d o c t o r a n d m a m a

Linda Shiue

Linda Shiue
San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA
December 31
I am a physician and spend my free time with my husband and kids, reading everything in sight, eating, traveling, and cooking meals inspired by my travels. These days I'm spending more time at my food blog, spiceboxtravels.com. Please visit me there and follow me on Twitter @spiceboxtravels. Disclaimer: Health information presented here is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your own physician or other qualified health care professional regarding any medical questions or conditions. © 2010-12 Linda Shiue. All Rights Reserved.

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MAY 13, 2010 9:09AM

Spotted Dick & Other Curiosities of the English Larder

Rate: 31 Flag

I love English food.  I'm not kidding.  The food scene in today's England is nothing like what you've heard about how bad English food is, mushy peas and all.  London has some of the best ethnic cuisine outside of the foods' native countries, and a growing number of chefs cook modern takes on English and European food.  Many of you are familiar with Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, and Nigella Lawson, who are the food celebrities of England.  England is also home to the legendary restaurant, The Fat Duck, in Bray, just outside of London.  This restaurant is run by Heston Blumenthal, who is considered to be one of the most cutting edge creators of that most modern of cuisines, molecular gastronomy ("nitro poached green tea and lime mousse," anyone?).  But is it true that traditional English food, dating from Victorian times, might be as bad as it is said to be?  Or maybe it just sounds bad.  English food has some colorful names, many of which make me wonder: if the food sounded more appetizing, maybe it wouldn't get such a bad rap?

Inspired by a recent trip to London, I had been planning to write about all the fun and somewhat odd names of traditional food in England.  Lo and behold, Francis Lam was somehow on a similar wavelength, though in a somewhat raunchier vein.  His excellent slide show on Salon presents a more international selection, and he's covered some of the more suggestively named foods already.  But I still think it's worth exploring further the foods of our former rulers across the pond.  After all, that most American of foods, the sandwich, was named after a British Earl, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich.  Legend says that he favored the handheld meal because he could eat it while playing cribbage, and not get his cards dirty.

You may think Americans and the English speak the same language, but I am not so sure.  Here's a glossary of my top 10 oddly named English foods, whose names may leave you wondering: animal, vegetable, or mineral?

1) spotted dick- Francis Lam's and everyone else's favorite adolescent gag kind of name, this refers to a pudding (dessert to the rest of us) made of flour, currants, and suet.  (Yes, suet, which is beef or mutton fat, though there are vegetarian versions now available made of palm oil and rice flour.)  It's usually served with English custard sauce, known outside of England as creme anglaise.  The "spotted" part refers to the polka dotted appearance lent by the currants studding the cake, and "dick" has several different explanations: it may be a contraction/corruption of the word pudding (from the last syllable) or possibly a corruption of the word dough or dog, as "spotted dog" is another name for the same dish. Another explanation is that it comes from the German word for "thick," in reference to the thickened suet mixture. 

spotted dick by Linda Shiue 

2) black pudding- were you thinking dessert? No, this intriguing name refers to the English version of blood sausage, and is eaten at breakfast.  Here it is in a sandwich.

photo credit Wendy Mann, Wikipedia Creative Commons 

3) bubble and squeak- a cute name for sure, this is a dinner dish made of potatoes and cabbage and sometimes other vegetables, usually left over from a Sunday roast.  The name refers to sound that the cabbage in this mashup makes when it's fried in oil. 

photo credit veganyumyum.com 

4) bangers and mash- "bangers" are sausages, and mash, simply mashed potatoes.  The name "banger" reportedly derives from the sound of cooking sausages with excess water, which causes the casings to explode with a "bang."  Other interpretations are possible. 

via Wikipedia 

5) fool- I'm no... This is the perfect simple summer dessert.  Take berries or other sweet fruit, puree it, and fold into whipped cream for a divine dessert.  The possibilities are endless.  I like to make this with mangoes.  Nobody seems to know why this is called fool.  


6) clotted cream- Clots? I can't help but think of blood.  But this divine form of dairy tastes so much better than it sounds.  This is the thick cream which is served with scones for afternoon tea. It has the consistency of butter but the richness and well, creaminess, of heavy cream.  It's named for the way that the high butterfat cream of Guernsey cows, when heated, rises up above the milk and solidifies, or clots.

Image: Flickr member boo_licious licensed under Creative Commons 

7) treacle- like molasses, this is an unrefined byproduct made in the process of refining cane sugar. It's a popular sweetener for baked goods and sweets that you'll only find in England and her former colonies.  You can buy a light version of it as Lyle's Golden Syrup, the mention of which makes the English abroad homesick.  I am intrigued by the darker version, black treacle, which has a smoky sweetness and is used for making toffee.  Treacle gets mentioned in a lot of English literature, including Alice in Wonderland and more recently, Harry Potter.  Harry's favorite food in the world is the treacle tart, made of golden syrup.

treacle tart 

8) Eton mess- named for the college in which this is traditionally served, this is simply berries and cream, a little dressed up.  It's a summer pudding of berries, crumbled meringue and whipped cream.

via Wikipedia

 9) toad-in-the-hole- sausages baked in Yorkshire pudding (popover) batter, usually served with vegetables and onion gravy.  The origin of the name "Toad-in-the-Hole" is vague. The dish supposedly resembles a toad sticking its little head out of a hole.

via Wikipedia 

10) squashed fly cake or fly's graveyard cake- also known as the Eccles cake, for the town in which it was created.  This is actually one of my favorite pastries, layers of buttery puff pastry loaded with currants, but not with fly in the name.  I'm partial to this, too, because a version of it is a popular pastry in my husband's home, Trinidad, where it known more literally and more appetizingly as a currant roll.

via Wikipedia 

 *     *     *

And of course I won't leave you without a recipe for Spotted Dick.  This one comes from Epicurious 12/08, by Chef Lou Jones, The Culinary Institute of America. (Note: no suet required for this version!)

Spotted Dick 

Yield: Makes 8 servings.


9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 3/4 cups self-rising flour

2 cups plus 11 tablespoons whole milk

1 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup custard powder, such as Bird's brand*

Special equipment: large ceramic heatproof bowl or 8 (8-ounce) ramekins, parchment paper


1. Butter bowl or ramekins, then dust with flour, knocking out excess. On parchment paper, trace circle slightly larger than diameter of bowl (or 8 circles slightly larger than ramekins). Cut out.

2. Fill large, shallow, wide saucepan with 1 inch water. Add flat steamer or equally sized cookie cutters to create steaming platform just above water level.

3. In bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat together butter and 1 1/4 cups sugar until pale and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl periodically. Beat in vanilla.

4. Sift flour into medium bowl. Gradually beat flour into egg mixture just until combined. Add 3 tablespoons milk and beat until smooth, about 30 seconds. Add raisins and beat just until combined.

5. Transfer batter to prepared bowl or ramekins, smoothing top. Top bowl or ramekins with parchment paper circle(s), gently pressing on paper to make contact with batter.

6. Over moderately high heat, bring water in steamer to simmer. Transfer bowl or ramekins to steamer, cover pan tightly, lower heat to moderate, and steam, adding more boiling water to pan if necessary, until pudding is set, about 2 hours for bowl or 1 hour for ramekins.

7. Meanwhile, make custard sauce: In large bowl, whisk together custard powder, remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, and 2 tablespoons milk to form paste. In medium saucepan over moderate heat, bring remaining 2 cups plus 6 tablespoons milk to simmer. Whisking constantly, gradually add hot milk to custard paste. Return mixture to saucepan and cook, whisking constantly, until sauce thickens, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and keep warm.

8. Transfer pudding bowl or ramekins to rack and cool 5 minutes. Run paring knife around inside rim of bowl or ramekins and invert pudding(s) onto plate(s). Serve warm with custard sauce.


Photo credits:

1) Linda Shiue

3) veganyumyum.com

5) freerecipes.org

6) Flickr Creative Commons boo_licious

7) foodgloriousfood

All others: Wikipedia

© 2010 Linda Shiue 

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Linda this great! I love England, and really love London. I have to say I haven't had or have even heard of all these dishes.
A great collection with great names as only the Brits could design.
Oh, how I miss England! I had the best Indian curry while visiting London. I tried to make bangers and mash once. It didn't taste right. I guess I needed English-made sausages, not American sausages.

And now I'm hungry.
Linda! Now I am hungry and I want to fly to London immediately! Excellent! xox
As the wife of an Englishman, I adored this. I have to overcome my fear of trying some of these dishes.
Great post. I have long been convinced that British cuisine has been getting a bad rap for, well, centuries. I think it began as a French plot to discredit British cooking to increase the market for expatriated French chefs, most of whom are merely recycling Northern Italian cuisine.

Some years ago, a mother and daughter team of Patrick O'Brian fans got together to produce a cookbook called "Lobscouse and Spotted Dog", which consists of recipes for all of the meals described in loving detail in O'Brian's 20 volume set of novels about a British sea captain and his secret agent- ship's physician.

Some time back, I considered opening a restaurant based upon the recipes in "Lobscouse and Spotted Dog", but I worried that I might be accused of plagiarism.
To eat well, have breakfast three times a day. --Somerset Maugham

The bad old days.
Possibly the best meal I've EVER had was in London. Simple roast beef filet with yorkshire pudding

Darn near cuisine heaven
Love this collection. It brings back memories and I can taste everything from right here. Toronto has a restaurant called the Spotted Dick.
Glad to see the recipe here. Thanks
As a mostly vegetarian, I wonder if I'd starve in England? That black pudding picture is doing a number on my stomach.
Sorry Linda, this is just not my cup of tea, at all.
But as always, I still enjoy reading you.
Linda! What an interesting piece!..... of spotted dick. lol.
Love the names... now I have a sweet tooth.
I want to try the eating (eton) mess and graveyard cake!
Linda, there are some people who judge the quality of a tavern by the calibre of the establishment's bangers and mash. ~ Terrific article! Kudos!
Linda, a terrific summary of the English larder. I especially like the photos. I'm definitely trying Eton Mess with summer strawberries. I'm annoyed by obviously-scaled-down recipes that say things like "2 cups plus 11 tablespoons," so I'm proud of you for making the spotted dick.
Great post, Linda ! I don't have fond recollections of British food when I travelled through England and Scotland. I remember having a roasted chicken once which was first boiled and then browned in the oven - that did it for me. The best meals I had were in Turkish and Indian restaurants in Cambridge and London. R~
Thanks for this! This is a part of my heritage (most likely the main part of my heritage) so nice to know there is something redeeming about the cuisine. And I love the names...but that may be the quirky English blood in me popping out.
I've had bangers & mash. The mash(ed potatoes) were great, but the bangers? Yuck. I'll stick with American sausage, thank you very much.
Oh, how I love British food, except the blood pudding! Great photos!
Thanks for stopping by, everybody! I had so much fun assembling this.
Jenna- I'm with you. I could live in London, except for the cost of living and unfortunate weather.
Michelle- sausages in England vary widely by location, and are often named for their origin. But you have to really love sausage to try them all out.
Bonnie- if you know of any openings, send them my way :)
RSG- so much to explore
sagemerlin- I was waiting for some English-French rivalry! What is Lobscouse?
Leon- though I do love breakfast...
placebostudman- yum!
Algis- how is the food there?
Bellwether- lots and lots of dessert
caroline- what, no black pudding for you? thanks for your loyalty anyway!
Amanda- I think I need to dedicate this post to you and your fine sense of humor

tomreedtoon- the ethnic food in England is fantastic
Catherine- thanks!
Lucy- oh, I didn't make the spotted dick-- the photo is of a purchased one I bought at Marks and Spencer. I am more interested in trying to make sticky toffee pudding.
Fusun- the boiling could be a problem
Mimetalker- I love the colorful names, even if they are unappetizing
AZviking- acquried taste?
Poppi- I'm with you, no blood anything for me.
My favorite was Mrs. Brain's Pork Faggots. I kid you not. My husband bought a box, but no one would eat them, so eventually, he threw out the pork faggots and kept the box. I think we still have it.

My daughter had to do something on feelings when in reception (UK kindergarten). I feel happy when . . . I feel angry when . . . For 'I feel sad when . . .' she wrote, 'when it's toad in the hole for lunch.'

With that ringing endorsement, I've never tried it. (It was a school lunch.
Oh, I see my comment worthy of an adolescent boy did not take. Just as well. Love this as usual, Linda.
Malusinka: wow. That alone would make a great post.
Joan- what was it??
Yes, England has a worldly, sophisticated food scene. All the more baffling that the Brits persist in referring to all desserts as pudding.
Now I want some Eton Mess. I hope you're happy! =o)

Clotted cream and strawberries--the nectar of the English Gods.
What beautiful desserts and things with fruit and cream. You can have my portion of the intestines and black thing though. Bell and me are going out for some, what? What do vegetarians go out for in England?
A Brit here. In some ways British food gets a bad rap, in other ways it's quite deserved. My grandmother, and my mother in turn, baked wonderful pancakes, scones, cakes, anything sugary, and great desserts too. After thirty years of marriage I still haven't fed my family a Christmas pudding that comes close to Granny's. Of course she couldn't *tell* you how to make anything, only show you, since she did most of it without measures or scales. On the other side of the coin, what my mother did to vegetables was just criminal. First time we took her for Chinese food she complained of her stir-fry that "The vegetables weren't half cooked" because some still had some crunch in them.
Malusinka, don't judge the Toad in the Hole by the school version School food sucks. Made well it's rather nice. Horribly unhealthy mind you. Ditto for black pudding, and haggis.
Brits have suffered a tough rap for preparing bad food when in actuality, they have really come around and proven themselves with some really innovative cuisine. Now, about that spotted dick.... I dunno, but I for one am not touching it. Suet (or sweat or neither) and all.....
This was so fun and educational! I have heard some of these names but never really knew what all of them were. So, thank you again for such a wonderful post. R.
Linda, I love this! Clotted cream on scones was my very favorite thing to eat while in London. While there, I tried the bangers and mash (didn't really care for it) as well as black pudding (one bite so I could say I'd done it). We love fools over here, too, as well as Eaton Mess. Can't say I've tried any of the others though...the picture of bubble and squeak makes it look rather tasty, although I'm a little dubious of it. :) Great story, though, and the photos are great, as well!
I don't know what it is but I think that I have it!
Fred - LOL!

I've only been to London once and am dying to revisit and give their food another chance. I was in the first trimester of my first pregnancy and feeling nauseous anyway. Ordered room service spaghetti thinking how could anyone mess up spaghetti? Which of course they did....
Linda, this was so much fun! Thanks.
Gigabiting- like Pink Floyd
Shiral- mmmm
greenheron- mushy peas!
GeeBee- honored to have your native input. Love the stir fry story!
cartouche- I've bought suet once, to feed birds
sheila- thanks for coming by!
Lisa- bubble and squeak is good. I had it at a Gordon Ramsay pub (no, he was not there). Sort of like a croquette.
Fred- !
Mamie- you need to get back and eat some good food. If you do, let me know, and I can give you my kid-friendly suggestions.
Ayala- thanks for stopping by!
After visiting London, England, I have learned that English food for the British does not taste as bad as it sounds...
This post is worthy of something beyond OS. Wow! Having said that, I survived London by visiting Chinatown on even days and eating Indian cuisine on odd days.
Thanks for stopping by, Gardenia.

Evan, thanks for your wonderful comment.
I didn't read through all the comments, so I'm sorry if someone already went there, but you need to include "skin-heads on a raft" in your list (Hein's beans on toast--you can get it by itself or with eggs and steak for breakfast). It's delicious, and it's a British staple.
ghost writer- thanks for the tip! That is definitely a colorful name.
@ghost writer - I have never heard beans on toast called that. I love the name - somewhat related to the US "shit on a shingle" I guess.

Here's a weird thing. Fresh & Easy Markets are all over the place in CA now. They're a spinoff of the UK's big supermarket chain, Tesco. That means we can buy decent tea (yay!) and Heinz baked beans, the UK version. Guess what? We hated the beans. Bland to the nth degree. The US-canned "Vegetarian beans" from Heinz have actual flavor, and Trader Joes are even better.
Linda, this is brilliant as much as it is frightening for vegetarians! You've successfully seduced me into piquing my curiosity about English desserts, though, especially the treacle...I wonder if it is as iron-heavy as molasses, or has any other similar benefits. A predictable question about the 'golden' syrup is: are things added to the treacle to make it such as high fructose corn syrup, etc? Again though- love the photos and descriptions.