Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Eating for England by Nigel Slater

Since last night I've been mulling over just what it is exactly about a British sweet shop or food in general that is so appealing.  The thought of a Cadbury Fruit and Nut bar has any thought of eating healthy fly straight out of my head.  A package of Reds and Blacks from M&S removes any caution about cavities.

Eating for England by Nigel Slater has provided all the thrill of iconic British foodstuffs without any of the guilt.  He fills 280 pages with his memories and thoughts on everything from barley water to Sarson's Vinegar, the Jammie Dodger to Victorian sandwiches.  Being the perfect 'dip in and out of' book, it has been on my nightstand for the past couple of weeks.  I've had to stifle some belly laughs when reading it at 6 am so as not to rouse Deacon or R from their slumber.  Slater's description of Werther's Orginals as 'silly old bugger's sweets' and the 'Victor Meldrew of confectionery' was one such moment.

Before my last trip across the pond I asked a couple of delightful ex-pats who visit the library if there was anything I could bring back for them.  They swooned over the thought of enjoying a M&S Rich Tea biscuit with their cuppa once again.  When I got back and handed them their bag of biscuits with some chocolate thrown in I beamed with the thought of them racing home, plugging in the kettle and enjoying a delicate dunk.  A couple of weeks later I discovered a British sweet shop in town selling the very article!  Alice and Bettina were thrilled not to have to wait until someone else ventured overseas for their biscuit fantasy to come true.  According to a recent article in The Daily Telegraph, the sale of Rich Tea biscuits is on the decline as 'posh' treats become more popular.  Slater writes that his favourite, the Abbey Crunch, has long been extinct, being replaced by the less than impressive Hob Nob so the worst can happen.

There were things revealed in this book which were better left unread.  I was made ill by reading what it was that flavoured the meat at a St David's Day celebration with some Welsh friends.  Faggots and peas were on the menu and now I know why nobody was forthcoming in the details about just what that was.  To gag over something one has eaten over ten years ago takes some doing.

R and I are starting to sound like a couple of old codger's when we bemoan the pathetic comic strips that pass for a prize in boxes of caramel popcorn and that chocolate bars are shrinking.  Our PC world has banned the marketing of candy cigarettes but pretending to blow smoke on a cold day after taking a drag on my candy hasn't turned me into a smoker.  I digress.

The heartwarming, crave-inducing writing style of Slater had me flinging back the covers last weekend to pop down some toast and grab the jar of Robertson's Golden Shred from the fridge.  I didn't even wait for the tea to steep before I started munching away.  Perhaps it's a good thing that many of the sweet subjects in this book are not within easy reach for me.  I have no idea what a Tunnock's Teacake, Jaffa Cake, Floral Gums or Midget Gems are but Slater makes me want to find out.


  1. Darlene, I can tell you that Tunnock's Teacakes ( a fairly local 'delicacy' - they are made near Glasgow) comprise a biscuit base topped with a chocolate-coated marshmallow confection (have a look here: ). I'm not sure how well they would travel, but I'd be delighted to send you some if you want to try them!

  2. If midget gems are the same as iced gems (I've got the book and I'll check tonight) I'd love to send you some - they're so cute! I loved that book. Delightful!

  3. Darlene, you would love Tunnock's teacakes, if only for the shiny red and silver wrapping. The marshmallow gunk inside them is possibly less appealing to anybody over the age of 10.
    Floral gums were tiny little sweets, with a perfumey taste, that were brilliant for sucking undetected in lessons. Alas, like cherry lips, they have changed the recipe and they are nothing like they were in the good old days. Midget gems are a bit like wine gums.
    Nigel, of course, is quite right and the Abbey Crunch is far superior to the HobNob. Rich Tea are just boring ... we used to ask my mum why she bought them - the answer, of course, was that they were cheap! - and she'd say that if she bought nice biscuits, we'd only go and eat them! Specialist dunkers prefer Rich Tea fingers.
    Shame on you for not liking faggots ... can't get decent ones here in the south but when I lived in York there used to be a queue outside the butcher's shop for homemade faggots.

  4. I have no idea what most of these delicacies are (probably a good thing!). You find the most interesting books...

  5. Jaffa Cakes all the way... mmmm Also ask people how they eat them...

  6. Cornflower, Oh my goodness, I got so excited when I saw that they come in dark chocolate too! Who am I kidding...I'll try anything remotely chocolate! Off to send you an email right now!

    verity, Arrrgghhh...I tried to google 'midget gems' and clicked on a site with 'dwarf, midget and fairytale porn'! I didn't think my post would solicite offers of such wonderful treats but who am I to refuse! Next time you pass a packet of midget gems and if it's no trouble then by all means...send away! Thanks Verity! Can I send something back?

    Mary, Oh I liked the faggots well enough, in fact, I went back for seconds! I had no idea there was...*gulp* pig intestines in there..ick, ick, ick. That was too funny about your Mum not buying nice biscuits because you'd eat them, my Dad would say the same thing!

    JoAnn, You really must try harder on your next trip over, to sample the local confectionery! At the very least buy several of those Cadbury Fruit & Nut bars the size of a large notebook at Heathrow...heaven!

    Joan, Oooh, this sounds interesting. I googled a picture of one...would it involve licking off that chocolate coating first I wonder?

  7. Jaffa Cakes are available here in Canada (but I can't think where I've bought them. Surely Loblaws--sorry--must have them.)

    When I was in Scotland recently, we had them for our D E Stevenson get-together, and I learned there was a big controversy over whether they were cakes or biscuits, because they would be taxed differently.

    Anyway, no need to describe them. I'll just tell you that when you find them, don't hesitate; just buy them and eat them. They're lovely.

    And while we're on the subject, do you remember Peak Frean's Playbox Cookies? Very very pretty to look at, but practically toothbreaking. No longer available.

    And then (thinking childhood again) there was MacIntosh toffee, that you would smack against the sidewalk before opening so you could have lots of little pieces.

    And, back to my Scotland trip, I kept buying Old Man of Hoy Oat Cakes, made in Stromness (where I bought the first package). Best oatcakes ever.

  8. Susan, Give the Pack a Whack!!! That brought back memories! I'm afraid that I don't remember Playbox Cookies though. As Mary wrote, my parents never spent much on cookies and Peak Freans would have been a rare thing in our house.

    I'll be on the lookout for Jaffa I have to find a Loblaw's!

  9. Well, in the interest of selfless research, I looked for Jaffa Cakes in the fancy biscuit section of Loblaw's today, but was not exactly lucky.

    I found instead a package of Pim's "European Biscuits" (orange flavour) which look like Jaffa cakes, and taste quite nice, but the biscuity part was quite dry, so I had to have a glass of tonic and lime with it.

    So I'm sorry, but I can't give you a reliable source of JCs.

    Here's some views

  10. Susan, LOL! I bought a package of Pim's on Friday for research purposes as well! After looking up Jaffa Cakes on google I thought they looked like a close second. Haven't opened the box yet but I'll be ready for the dry biscuit now with a cup of tea close at hand. And thanks for link!

  11. Oh goodness me! There's no Jaffa Cakes across the Pond?! I'm going to have to bring some with me! They are divine - sponge base with orange jelly covered in dark chocolate - I LOVE them. And teacakes are delicious too - I love the biscuity marshmallow chocolatyness - perfect with a good old English cuppa.

    As far as I'm concerned the Queen of biscuits is a chocolate digestive. No matter how bad the day, or how sad I am, a cup of tea and a chocolate digestive or five can't fail to cheer me up. :)

    British comfort food is like no other. Steak and ale pie, chips and gravy is perfect for a cold winter night, followed by a fruit crumble and custard, and a cup of tea and a chocolate digestive before bed. :) Oh, I'm going to miss England during my year away!

  12. Rachel, Pims seem to be as close as I could find in our grocery store (Susan has posted that she tried the same thing). You may find Jaffa Cakes in a British specialty shop but they'll cost you big time! Chocolate digestives should be readily available though...phew!

    We love a hot pub lunch on a snapping cold wintery day too...yum!

  13. Darlene, it's guilty secret time... Before I became vegan I could eat a whole pack of Jaffa cakes in one go! I wish I could make an animal-free version and have often thought about giving it a try...

  14. Penny, If they are at all as delicious as the Pims that I bought the other day, I wouldn't blame you! Somehow, I've managed to eat three before pouring my tea!

  15. I really loved that book, and it had the same effect on me of wanting to scoff all my favorite British treats. Have you read any of Nigel Slater's other books? His Kitchen Diaries has become one of my very favorite cookbooks.

  16. makedoandread, THAT is one book that is very, very tempting to buy! I really love his writing style and how he brings some Britishness into my house.

  17. I used to have those candy cigarettes all the time when I was a kid and I have never smoked a real one yet and have no desire to so that just goes to show how much the PC brigade know! Its a wonder any of them can sleep at night from thinking about all the wonderful things and fun times they've deprived our children of.