"If you would like to set the pudding aflame..." So ends the recipe for Plum Pudding, at the end of my newfound literary treasure, The Cooking of the British Isles. I came across it in a used book sale, and it is full of British food lore, like this Old English rhyme of drink:
"Heap on more coal there
And keep the glass moving,
The frost nips my nose,
Though my heart glows with loving.
Here's the dear creature,
No skylights - a bumper;
He who leaves the heeltaps
I vote him a mumper.
With hey cow rumble O,
Merrily, merrily, men,
Push around the jorum."
(no skylights, a bumper = brimful glass; heeltaps = glass not drained to the last drop; mumper = beggar; jorum = punch bowl)
There's a great map of the isles divided into regions and what foods they specialize in - so one knows to go to Hereford for the best cider and Norfolk for excellent pork pie dumplings. Mmmm. And there are a million delightful names: Petticoat Tails, Godcakes, Singing Hinny, Whigs, Huffkins, Toad in the Hole, and on and on. I will report back when I taste my first attempts at the recipes.
I must end with an excerpt:
". . . each brand of malt, more than the somewhat standardized blended Scotches, has very individualistic characteristics. Laphroaig, for example, comes from the tiny island of Islay off the west coast of Scotland and possesses so distinctive a flavor that it can never be mistaken for any other brand. Every Scotsman is sure of his own choice. I remember being in the bar of a tiny hotel in Loch Awe in Argyll when a huge Scots engineer came in. He looked at the glass in my hand.
'What's that ye are drinking?'
'It's whisky,' I said, my English accent coming over loud and clear.
'Aw, I know that, but what kind of whisky?'
I mentioned a well-known brand.
The engineer said, 'That's no bloody whisky, that's the muck they drink doon in Glasgow.'
He yelled at the barman, and pointed, 'Gie us that bottle.' The bottle turned out to be a different, but equally well-known brand.
'That's the stuff to drink,' he said. 'Never ask for any other, it's the best in Scotland.' But whatever a man's [sic] preference, all Scots would agree that Scotch in general is a concoction beyond compare. Perhaps the last word on that subject should be left to Robert Burns, who was an officer of the Customs and Excise, a gauger of barrels and detector of smugglers, a drinker of some renown, and one of the greatest poets in the world: 'O thou, my Muse! guid auld Scotch drink;/ Whether thro' wimplin' worms thou jink,/ Or, richly brown, ream owre the brink,/ in glorious faem,/ Inspire me, till I lisp an' wink,/ To sing thy name!'"