Some of the things British people eat as every day fare (rather than fine dining) take foreign visitors by surprise and are definitely acquired tastes. Crisp butties, beans on toast and pineapple or canned corn on pizza come to mind. (Check out a Quick Guide to the Mysteries of the British Table)
But, most of the everyday foods we eat in Britain are not a million miles away from what North Americans cook up regularly all the time. It's just a matter of terminology, a case of the face is familiar but I can't quite place the name.
So, in the interests of helping you navigate the American/English language barrier to find the foods you already know and like, to discover marrow that vegetarians can eat and pickles that aren't cucumbers, I've put together this handy guide.
Eat Your Veggies
- Aubergine is eggplant by any other name. When vegetables returned to British cookery after the end of rationing in the 1950s (if it wasn't a potato, an onion or a carrot, it wasn't available), they tended to come from the Continent, carrying with them their French names. Ironically, it was the British who brought this vegetable to western Europe from India, where it is called brinjal(more about that later). The common American name, eggplant, dates from the 18th century because the fruits of the plant then cultivated in Europe were small , yellow or tan colored and resembled goose eggs.
- Beetroot is just another way of talking about beets. Oddly, they are often sold at supermarkets already boiled, in soggy plastic bags.
- Courgette came to America from Italy which is why Americans call it zucchini.
- Marrow is not only the stuff that comes out of the middle of marrow bones, it is also a large, bland vegetable related to zucchini - it looks a bit like zucchini on steroids. Sometimes, in the interests of accuracy, it can be called vegetable marrow. It's usually stuffed with some kind of savory filling to give it character.
- Squash, contrary to what you may think, is not a vegetable but a sugary, fruity flavoured soft drink concentrate, with a small amount of fruit juice in it, that's mixed with water. The vegetable squash that Americans are used to is a relative newcomer to Britain. It's usually called by its varietal name - butternut squash, acorn squash - and sometimes orange fleshed vegetables that would be called squash in the USA are lumped together as pumpkin.
The British have a habit of dropping prepositions and conjunctions from the names of some foods that ends up confusing North Americans. Egg mayonnaise is not, as you might think, mayonnaise made from eggs. It's hardboiled egg, halved or sometimes sliced, enrobed in mayonnaise. Cauliflower cheese is cauliflower and cheese. Chicken salad is a piece of chicken - a leg or some sliced chicken - with a lettuce and tomato salad on the side. Ditto ham salad. In fact the American dish of chopped ham with mayonnaise and relish is completely unheard of in Britain.
Pudding and Pies
The word dessert does occasionally pop up in people's conversation or on menus, but the sweet course at the end of a meal is almost always called Pudding. It's a category that can cover everything from chocolate mousse to fruit salad. The answer to the question, "What's for pudding, " could easily be "Watermelon."
But just to be contrary, puddings are not always sweet and they are not always served for pudding (in other words, dessert). A savory "pudding" like Yorkshire pudding is a popover served alongside beef or, in Yorkshire in particular, as a first course with onion gravy. Steak and kidney pudding is a traditional main course steamed inside a pastry. Bake it in the pastry and it becomes steak and kidney pie. And black pudding, which is suddenly a fashionably cheffy ingredient but is also part of a northern breakfast, is a sausage made of pig's blood and a few other more appealing ingredients.
Pies on the other hand, are almost never the pudding course and are almost never sweet - with two exceptions - apple pie and mince pies (which are always little, individual tartlets). Other sweet pies are called tarts - lemon tart, Bakewell tart, treacle tart.
Pies that are made to stand on their own in thick crusts are known as raised pies. They're eaten cold, sliced in wedges or served as small individual pies, and made solid with aspic. Melton Mowbray Pork Pies are a prime example. Other meat pies, such as steak and ale pie, have only a top crust - what American's would call "pot pies." And some of the most famous "pies", Shepherd's Pie (ground lamb), Cottage Pie (ground beef) and Fish Pie (fish and shellfish in a creamy sauce), don't have any pastry crust at all - they're topped with mashed potatoes.
Pickles might be the spears or coins of pickled cucumber that you're used to. But the word is also used to describe vegetable relishes that are similar to chutney but extremely sour or spicy. Brinjal pickle is made from eggplant and Branston pickle, a brand name relish product served with meats or cheeses, is spicy.
And one last word - if you've never tasted English mustard, don't slather it on a sausage like American yellow mustard - unless you want to blow the top of your head off. Made from ground mustard powder, English mustard is very hot and used sparingly.