Friday, June 17, 2011

Some Delicacies Are Edible

The worst thing about my school dinners was the food. On a good day, it was merely indigestible; on a bad one, unidentifiable as well. Worse still, the dinner queue snaked alongside the kitchen windows, through which we could not avoid seeing the ominous stuff being prepared. Jokes and horror stories were rife. I remember a much older boy telling me that the gleaming, metal, state-of-the-art machine in the corner was responsible for putting lumps in the mash. Being rational, I believed him.

As a naturally wary six-year-old, there was but one item which I could stomach: the humble Scotch egg. The trouble was, it was served only once a square moon. Almost every lunchtime, my daily flicker of optimism was extinguished by the inevitable sight (and smell) of huge trays brimming with shoe-sole beef, saltwater carrots and the Devil’s sprouts.

A Scotch egg, for the uninitiated, is a hard-boiled egg – minus the shell, before anyone emails me – coated with sausage meat and breadcrumbs, then fried. Its origins are unclear, although Fortnum & Mason, a top department store situated on London’s Piccadilly, has been credited with its invention. Bless them both, if it is true.

Although Scotch eggs are most common in the UK, they can be bought in Western Europe, West Africa and throughout the United States. At the Minnesota State Fair, they are served on a stick. (I cannot help wondering whether anyone has ever attempted to eat one whole, or, indeed, skewered several on a single stick like some monstrous kebab. One of my work colleagues is a native Minnesotan; perhaps I ought to ask him.)

Most, though, are sold in supermarkets. Mass-produced, and packaged in plastic, they are more or less edible. Better, though, to find a decent butcher’s shop and eat them fresh. One such place is Stanley & Sons, Church Street, Beaumaris, on the island of Anglesey. Piping hot, straight from the oven, they are also much larger than average.

However, the best I have ever come across are expertly prepared by The Handmade Scotch Egg Company (see link below). Based just outside Hereford in the UK, in the sleepy village of Bishop’s Frome (pronounced ‘Frume’), it is a family business run by Neil and Penny Chambers. Food critics from publications such as the Independent, Mail on Sunday, Guardian and Country Living all agree that their culinary creations are extraordinary.

Now, as luck would have it, I paid a flying visit to Great Malvern (5 miles from Bishop’s Frome) earlier this month. Such an opportunity was too good to miss. At the company ‘HQ’, a huge, green ‘cowshed’ situated ‘behind the Hop Packet’ – you get the picture – there are at least 37 varieties on offer. Ingredients include sage and onion, apple, tarragon, cranberries, haggis and even whisky. Each one has its own distinctive taste, and some recipes are inspired. Perhaps the most celebrated of them all is the Black Watch, in which free-range pork is mixed with black pudding (Figure 20.1). There are also vegetarian and gluten-free types, with other weird-and-wonderful new varieties constantly emerging.

Figure 20.1: The 'Black Watch' - an edible English delicacy

Copyright 2010 Cooking The Books

The good news for those living too far from Bishop’s Frome to pay a visit: all are available from the company’s online store. Place an order and, within days, they will be delivered to your door in a chilled container.

I promise you that they taste infinitely better than the Devil’s sprouts – or, for that matter, anyone else’s.

Copyright 2011 Paul Spradbery

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