposed to be candy. That’s what I additionally thought once I first got here to England, was all I may reply.
The subsequent culinary journey was pub meals swallowed down with lukewarm beer or ale from a faucet. Fried beer-battered fish and chips counted as a novelty, for the reason that French desire their frites with poulet (hen) somewhat than fish. And anyway, British chips are large and fats and a bit of floppy, under no circumstances like these skinny crispy little French fries. The fish and chips went down properly with everybody, though the youthful French delegation refused to splash vinegar over their chips and needed to know why there was no mayonnaise on the desk.
They lastly requested a waiter for some mayo, which got here in a sachet and didn’t style like actual French mayonnaise in any respect, so that they ended up drowning their chips in ketchup. In case you can’t beat the Brits, then be a part of the Yanks, appeared to be the reasoning.
Different profitable pub lunches, with out the kids and their dietary restrictions, included bangers and mash, and varied sorts of meat pies, which the Brits accomplish that a lot better than the French. In truth, the French don’t do small spherical or sq. meat pies in any respect, which is why I are likely to over-indulge in these tasty pies every time I’m in South Africa. My all-time favorite British pie, although, is the standard pork pie, eaten chilly with a splash of mustard on the facet. For some cause this one just isn’t really easy to seek out in South Africa, or wherever else, and I used to be astonished to find that my French companion had by no means tasted an excellent previous British pork pie.
This was an issue that wanted to be addressed instantly. We popped into the closest Marks & Spencer, the place I used to get my weekly pork pie repair whereas I lived in London, and acquired a few pork pies to take pleasure in as a part of a picnic on the banks of the Cam River in Cambridge. He favored it, I’m relieved to report, however determined it was only a simplified model of the famend French pâté en croûte.
By no means! I protested. The French model of pork in pastry has a protracted skinny form and is minimize in slices like bread, and the pork is combined with different meats in addition to a measure of Cognac or Armagnac, whereas the British pork pie consists of solely pork meat, with out alcohol, heaven forbid.
Effectively, the Frenchman teased, that was simply one other instance of perfidious Albion stealing a French thought and selling it as their very own. In an easier kind, bien sûr.
You’ll be able to’t win if you take a French gourmand throughout the Channel, I used to be starting to suspect.
I made a decision it was finest to not insist that the French delegation strive that unusual English factor known as mushy peas. I don’t prefer it, personally, however I do understand it’s presupposed to be a standard British dish. The household would most likely attempt to persuade me it was only a simplified model of the French mashed peas they know as purée de pois cassés.
Thankfully our journey included just a few days on the Edinburgh Worldwide Competition, and whereas Scotland continues to be, precariously, a part of the not so United Kingdom, not less than one in every of my favorite British meals stays Scottish. I’m referring to haggis, which the Frenchman and I each liked throughout a earlier keep in Edinburgh – after which hated once we tried to make our personal haggis in France.
Maybe the sheep’s pluck (coronary heart, liver and lungs) style completely different in France, maybe the oatmeal was lower than scratch, maybe we merely didn’t use the best spices. We adopted an “genuine Scottish recipe”, and the outcome was actually inedible. Often we’re fairly good at rescuing a failed dish by remodeling it into one thing else, however the one factor we may do with that foul hump of wannabe haggis was to dump it within the garbage bin. Not even our cat or the neighbours’ canine needed to eat it.
It was the sort of unmitigated culinary catastrophe that also hurts if you recollect it a few years later.
Nonetheless, being an everlasting optimist (with Scottish blood), I used to be able to fall in love with haggis once more the second we arrived in Edinburgh. The Frenchman, nonetheless haunted by the spirit of our ghastly home-made haggis, was extra cautious. The primary evening I used to be the one one who ordered haggis, served within the conventional approach with tatties and neeps (mashed potatoes and turnips), in a bit of restaurant near the Royal Mile. The husband cautiously tasted it from my plate – and his eyes lit up.
The subsequent evening we each loved a extra informal haggis with chips and salad within the cellar of a comfy pub, and over the next days we tried varied takeaway haggis pies, primarily as a result of there’s a lot free leisure within the streets in the course of the Competition that you simply don’t need to miss the motion whereas hiding away in eating places or pubs.
So we got here, we tasted, and we had been conquered as soon as once more by the standard haggis, of whose goodnesse it’s in vaine to boast, as a result of there’s hardly to be discovered a person that doth not have an effect on them, as was acknowledged in 1615 in a e book titled The English Huswife. Possibly my Scottish ancestry influenced my judgement, however even the Frenchman lastly agreed with Robert Burns’ illustrious Deal with to a Haggis, nonetheless proudly recited on Burns Night time Suppers all around the world: Truthful fa’ your trustworthy, sonsie face,/ Nice Chieftain o’ the Puddin-race!
Not that he understands the precise phrases, which even to me sound largely like gibberish, however we do get the sentiment behind the phrases.
The youthful French delegation, alternatively, refused to even style it. The daughter’s refusal we may perceive. If she doesn’t need to eat the meat of lifeless animals, there’s no approach she’s going to strive the insides of lifeless animals. The boyfriend’s response jogged my memory of a later a part of Burns’ poem: Is there that o’re his French ragout…/ Seems down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view/ On sic a dinner?
Sure, Mister Burns, apparently there’s.
However there’s not less than one conventional British style that saved the Kingdom’s honour. Tea with scones and clotted cream could be a deal with wherever in England, however to take pleasure in it in The Orchard Tea Backyard in Grantchester, simply outdoors Cambridge, is an expertise that may persuade even younger French republicans to start out singing God Save the Queen. Or the King, as they’d now need to be taught to sing.
The Frenchman and I’ve visited this stunning previous orchard a number of occasions in varied seasons. The daughter was taken there greater than as soon as in her childhood, and is aware of it’s subsequent to The Previous Vicarage, which Rupert Brooke glorified in a poem stuffed with home-sick craving written in Berlin in 1912. If it weren’t for The Orchard’s scones, she may not even have heard of Rupert Brooke, or of the Grantchester Group of literary and mental figures who would meet right here underneath the fruit timber.
By now she knew fairly just a few of those names – Virginia Woolf, EM Foster, John Maynard Keynes, Bertrand Russel, Ludwig Wittgenstein – and will rattle them off to impress the French boyfriend, whose first go to this was. And although the orchard was not as overwhelmingly inexperienced as standard, the boyfriend was enchanted.
It’s exhausting to not be charmed, lounging in snug canvas chairs, licking clotted cream from delicious scones, sipping tea whereas studying or sketching, listening to the cool lapse of hours move,/ Till the centuries mix and blur/ In Grantchester, in Grantchester… So this is what Rupert Brooke meant, you inevitably find yourself considering.
All of us agreed that some conventional issues the Brits do terribly properly, and tea with scones is a type of issues. Brooke’s poem ends with the enduring query: Stands the Church clock at ten to a few? And is there honey nonetheless for tea? My French household’s reply could be a powerful: Oui! DM/TGIFood
Comply with Marita van der Vyver on Instagram Faking French.
The writer helps Ladles of Love, an NGO feeding the hungry and offering wholesome meals in Cape City. You’ll be able to help them right here Ladles of Love.