I recently had afternoon tea at the Four Seasons. Sitting there enjoying the scrumptious warm scones with clotted cream and lemon curd, and the delectable small finger sandwiches with fillings such as cucumber/cream cheese, and egg salad/caviar made me very nostalgic for good old English cuisine. Was that just an oxymoron?
In recent years, I have been able to meet my wish for British goods such as Jacob cream crackers, salt and vinegar crisps, Maltesers, real Cadbury chocolate, and my all time favourite McVities Gingersnaps without having to harass any Britain bound friend or family with my requests. I have found online stores like ShopEnglandOnline,
But I realize now that for a really really long time I haven’t eaten the foods, served to me in my school cafeteria, that were so quintessentially British. The funniest thing is that for some, I never really enjoyed them, but you know “absence makes the heart grow fonder” and it’s been decades! Meals such as scotch eggs with chips and baked beans, toad in the hole, good old bangers n mash of course served with baked beans on the side, spaghetti bolognese (not British I know, but there’s where I first got introduced to it), fish n chips, and countless others.
And then of course the desserts: apple crumble (of which I only ate the crumble), flapjacks, Digestive biscuits, cream crackers with a healthy slathering of salted Danish butter from those tiny packets, rice pudding with preserves, and all sorts of cakes served with hot custard. Yuck custard. Yes, yuck! Custard never grew on me. It probably had something to do with my first encounter with this traditional English sauce. I had them drown my cake in it, thinking it was warm condensed milk, and it was not sweet, AT ALL! I almost puked. So great was the shock my body was in!
But I can’t talk about English sausage (bangers/scotch eggs) and not talk about German sausage. Oh la la. Knockwurst, Bockwurst, Bratwurst, CURRYWURST? Mmmmmm, heaven! I especially enjoyed the street food over in the East (as compared to West Berlin) just because of the delightful communist ketchup and zenf (mustard) which the Western brands could not compare. Then when they sprinkle that special curry on it? Oh my g-o-o-d-n-e-s-s! And then there was Bi-Fi, packaged salami stick snacks available only in the west to which American salami stick snacks cannot compare. I ate them like crazy, even sucking on the salty goodness of the casings they came in! But my favourite West Berlin street food was the Turkish doner kebab. Mmm! Mmm! Mmm!
So is it any surprise then that at age 10 I was about 160 cm, 50 kg and looked like a 16-year-old? To the point that on return to Ghana where everyone else was small and skinny, I was labelled a lactogen baby by classmates? It’s all right! Those 3 years of hiatus from hormone full Western food in Ghana did halt my growth so now I look my age. Except I never did catch up to my hips. Oh well.
I will admit, I haven’t gone seeking authentic bangers nor wurst here in the US because I want to continue wearing the clothes I have in my closet. I don’t want to end up wearing muumuu’s of various colours each day to try to hide my resulting girth. What I have done is tried to re-create my old comfort foods of baked beans on toast and sardines on toast. You would think something this basic should be easy, right? Wrong!
First the bread for the toast. Wonder Bread and the other store-bought pre-sliced soft white breads. I mean how dare they even call themselves bread? They taste like cardboard. Even the supposed French baguette in the supermarket is tasteless whether crusty or soft.
Then the baked beans. I learnt the hard way that American Heinz baked beans is nothing like British Heinz baked beans. I didn’t think it would be different. Heinz is an American brand right? Baked beans is very American, no? So either the British perfected baked beans or the Americans changed their formula. First, all the American canned baked beans contain pork. Umm, why? So you say, get the vegetarian version. Well I did. Still it was no comparison. The sauce is not as tomatoey which is very crucial if you intend to sop it up with bread. The sauce tastes like there’s too much brown sugar or molasses. Molasses. Why?
Molasses is the very ingredient that makes me dislike American gingersnaps. They should just call their biscuits molasses-snaps and stop insulting ginger. Luckily for me, stores like Stop-n-Shop now have a tiny British section in their “World” aisle where I can get British Heinz baked beans. I can also reliably find cream crackers. I have a horror story to share about my first encounter with saltines both the regular and unsalted versions. I buttered them up expecting them to taste like my lunchroom favourite of days long ago. Ja! Big mistake. Yuck to the nth degree!