Would YOU eat that? Guess the unusual British foods from the past!

Would YOU eat that? Guess the unusual British foods from the past!

So I woke up on the morning of the day I set aside to prepare my Austen Authors blog, and I guess I must have been hungry because the idea of focusing my “mystery item” series on food popped immediately into my mind. Of course, in finding examples of historic food that is also BRITISH food, the question of how appetizing is up in the air! Hopefully I won’t ruin anyone’s breakfast or lunch by reading this blog post. LOL!

This is the ninth in the series begun in January of unusual, bizarre object or items from the past. At the end of this post I have links to the previous eight “Guess the Object” blogs, in case anyone missed them or wants a refresher. As I said, these are all historic foods from the UK dating to the past, so they would have been common during the time of Jane Austen, but are also still popular today. Examine the photos of the various recipes and try to guess what the dish is before clicking the reveal box for the history and recipes. Let me know how many you could guess and if you have eaten these delicacies!

What is this food?
SCOTCH EGGS

In 1738, Piccadilly in London was scattered with coaching inns and served as a gathering place for landowners traveling to their country estates. To meet the ever-increasing demand of portable snacks, the famed and very exclusive department store Fortnum & Mason created a portable, nourishing delicacy for its most affluent customers: SCOTCH EGGS, a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, coated with bread crumbs, and then deep-fried. According to Dr. Andrea Turner, archivist of London’s Fortnum & Mason, “The eggs would have been smaller in those days. They would have been pullet’s eggs rather than hen’s eggs, and the meat would have been gamier, like a strong Victorian pâté.’’ Dr. Turner believes the eggs then filtered down the social ranks, first becoming a Victorian savory using cheaper meats, and finally arriving at the mass-produced egg served in the pubs, cafés and at picnics in the second half of the last century.

To be fair, a competing origin story argues that scotch eggs are heavily inspired by a Mughlai dish called nargisi kofta, an Indian dish that is made from minced meat (usually lamb) wrapping a boiled egg, fried, and served covered with a yogurt gravy. This dish was discovered by British soldiers during their time in India and brought back to Britain. Another theory is that scotch eggs are, “a Northern variant of Cornish pasty produced by Scottish smallholders who would have kept chickens and pigs”. They were, in essence, a poor man’s lunch, made from left-over meat and eggs, quite handy because they were so easily transported.

While the precise origins of Scotch Eggs may not be crystal clear, one fact is absolutely certain: They have nothing to do with Scotland!

The term “scotched egg” means, simply, “an egg that has something done to it.” Most often this referred to means of preserving food, typically by dusting with a lime-powder concoction (a process known as “scotching”) or by the use of salt. The latter is seen in many 19th century recipes that included anchovies in the meat and the word “Scotch” was often applied to the title if these salty fishes were added. Examples: “Scotch woodcock” (scrambled eggs on toast with anchovies) and “Scotch collops” (a meat dish which included anchovies in the sauce). Eggs, if transported from afar to the London markets, were usually boiled with the shell on to a hard or semi-hard state, and then dusted with lime-powder, making them edible for months.

bowl of quail eggs

As mentioned by Dr. Turner above, eggs were smaller in the days before hormones caused hens to grow larger. Additionally, treats meant to be portable were best if not too large. For this reason, the eggs of young hens (a pullet) were commonly used, or to really provide a unique taste and exotic quality, quail eggs. (see image right) scotch eggs, then and today, are delicious but also very rich. One does not need to eat more than one or two, which is why they are usually served today in Irish and English pubs as an appetizer.

Giving the credit to Fortnum & Mason as the creators of the specific food called SCOTCH EGGS seems fair enough because, even if some clever employee/chef at the store did not invent them totally, they definitely launched them as a highly popular treat. Tragically, Fortnum & Mason archives from that period have been lost, so their specific recipe is unknown. The first written and printed recipe for scotch eggs appeared in Mrs. Maria Eliza Rundell’s A New System of Domestic Cookery published in London in 1807 —

Scotch EggsBoil hard five pullet’s eggs and without removing the white, cover completely with a fine relishing forcemeat in which let scraped ham bear a due proportion. Fry of a beautiful yellow brown and serve with a good gravy in the dish. 

In Isabella Beeton’s 1861 The Book of Household Management, she was much more detailed —

SCOTCH EGGS.
INGREDIENTS. – 6 eggs, 6 tablespoonfuls of forcemeat, hot lard, ½ pint of good brown gravy.

Mode. – Boil the eggs for 10 minutes; strip them from the shells, and cover them with forcemeat made by recipe No. 417; or substitute pounded anchovies for the ham. Fry the eggs a nice brown in boiling lard, drain them before the fire from their greasy moisture, dish them, and pour round from ¼ to½ pint of good brown gravy. To enhance the appearance of the eggs, they may be rolled in beaten egg and sprinkled with bread crumbs; but this is scarcely necessary if they are carefully fried. The flavour of the ham or anchovy in the forcemeat must preponderate, as it should be very relishing.

Time. – 10 minutes to boil the eggs, 5 to 7 minutes to fry them.
Sufficient for 3 or 4 persons. Seasonable at any time.

LINKS FROM THE IMAGES ABOVE FOR HISTORY AND RECIPES:
The Mysterious Origins of the Scotch Egg
The Contentious History of the Scotch Egg
Scotch Quail Eggs, a Recipe
Scotch Quail Eggs, a Recipe by Jamie Oliver

What is this food?
PEASE PUDDING or PEASE PORRIDGE

Pease-pudding hot,
Pease-pudding cold,
Pease-pudding in the pot,
Nine days old;
Some like it hot,
Some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot,
Nine days old.

Illustration from Good Housekeeping Magazine, 1916

 

Included in James Orchard Halliwell’s 1846 publication The Nursery Rhymes of England as a clapping game, the precise origin of the “Pease Pudding Hot” rhyme is unknown. Whoever wrote the familiar ditty was obviously someone who knew all about PEASE PUDDING.

Sometimes called pease pottage or pease porridge, culinary history records the first mention as pease pudding in a 14th century recipe book titled The Forme of Cury: A Roll of Ancient English Cookery Compiled, about A.D. 1390 (link here to read on Gutenberg)

Take and seeþ [white] pesoun and take oute þe perry; & perboile erbis & hewe hem grete, & cast hem in a pot with the perry. Pulle oynouns & seeþ hem hole wel in water, & do hem to þe perry with oile & salt; colour it with safroun & messe it, and cast þeron powdour douce.

No, I have no idea what all that means either! Apparently the cooks from those days-of-yore did, however, since pease pudding remained a very popular dish for hundreds of years. Famed diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) wrote, “At noon I went home and dined with my wife on pease porridge and nothing else…” Variations of the dish were widespread throughout England’s regions, recipes found in multiple publications during the 1700s. 

At its most basic and original form, pease pudding is a savory pudding dish made of boiled legumes, which mainly consists of split yellow or Carlin peas, water, salt, and spices, and is often cooked with a bacon or ham joint. It is smooth and very thick, almost solid, and has a dark yellow color. It can be re-heated as often as required (hence the “nine-days-old” line in the rhyme) and is sometimes served with egg, mashed potato, and as a topping on toast or inside a sandwich. (see images above)

This recipe for pease pudding is in The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse, published in 1747 —

To make a pease-pudding.
BOIL it till it is quite tender, then take it up, until it, stir in a good piece of butter, a little salt, and a good deal of beaten pepper, then tie it up tight again, boil it an hour longer, and it will eat fine. 

The always reliable Isabella Beeton including this recipe in her 1861 The Book of Household Management

PEASE PUDDING.
INGREDIENTS: 1-½ pint of split peas, 2 oz. of butter, 2 eggs, pepper and salt to taste.

Mode: Put the peas to soak over-night, in rain-water, and float off any that are wormeaten or discoloured. Tie them loosely in a clean cloth, leaving a little room for them to swell, and put them on to boil in cold rain-water, allowing 2-½ hours after the water has simmered up. When the peas are tender, take them up and drain; rub them through a colander with a wooden spoon; add the butter, eggs, pepper, and salt; beat all well together for a few minutes, until the ingredients are well incorporated; then tie them tightly in a floured cloth; boil the pudding for another hour, turn it on to the dish, and serve very hot. This pudding should always be sent to table with boiled leg of pork, and is an exceedingly nice accompaniment to boiled beef.

Time: 2-½ hours to boil the peas, tied loosely in the cloth; 1 hour for the pudding.
Sufficient: for 7 or 8 persons.

 

LINKS FROM THE IMAGES ABOVE FOR HISTORY AND RECIPES:
Modern Pease Pudding Recipe
Pease Pudding recipe from 1750, video by Jas Townsend
Culinary Lore: What Was Pease Pudding?

What is this food?
BUBBLE AND SQUEAK

Originating in Ireland, bubble and squeak migrated into England as a common breakfast meal somewhere before the middle of the eighteenth century. As a dish with the sole purpose to not waste leftover food from dinner the night before, it was essentially a mish-mash of vegetables shredded or chopped small and combined with slivers of remaining roast. Stirring together with whatever else might be left lying around, the concoction was then fried in a hot iron skillet until crispy.

It is unclear if this unique breakfast dish had a specific name or recipe, although the indications are that it was fairly well known since the first written reference to “bubble and squeak” was a casual mention in a 1752 issue of The Drury-lane Journal by “Madam Roxana Termagant,” who was, in reality, the poet Bonnell Thornton. The earliest recipe was published a year later, in 1753, but not in a cookery book. In an irreverent collection of satirical verse and prose called The Midwife, or Old Woman’s Magazine by Mary Midnight, the pen name of the eccentric poet Christopher Smart (1722-1771). 

LECTURE IN COOKERY. Which contains the Art of making BUBBLE AND SQUEAK for Supper. Published at the Request of the Gentlemen of both Universities.

Take of Beef, Mutton, or Lamb, or Veal, or any other Meat, two Pounds and an half, or any other Quantity; let it lay in Salt, till the saline Particles have lock’d up all the Juices of the Animal, and render’d the Fibres too hard to be digested; then boil it over a Turf or Peat Fire, in a Brass Kettle cover’d with a Copper Lid, till it is much done. Then take Cabbage (that which is most windy, and capable of producing the greatest Report) and boil it in a Bell-Metal Pot till it is done enough, or if you think proper, till it is done too much. Then slice the Beef, and souse that and the Cabbage both in a Frying-Pan together, and let it bubble and squeak over a Charcoal Fire, for half an Hour, three Minutes, and two Seconds. Then eat a Quantum sufficit, or two Pounds and a half, and after it drink sixteen Pints of fat Ale, smoak, sleep, snoar, belch, and forget your Book.

MARY MIDNIGHT.

In case you missed it amongst the ingredients, the line “that which is most windy, and capable of producing the greatest Report” not only reveals the satirical aspect of this recipe but also the fact that cabbage was a primary ingredient of bubble and squeak by this time. Cabbage was a plentiful vegetable, more so than potatoes (which would not become a common ingredient until WWI when meat grew scarce). In the 1770 publication A Burlesque Translation of Homer, Thomas Bridges wrote —

“We therefore cooked him up a dish Of lean bull-beef, with cabbage fry’d, … Bubble, they call this dish, and squeak.”

As for the name, it is generally accepted it refers to the sounds made while it cooks. In the 1785 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, collaborator Francis Grose gives this definition: “Bubble and Squeak, beef and cabbage fried together. It is so called from its bubbling up and squeaking whilst over the fire.”

Recipes printed in cookbooks are almost non-existent, for obvious reasons, the first a mere footnote in Charlotte Mason’s The Lady’s Assistant in 1773. What isn’t rare are the references to bubble and squeak. Lord Byron mentions the dish in Don Juan, Canto XV. Famed Victorian chef Theodore Garrett described bubble and squeak as, “a favourite domestic réchauffee of cold meats and vegetables, variously compounded, according to what materials are at hand, or to fancy.” And, according to Fraser’s Magazine (1837 Vol. 15. p. 375), George IV, when Prince of Wales, was introduced to it when he dined with Sir Robert Leighton at Loton Hall in Shropshire

‘Sir Robert, being a batchelor, was unused to giving so large a dinner as this occasion called for; and his cook, being rather at a loss to fill all the numerous side-dishes required, decided on fried beef and cabbage for one of them. “What have you got in that dish?” said the prince to a gentleman before it happened to be placed. “That sir,” answered Sir Robert, “is a favourite dish in Shropshire, called bubble and squeak.” “Then give me some bubble and squeak,” resumed the prince; and he ate heartily of it. Thus far I can vouch for what I have said; but it was currently reported that this homely dish was afterwards frequently seen at Carlton House.’

bubble and squeak scrapers

The process of making bubble and squeak required as much scraping as it did frying, best accomplished with a bubble and squeak scraper. This handy tool had a sharp edge which was great for scraping the crispy bits from the pan but also to chop the vegetables while they fried.

 

LINKS FROM THE IMAGES ABOVE FOR HISTORY AND RECIPES:
British Food History – Information and a recipe
The Foodie: Bubble and Squeak
Food History Jottings

What is this food?
JELLIED EELS

In the 1700s, the Thames River in London was replete with eels. Surprisingly easy to catch, these slippery creatures were free for the grabbing, nutritious, and tasty. Nets were set upriver, and the bountiful harvests quickly became a dietary staple for London’s poor.

On top of being cheap, they were easy to prepare. The simplest method common at that time was to chop the eel into slices or chunks and boil in stock spiced with vinegar, salt and pepper, onion, and any other desired (and available) spices or herbs. Once cooked, the mixture was allowed to cool completely until the eel’s proteins solidified the liquid into a savory jelly. Jellied eels were typically eaten cold.

The texture of the eel is reported to be very soft, which can be off-putting, but the taste is said to be mild, slightly salty, and not at all “fishy”. I can’t confirm this personally, so let me know if you have eaten them!

Londoners swiftly grew to love the strange dish with a passion. Street vendors saw the potential and began selling jellied eels along with the already popular fare of small mince-meat pies and mashed potatoes. This was followed by shops selling “pie-and-mash” with jellied eels served hot, and offering assorted garnishes such as hot chili vinegar and spicy sauces.

At the height of their popularity, these specialty shops were as plentiful as Starbucks. One on every corner with street venders in between! London’s oldest existing pie, mash, and jellied eel shop is M. Manze, which opened on Tower Bridge Road in 1891. It was founded by Michele Manze, whose family moved to London from southern Italy in 1878, and began selling pies after dabbling less successfully in ice-cream. For Manze, this Tower Bridge site was the first of a mini pie empire. He opened a second shop on nearby Southwark Park Road in 1908, followed by two more in Poplar and yet another in Peckham in 1927. Three were either destroyed or closed during the war but the original, his Peckham outlet, and a third on Sutton High Street remain open today.

LINKS FROM THE IMAGES ABOVE FOR HISTORY AND RECIPES:
Eat Your World: Jellied Eels
British Food: Preparing, Sourcing, and Cooking Eels
Jellied Eels: History, Recipes, & Videos

I hope everyone enjoyed this culinary installment of weird things.
Tell me how many you were able to guess correctly before clicking the spoiler box!
Come back next month for another set, and if you missed the previous seven blog posts, the links are below. 

 

#1 – Fascinating Objects From the Past

#2 – More Unusual Objects From the Past

#3 – Intriguing Historical Objects. Can YOU Guess them?

#4 – Intriguing Historical Fashion Objects

#5 – Identify the Unique English Garden Objects from the Past

#6 – Angling History & Fishing Object Guessing Game

#7 – Strange Things of Yore

#8 – What Is It? Eighth in the Series of Unique Historical Objects.

11 Responses to Would YOU eat that? Guess the unusual British foods from the past!

  1. I eat bubble and squeak often with my leftover roasts, scotch eggs I do like and my grandfather used to eat pickled tripe every Sunday lunch much to my disgust lol I was 14 when I decided it was disgusting lol! Sheep’s brains on toast was one of my mother’s favourite things to eat when she was young and beef drippings on toast was my father’s favourite when he was little. Yuck -but then again terribly British… and I myself love lamb, sausage baps and chip butties!

  2. I only knew of the Scotch Eggs. I had read about them in a JAFF story… imagine that. If I remember correctly, I think Georgiana had eaten them. Since I didn’t know what it was, I looked it up. I’ve wanted to try making it myself but haven’t gathered the courage yet. These ‘Guess’ posts are fun.

  3. I only recognised the jelly eel, I thought the Scottish eggs were devil eggs.

    I watched a programme on BBC where chefs were challenged to make recipes from a 1749 cook book and they made tripe and ox palate stew. Didn’t tempt me to try them out though.

  4. I recognised the Scotch eggs (I love them) and the bubble and squeak. I had no idea about the others.

  5. I certainly didn’t recognize bubble and squeak from these pictures, though I’ve certainly had it often enough. Never had eels. Had lots of Scotch eggs. Pease porridge seems very like the iconic yellow French Canadian pea soup.
    I was expecting buttered wortes to be included. My daughter got the recipe from a medieval cookbook and makes it all the time. Here’s a recipe and others from the decidedly non-medieval Internet. http://terrapomaria.antir.sca.org/pdf/recipe%20collection%20from%20April%202008%20demo.pdf

  6. I had the egg here a couple of weeks ago at an Irish restaurant where they call it “Celtic” eggs. Delish!!

  7. I got all but the pease pudding! Although my mother-in-law used to make a thick pea soup with a ham hock cooked in it which was totally delicious. She used soaked dried green peas so was very similar.
    I love Scotch eggs and Bubble and Squeak but have never tried jellied eels ?.
    I once had a scotch egg as a starter in a restaurant using a duck egg, yum yum!
    Thanks for these wonderful posts, so fascinating.

  8. I wondered what bubble and squeak was! My mom and I like the Britcoms on P VS and they always mention it. The porridge and the eels don’t look good at all! My mom and I have done something similar to the eggs. We take a piece of toast put a hole in the middle and then put an egg in the middle. Is that what they call road in the hole?lol

  9. Recognized all but the last. I agree jellies eel doesn’t sound or look appetizing but must admit some of the foods my family eats (especially at Japanese New Year’s) would probably make others think the same.
    My first attempt at split pea soup looked the same as “pease pudding” after I blended it! The British still eat something similar but a more brilliant green – smashed peas!
    Love your “Guess the Object” blogs. Please continue them.
    Thank you.

  10. The only one I knew right away was scotch eggs – a treat we make in our house 🙂

    The peas porridge and bubble and squeak I heard of numerous times but never saw any images.

    The jellied eel does not sound appetizing at all! 🙁

    Thank you for sharing!

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