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Yorkshire pudding

"This very old dish has naturally collected a lot of lore but basically it is a thin batter poured into very hot fat so that it sizzles when it goes in" Theodora Fitzgibbon

Or as Nigel Slater puts it:

"for the cook, Yorkshire pudding holds a frisson, a few seconds of danger and excitement. It happens when you take the shallow tin, empty but for a thin layer of hot fat from the oven. There is blue-grey smoke, the crackle of red-hot dripping. Then there is the precariousness of the thin, bent tin that warps and buckles in the heat and threatens to tip hot lard down your legs. Lastly, there is the swoosh of cold batter meeting scalding fat. The rest is a matter of patience and crossed fingers." Nigel Slater

It's a dull, dull day and I was feeling a bit down with it all - like the prospect of going for my walks with a mask on, (I think I'll cheat and have it ready to put on when I meet actual people), should I risk getting my hair cut or not? ... So when you are down your thoughts often turn to food, to comfort food - which is often not healthy food I have to say. And somehow or other my thoughts turned to Yorkshire pudding.

It's probably because of my next First recipe book - A taste of Yorkshire in food and pictures, which is sitting on the chair next to mine, waiting for my next uninspired day. I mean when you think of Yorkshire and food you think of Yorkshire pudding don't you? It's not the first recipe in the book though - it's actually the last, and the rather splendid photograph opposite the recipe is the remains of a roasted ox and its cooks, on the occasion of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in Harrogate. They certainly seem to have eaten just about the entire animal. There is not much on the plate in front of them, and absolutely nothing on the carcass.

As I was doing my 'research' for this post and pinching large chunks of text for reproduction - with suitable attribution I hasten to add - once again I began questioning why I bother really. Everyone has said everything there is to say on a particular topic, before, and so much better than I. So forgive me for the longish quotes that I shall be including.

So origins. Well probably not Yorkshire. A recipe was first written down in 1737 in a book called The whole duty of woman, but it is probably much more ancient than that. They found some remains somewhere from long, long ago. The Yorkshire bit comes from Hannah Glasse who, some ten years later called it Yorkshire pudding. Nobody really seems to know why. But the inhabitants of Yorkshire have certainly claimed it as their own.

The original intention was to have something, under the roast meat on the spit, to sop up all the drippings from the meat. It was more likely mutton than beef however. When we stopped roasting our meat on a spit it became something to serve before the meat, using the fat that had dripped from the meat - well you should roast beef on a rack in a baking dish, not on the dish floor. Into this fat you would pour a thin batter and when it had crisped up, serve it with gravy before the meal. Meat was expensive and the idea was that you would fill up on the Yorkshire pudding so that you wouldn't need to eat as much meat.

I actually remember my Yorkshire aunt serving her Yorkshire pudding with gravy before the main dish, not with it. I also remember her version being more like a flat pancake, but try as I may I cannot find any reference to this kind of presentation. Before the meal with onion gravy, yes, but flat pancake, no. Maybe she was just a bad cook and couldn't make it rise and crisp up. I know I preferred my mother's version, and when I came to make my Mum's cookbook for my two grown-up boys, when they left home, and which was based around their ten favourite meals, the first one was Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. They loved the Yorkshire pudding. Roast beef without it was just not the same. And it isn't it? We very rarely have roast beef these days. There are only two of us to feed. And if we do have roast beef we never have Yorkshire pudding. Somehow or other it's become a bit of a no no. Well it's not healthy is it? And these days we are always thinking about getting fat and lowering our cholesterol.

Now I am not a millennial, but this Guardian writer is and she puts the above quandary very well.

"When my mother was my age - 26 - she had a one-year-old daughter and had been cooking a weekly family roast with all its accoutrements for the past four years.

I, on the other hand, have spent the past four years getting out of bed late at the weekend and rustling up bacon sarnies. In any given six months I eat more restaurant dinners than my parents have enjoyed in their entire lives. I practically have a degree in ordering from Indian takeaways. Of course, I cook too, but it tends to be "assemblage" food, hastily thrown together when I arrive home at 8.30pm after a depleting slog across London on the Tube. Pan-fried salmon steaks; caesar salad fresh from its cellophane bag; spaghetti alla puttanesca; carpaccio of beef and warm potato salad; marinated chicken kebabs ... this is what my generation mean by cooking. No one, repeat no one, of my age and acquaintance has ever even tried to make a Yorkshire pudding." Victoria Moore

As I said I am not a millennial, but all of the above - perhaps excluding the takeaway Indian, the Caesar Salad in a bag, and the frequent restaurant meals - can be applied to how I cook these days. This is very sad. And I now resolve that the next time we can have a family gathering I shall be making roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Hang the expense of the roast beef. And come to think of it, it's an unlikely combination really isn't it? I mean roast beef has always been a luxury item, that only the rich could afford, whereas Yorkshire pudding is food of the poor. No wonder it was originally made to accompany mutton, or pork. Indeed Theodora Fitzgibbon in her book gives a recipe for a similar dish called Season or Seasoning Pudding. It's made the same way as Yorkshire pudding but you add a chopped onion, some suet, breadcrumbs from a slice of bread (or rolled oats) and some chopped sage and thyme to the batter. And you serve it with gravy poured over.

So how do you make it? Well my recipe is basically my mum's. In fact I suspect we didn't have exact quantities. Just one egg though and then you added the rest in an attempt to end up with a smooth runny batter - like for pancakes.

"1 egg, 150 grams plain flour, 1 1/4 cups of milk, including a little water (1/4 cup or so). Sift the flour into a bowl. Drop the egg into the centre of the flour, add the milk/water gradually, mixing and beating with a whisk until smooth. About 40 mins. before the end of the cooking time for the beef, remove some of the fat from the meat dish and place it in a pie dish. Leave in the oven for about 5 mins. Now tip the batter into the hot fat and return to the oven. It will be cooked at the same time as the meat (about half an hour)

I see I forgot to tell my kids not to open the oven whilst it's cooking.

I made mine in one big dish so that the centre was a bit soft, and the outside crispy. We would cut it into bits and eat it with everything else on the same plate. These days however, the trend seems to be to make individual little ones which don't have quite as much soft middle. Indeed the emphasis seems to be on crispy and high risen. Now which do your prefer?

Felicity Cloake, of course, gives you a summary of all the ways you can vary the recipe. How many eggs, do you add water, and if so, when?, cream? - yes some people added cream, leave the batter to rest in the fridge, proportion of flour to milk/water, what kind of oil. Well to me, on that last point there is no question that the fat should be the fat that comes from the meat. But others begged to differ.

And what should the finished result be like anyway?

"No two people would agree on the texture of the perfect Yorkshire pudding. For some, the batter should be crisp outside but soggy within; to others it should be ethereally light and have almost no substance at all; others still want it as thick as a duvet and only slightly more digestible." Nigel Slater

"If you've mixed right and your oven's hot, pudding'll come out as light as a feather, crisp and brarn, just a top and a bottom, you might say, wi' none o' this custardy stuff in t'middle." J.B. Priestley

Jamie, as usual makes it all look easy - if you are making little ones that is. And he includes a very useful little tip about how to get the right amount of fat into the muffin pans. Watch the video. It's short, informative and the results do look appetising;

I think the people who argue for the small ones say that it makes a perfect cup for the gravy.

I also think that the small ones give lots of opportunities for trendy modern chefs to put things inside them and do other things with them, like add stuff to the mix - herbs, horseradish .... In fact Theodora Fitzgibbon maintains that in Yorkshire they sometimes put a few drops of raspberry vinegar into the finished puddings. And I vaguely remember somebody doing that on one of those television shows recently - something similar anyway. I think I mentioned it in a post. Maybe it was raspberries.

"And once you have your pudding as you like it, the next question is when do you want to eat it? Before the beef with its own sexy puddle of hot gravy; squeezed on to the plate with the meat, horseradish and potatoes, or afterwards, fresh from the oven under a layer of jewel-like golden syrup and double cream." Nigel Slater

Yes it can be served as a dessert - after all that is what clafoutis is really isn't it? Theodora Fitzgibbon says"

"often a double quantity of batter is made, half being served with the meat course, and the remainder could contain grated apple, currants, cinnamon and sugar. This is cooked while the main course is being eaten and comes hot and spicy straight from the oven."

Jamie Oliver seems to think that they go particularly well with smoked fish. The video above shows him serving his perfectly cooked Yorkshire puds with smoked salmon and a yoghurt/horseradish cream, and on his website he has a recipe for Baby Yorkshire puds, creamy smoked trout and horseradish pâté. The Yorkshire puds should be hot and the filling cold.

I did see all sorts of other versions, mostly looking like tarts or pizzas with fillings sweet or savoury. Perhaps the most weird were some Yorkshire pudding wraps with a steak filling from the Hairy Bikers. Don't think I'm tempted by that one.

Nevertheless I've got myself all enthused for Yorkshire pudding now. Pity we are just having an omelette tonight in the ongoing attempt to use up all that ham.

But I have booked another Mercers at home meal for Friday night:


Minestrone soup with parmesan croutons

 Pork fillet baked in strudel pastry with an apple farce,

Calvados jus and coffee roasted carrots

Chocolate and mint pave with passionfruit sorbet

Something to look forward to.


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