-The Cooking Colonel of Madras by David Smith

old English >

piggy stuff


back abd streaky bacon

uncooked, smoked
back bacon (top)
streaky bacon (bottom)


In his book British Food food historian Colin Spencer tells us that in Tudor England most peasant families kept their own pig and preserved it in salt to provide meat over the winter. The pig was slaughtered at the end of autumn after being fattened on crab apples, beech nuts or acorns. The sides of bacon, or "flitches" were then hung from the rafters to be smoked by the family's wood fire.

Mrs Beeton gives her readers detailed instruction of how to cure (salt) and smoke their own flitches of bacon so even in the 1860s families were still carrying on this ancient process although not at a subsistence level as earlier peasants might have done. Mrs Beeton stores her cured bacon in boxes filled with dry wood ash and recommends that the bacon will keep fresh for up to two months.

Today, bacon is cured with far less salt than in Mrs Beeton's time as we use refrigeration of keep the bacon fresh. The salting and smoking are now used mainly for flavour rather than as preservatives. The process is largely industrialised although there are still many independent producers who cure and smoke their own bacon

In England when people think of bacon the first thing that comes to mind is breakfast bacon, the mainstay of the Full English Breakfast. The "rashers" of bacon are sliced and then fried or grilled. The cuts most commonly used are known as back bacon and streaky bacon. Back bacon is the leaner of the two and streaky bacon, from pork belly, is the fattier. The bacon can either be smoked or unsmoked in which case it is known as "green" bacon.

Porkinson Bangers   sausages

The good old English banger is the food most missed by many English people living abroad. In fact, Walls sausages are one of the top food exports to ex-pat communities around the world according an article in The Times. English sausages can be superb and on a par with sausages from any other country in the world. The problem is that the English expect their food to be cheap and the result is the so called "value" sausage containing who-knows-what and plenty of fat and salt. If you really want to taste a proper English sausage that you can buy from a supermarket then stick some Porkinson Bangers into your shopping basket. Porkinson Bangers are made from outdoor reared pork and have a coarser, meatier texture than supermarket cheapies. Appropriately, they were created by an ex-pat and a famous one at that. The photographer Norman Parkinson was living in Tobago and desperately missed English sausages. So he adapted a West Country recipe to suit his own tastes and later started selling his bangers commercially. Good sausages should contain a high percentage of pork (80% pure pork shoulder in the case of the Porkinson), rusk, salt, herbs and spices. Poor quality sausages will contain added water and all sorts of pork offal you'd not want to eat if you knew it was in there.

See Regional Specialities for details of the unique styles of sausage from different areas of England.

black pudding   black pudding

I first had black pudding in a country pub near Bury, Greater Manchester. The large pudding had been thickly sliced, fried and then served in a soft white bap. Being a southerner, what I didn't know then was that I couldn't have been in a better place to sample this northern delicacy. Bury is famous for its black puddings and they have been sold in Bury Market since the 1820's. Black pudding or blood pudding has been made for centuries across Britain and Ireland and indeed most of Europe but, in England, it's the northern counties that seems to make the best black puddings. So what's in black pudding? Vegetarians please look away now. The traditional ingredients for black pudding are pigs blood, pig fat, pearl barley, onions, rusk, salt and mixed herbs although ox blood often replaces pig's blood in modern puddings. The pearl barley is first boiled then all the ingredients are mixed together and piped into casings. Animal intestines are traditionally used for the casing although artificial casings are commonly used today. The casing can be shaped into the form of a regular sausage or even a horseshoe and the finished puddings are finally boiled until cooked. To serve, black pudding is usually either re-boiled or thickly sliced and fried on both sides. Fried black pudding can be served as part of a Full English Breakfast.

Scotch egg   Scotch eggs

Hang on! This is on the wrong website isn't it? Surely this should be on pages about Scottish cooking? Strangely, no. "Scottish Eggs" were first conceived by the London food hall Fortnum and Mason in 1738. The Scottish connection is uncertain but it's possible that early versions of their Scottish Eggs were made with eggs from game birds reared on Scottish estates. Scotch eggs are made by coating a hard boiled egg in sausage meat and then coating the sausage meat with breadcrumbs. The Scotch eggs are then deep fried and eaten warm or cold. Fortnum and Mason used their Scottish Eggs as one of the many pre-prepared foods in their picnic hampers. Fortnum and Mason picnic hampers were so popular that they inspired Charles Dickens to remark about the Epsom Derby "Look where I will.... I see Fortnum & Mason. All the hampers fly wide open and the green downs burst into a blossom of lobster salad!" Scotch eggs are ideal for picnics because they are pleasant cold and robust enough to survive being hauled across country. But they are not just for picnics. One quick look at any British supermarket shelf and you'll see rows of Scotch Eggs with their coating glowing a luminous orange. Sadly, they've become cheap food made with gristly sausage meat and cardboard textured crumbs. But they don't have to be like that. I have started making oven-baked Scotch Eggs using the meat from top quality sausages and fresh breadcrumbs. Eaten still warm from the oven they are a culinary delight.

toad in the hole   toad in the hole

Toad-in-the-hole is simply pork sausages cooked in Yorkshire pudding. It may be simple but, apart from having one of the best names in English food, it is the perfect meal for a cold English winter's evening. Topped with onion gravy it is delicious. The sausages should be of excellent quality (see Porkinson Bangers above which I always use) or else they will spill out watery juices while cooking and ruin the pudding mixture. Serve with English mustard to complete the experience of a classic English dish.

pork pies   pork pies

Another favourite English picnic and snack food is the pork pie. Pork pies have a long history and have been made in England in one form or another since medieval times. But when is a pork pie not a pork pie? Answer - when it's a Melton Mowbray pork pie. The distinction between a regular pork pie and the Melton Mowbray version is that in the regular pie the pork meat is cured in brine and appears pink in the finished pie. The pie has straight sides from being cooked in a hoop or tin. In a Melton Mowbray pie the pork is untreated and appears greyish after being cooked. The pie has bowed sides because it has been cooked without a mould to shape it. A regular pork pie is made as follows. Firstly the pork is cured and then coarsely minced or chopped and flavoured with spices especially black pepper. The pastry is made using a hot water crust which is where water and fat are heated to near boiling before being mixed with the flour. This produces a dough that can be moulded into shape when warm but which sets nearly hard once the dough has cooled. The meat is now put into the cooled pastry case which is topped with a pastry lid. The pies are then baked and, while still hot from the oven, a gelatinous stock is poured into the pie through a hole in the lid to fill any air pockets and make the "jelly" between the pastry and meat. The pies are left to cool and the jelly sets. As you can see, a well made pork pie is a piece of culinary art. It's just a pity that cheap, industrially made pork pies devalue the artisan product.

See Regional Specialities for more information about Melton Mowbray pork pies.


picture from Wikipedia


Another great name. The "pigs" are little pork sausages which are wrapped in "blankets" made from streaky bacon and then roasted or fried. Pigs in Blankets really come into their own at Christmas time as an accompaniment to roast turkey or roast goose although they are not for just special occasions. One of my favourite chefs and cookery writers, Simon Hopkinson, maintains that an ordinary roast chicken dinner is incomplete without them.