Since Friday, I’ve been thinking about the premiere of Downton Abbey.
When I watch it, I sometimes think of what it would be like to be Elizabeth McGovern’s character and live out my days leisurely with servants to do all of the things I scream at my kids to do. I imagine dressing for a dinner that someone else cooks, on dishes I’ll never have to wash and going to sleep in a bed I’ll never have to make or wash the sheets of.
Of course, that’s all just a dream.
But it doesn’t stop me from wanting to bring a little English culture to our home. As a lifelong slight anglophile, I have admired English culture since I was first introduced to it through Camelot and Robin Hood.
When I was graduated from high school, my mother took me to England, Scotland and Wales. It was a dream come true. We traveled to London, where she took some classes while I walked through the streets of the town, looking at the sites. After going out on a date with one of the servers from the restaurant of our hotel, Mom and I traveled to Scotland, through the Dales and into the British and Welch countryside.
As we traveled, our plan was simple – eat the hotel’s continental breakfast (hard “toast”, one croissant, jam, butter and tea), then have high tea instead of lunch because it was cheaper. Took a while to figure out that biscuits were crackers. When we were in bed and breakfasts, we’d eat their rather sumptuous breakfasts (which shocked the heck out of me because it was the first time anyone had ever served me baked beans and tomato slices along side bacon, eggs and toast), have high tea and then go for a light supper. That was a rasher of bacon was the meaty bit of a bacon slice and the streaky was the fatty bit.
And yes, it really is true that when you’re a stranger in a small town, walking into a pub will result in everyone stopping in the middle of their conversations and looking at you, which doesn’t even stop when you order what ever it is they are serving for supper.
Today, as I was waiting for the return of Downton Abbey’s fifth season, those memories came flooding back to me; Mom and I walking through churches built before America was even discovered, watching the changing of the guard, hitting Edinburgh and touring the castle just as 40,000 David Bowie fans stormed the city, many of whom serenaded us under our hotel window after the concert was over at 1 a.m.
I loved the castles. I loved the history. I loved the smell of the Scottish heather perfume that I bought there.
I hated the food though.
Steak and kidney pie? Bleck. Bubble and Squeak? Basically leftover potatoes and cabbage and Brussels sprouts with beef and gravy. Right. And let’s not even get started on Haggis, black pudding or jellied eel…
Still, the memories of all those afternoons spent with my mom over tea and scones with clotted cream and jam made we want to relive some of my real memories before I embarked on my fantasy memories later tonight.
I decided to make Welsh rarebit, or Welsh rabbit, depending on how you decide you want to pronounce it.
The American version of Welsh rarebit is basically, a cheesy bechamel sauce on toast. But the English version is more of a cheese and beer paste that is spread on buttered toast and broiled for a late Sunday “what do make when the pantry is empty” supper.
Of course, I had to make my own version. Just a little here, and a substitution there, and next thing you know, Bob’s your uncle and all that.
First, I started with three slices of honey wheat bread, spread with butter and toasted lightly in the broiler. At the same time, I fried up about six slices of bacon. Once those were done, I put them both to the side and started on the cheese sauce.
Most British recipes call for dry mustard and stout. I don’t have either. I had Dijon and Thomas Creek’s Red Ale. So that’s what I used. Combining about a tablespoon of ale and a tablespoon of Dijon mustard in a small saucepan, I whisked them together until they were smooth. Then I added another two tablespoons of ale, a tablespoon of butter, about a teaspoon of Worcestershire, some paprika and a dash of red pepper. Then I heated those until the butter melted, stirring frequently.
Once the mixture came to a boil, I added half a cup of shredded Colby jack cheese, half a cup of shredded cheddar and about a tablespoon of Parmesan cheese and whisked them all together until the cheeses melted and the mixture was smooth. You’ll see that this turns into a nice sauce that just coats the fork or whisk that you are using.
To this, I added one egg yolk. I pierced the egg yolk with a fork and added to a warm, but not hot, cheese mixture. So that the egg yolk doesn’t scramble in the heated mix, I whisked it really quickly until it began to thicken. You’ll see that the mixture begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and starts to form more of a paste like consistency.
At this point, I started to assemble the sandwich. I sliced a tomato into three slim slices and put them on a paper towel to dry out a bit. On a cookie sheet, I put each piece of toast and topped each piece with a tomato slice. I topped that with two pieces of bacon, cut in half. From there, I spooned the cheese mixture on top of the sandwich until it covered the bacon, tomato and bread. After sprinkling the completed sandwich with parsley, I put the cookie sheet into the broiler and broiled the sandwich until it was bubbling and browning a little.
In all, the sandwich took about 15 minutes to make. It was a great easy lunch to make for a grey and raining afternoon.
But more than that, it helped me reconnect with my Mom. And with my kids. Little Mason thought it was pretty good, but Max wasn’t impressed. It wasn’t tea at a little shop in the middle of Oxford, but it was my way of introducing them to the culture I love. Max is already reading the five-book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (yeah, that’s correct) and I’ve made them watch Raymond Briggs illustrated cartoons and Tin Tin since before it was cool to do that.
Maybe one day I’ll be able to take the to England or Ireland or Scotland, but for now I’m sure they’ll indulge their old Mom on a few of the finer points of English cooking… at least the palatable ones.
Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2015