Now we’ve made pancakes it’s onto Toad in the hole, a thrifty dish made from cheap pork sausages and pancake batter. The batter bakes to a crisp, golden crust encasing sizzling sausages. If you get the recipe wrong, the pudding becomes a gloopy glob of indigestible dough that should be scraped into the bin, but is often served by people in the south of England with their roast dinners.
Growing up in the Midlands, Yorkshire pudding is a staple food. My mother served our family with Yorkshire pudding as a first course when we returned home from school. At sixteen I was sick of the sight of it.
‘Why do we have to have Yorkshire with salad? Please no more Yorkshire!’
Deeply offended, she stopped for a few days during the hot summer, but soon resumed her old habits. Yorkshire pudding was a cheap way to fill us up before our main meal. Our household didn’t do snacks so we were hungry when we sat down to eat. Yorkshire was served with gravy made from meat and vegetable juices and thickened with flour. Never Bisto for gravy. She’d been told it was coloured with caramel and didn’t want to encourage us to eat sugar or ‘muck’. The meal was followed by stew or lamb chops in winter or ham salad in summer.
‘It’s very nutritious. I’ve used four eggs to make it.’
My mother knew about nutrition but she never seemed to enjoy cooking. Maybe it was because she worked as a teacher all day and cooked for three kids and my father and did the housework at night.
My father would take a huge slice of cold, left over Yorkshire pudding for his lunch which he chose to eat on a park bench below my posh Northampton school. One day I passed him as I walked to a tennis lesson.
‘Look at that old tramp on the bench’ muttered my friend, Stephanie.
Wearing his old shabby raincoat, my father was eating his lunch from a battered metal sandwich tin. Beside him was a flask of tea. I did not wave as I passed in the distance, but quietly appreciated his thriftiness so I could benefit from this elite educational opportunity.
How to make a Yorkshire pudding is the great cook’s debate. My grandmother believed in the outside method and she would take her mixing bowl, eggs, flour, milk and salt and sit outside and beat them together with a large wooden spoon till the batter plopped. Grandma sat outside in sunshine, rain and freezing weather.
‘It’s the fresh air that makes it rise, you know.’
It was other things too. She had the best Bero flour, the finest Saxa salt, the freshest eggs and the creamiest Jersey milk. And a large lump of tasty dripping which melts in the roasting tin in the hot oven.
She pours the batter into the sizzling fat, closes the gas oven door and we wait as her Yorkshire puffes from creamy batter to golden crispness. The oven door cannot be opened until it was ready, then cut into quarters and eaten hot with meaty gravy. A taste of childhood deliciousness.
My class is eager to get cooking.
‘Light the ovens, put a knob of lard in your roasting tin and pop it in the oven to heat up. It’s best to use dripping but the butcher didn’t have any.’
The boys exchange grins. They’ve already smirked about making Turd in the hole, and there’s mutterings of knobs and dripping.
We use my grandmother’s method of making Yorkshire pudding but stay indoors. Wandering students beating bowls of batter outside my room will raise alarms in the headmaster’s office.
Irene Finch, a progressive home economist with a passion for science, has been trying to introduce some science and comparative cooking into our teaching.
Which flour should we use? Plain, strong or self raising?
Which fat – dripping, lard or vegetable oil?
We don’t care about saturated fats. It’s the quality of the end result that matters. But the greatest debate is whether to make and bake the batter or leave it to stand. In London they seem to like the soggy dough, but I’m not teaching it this way. For me it’s beat, bake and eat.
‘Sieve the flour and salt in the bowl and make a well in the middle then crack in the egg, add a little milk and beat with a WOODEN SPOON.’
I march round and check as the batter flip flops in the bowls.
‘Use an oven glove to take the roasting pan out. One mark lost if you don’t.’
Our oven gloves are thick woven cotton cloth with pockets for each hand. Years of use have worn away the edges and it’s easy to burn your fingers through the holes.
We put four bright pink sausages in the roasting tin, pour over the batter then it’s back in the oven with the doors tightly closed. There is always a scramble to be first and get your cooking on the top shelf as this means you can finish first too. Hot air rises and the top shelf cooks fast.
‘Don’t open the doors till I tell you!’
Now we are ready. Out come pans of golden, crusty Toads waiting for their marks. Not a pale, solid, leaden, doughy southern pudding in sight. Grandma is right. Beat it, bake it and eat it. We sit down and share our lunch with some caramel coloured Bisto gravy.