The team at Lesley Francis Public Relations enjoy our food. We occasionally bring in a cake or cookies or some other tasty treat, and sometimes the conversation turns to differences in cuisine here in the good ol’ US of A and back in England, the land of my birth.
Last week, for example, did I create a stir when I told the girls that I didn’t like peanut butter! My all-American team were stunned, and wanted to know how in the world children can grow up in such a strange land that doesn’t have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Of course you can buy peanut butter in England, and it has become more popular in recent years, but the weather in England is about as conducive to growing peanuts as it is in Canada. That is to say, not at all.
However, when I moved to the USA I was surprised to see how peanut butter has crept into so many recipes. The tradition of peanut butter, which began as a protein rich sandwich filler in the USA in the late 19th century, just never developed in the land of my birth until American TV and movies spread the word.
It is also very weird to a British person to combine jelly (which is known as jam in the UK) with peanut butter. In addition, Brits describe "Jell-O" as "jelly" and usually serve it within trifle or alongside ice cream, which most American find equally strange.
So what else do Brits eat which Americans think unusual?
Firstly, the British do enjoy toast, but not just for breakfast with butter or jam or marmalade. Brits tend to put all kinds of things on toast and call it a meal. The national favorite is baked beans on toast, although Spaghetti-O’s (which the British call hoops) are a close second.
Marmite, a brown, salty yeast extract which is a by-product of beer brewing, is another popular sandwich filler. Every British person has a strong opinion about Marmite, either loving or hating it. I think it is disgusting.
Those of us who grew up in England in the 1970s and 1980s will also remember the exciting introduction of the toasted sandwich maker, which turned any dull British sandwich into an interesting and piping hot treat.
The ultimate use of toast as a side dish is, of course, as part of "the full English breakfast," also known as the "full monty." This consists of English bacon and sausages, mushrooms, broiled tomatoes, fried eggs and heaps of steaming baked beans.
English sausages are very different to every other nation’s sausages as they have a much lower meat content. The British often call their sausages "bangers" (as in "bangers and mash"). This explosive nickname was first used during the second world war when, due to meat rationing in the UK, sausages had a high water content and were therefore prone to blow up while cooking.
Sausages are also lovingly served in pastry as a "sausage roll" or "toad in the hole" — juicy hot sausages surrounded by Yorkshire pudding (popover) batter served with gravy and vegetables.
The other area of English sandwich tradition is the "butty." As the name implies, these are served with loads of hot butter, but the British are very specific about which types of sandwiches they call a "butty;" the three most popular are:
• The bacon butty — served on a buttered bun with either tomato ketchup or brown sauce (similar to vinegary steak sauce);
• The fish finger butty — fried fish sticks, also with loads of butter and ketchup. It is just delicious.
• The hot chip butty — French fries, which the Brits call "chips," on a heavily buttered bun. Americans usually think this carb-fest is the strangest of all.
A common British saying is "chips with everything."
The legendary double act of fried fish and chips was first served on English shores sometime around the middle of the 19th century when cod was cheap and plentiful. This is often served with mushy peas, which look like lumpy green mashed potatoes and are made from soaked marrowfat peas. The British also have a tradition of serving chips without any meat but with gravy or curry sauce. In fact, sometimes curry is served with two or even three carbs; potatoes, rice and/or chips (really!).
Finally, this little journey down the British culinary trail leads me to a great quote by British comedian John Cleese: "The English contribution to world cuisine is the chip."
God bless America!
You can contact Francis at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her PR agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com