Since living in England, I have been diagnosed with a milk and soya allergy which has made me more interested in the food that I eat. One thing that interests me is the substances that are banned from the foods in the U.K. and Europe which are allowed in the US. There are a lot of food additives and preservatives that are allowed in food in the USA and not in the UK. For instance, in the U.K. and the EU, cattle are not allowed Bovine Hormone Growth and antibiotics because that ends up in the people consuming the meat and dairy products. In fact, they do not allow growth hormone to be fed to other animals consumed by humans. Arsenic is not allowed in the feed of chicken, turkeys and pigs. Cows are not allowed to be feed chicken products used in their feed. They have also moved to prevent the crating of animals where they cannot move freely.[i]
The British are against coloring agents because they cause behavioral problems. You find these items in things like Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese, sports drinks and other foods. I was shocked to find out that Smarties (more like M&Ms than the U.S. Smarties) had to take out the blue ones for a while because of this. They are particularly against E numbers and Tartrazine. [ii]
If you have an allergy, food intolerance or are vegetarian, I find that the restaurants and grocery stores are very up-to-date and therefore it makes it easy to find food that will suit you. The restaurants almost always have a “V” vegetarian food on their menus and others have “GF” for gluten free. I usually contact restaurants ahead of time when I can to find out what I can have and overall, they have been accommodating. In December 2014, it became European law that restaurants have to provide information about their food and if it contains 14 everyday allergens. This is already a requirement of prepackaged foods. I hope that this will help you to eat out if you suffer like I do.
The water is safe to drink here so really there is no need for bottled water. The only time that you cannot drink from a tap is when it tells you it is not drinkable. I have only seen this on trains and in bathrooms in some public venues. They generally do not add fluoride to the water supply in the local area but it is a natural occurring mineral. [iii]
If you choose to shop off-base for food, you should know that certain items are VAT free. These are of course healthy foods in order to promote healthy eating so if you are looking to eat healthy and save money you should stay away from “alcoholic drinks, confectionery, crisps and savoury snacks, hot food, sports drinks, supplies of food made in the course of catering including hot takeaways, ice cream, soft drinks and mineral water.”
[i] Mother Jones, “7 Dodgy Food Practices Banned in Europe But Just Fine Here,” updated May 8, 2013, http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2013/05/7-dodgy-foodag-practices-banned-europe-just-fine-here
[ii] Shape, “13 Banned Foods Still Allowed In The US,” updated January 15, 2013, http://www.shape.com/blogs/shape-your-life/13-banned-foods-still-allowed-us
[iii] British Fluoridation Society, “Average fluoride levels in zones during 2011,” accessed June 21, 2013, http://dwi.defra.gov.uk/consumers/advice-leaflets/fluoridemap.pdf
Is the water safe to drink?
This question was asked in a forum that I participate in. At first I chuckled to myself but then I think I know where the question came from. In the Inprocessing briefing, the presenters advise that you only drink from taps that say the water is drinkable.
The truth is most of the water is drinkable. The only occasions I have ever seen where it says not to drink from the tap is in the bathroom of a train and a few old buildings in Cambridge.
When you fill your glass up, it might be a bit cloudy but its due to the excess gas. It is advised that you not drink from the hot water as there might be higher levels of copper in it.
This also reminded me of a story I heard from another American who has lived here for 12 years and when she went to Paris with her American friends and they brought bottled water with them!
If you ever really want to try something quintessentially English, Afternoon Tea is what you are looking for.
Afternoon tea consists of English Breakfast Tea or Earl Grey usually sweetened with sugar and perhaps milk or lemon but not both.
You can expect finger sandwiches like cucumbers, egg and rocket, sardines and cheese. Its best to try them before you say you don't like them, Jane persuaded me to like a cucumber sandwich :)
Then you have scones with cream and jam and other cakes but you should finish what you have in front of you before moving on.
In the local area, you have some really good tea rooms which would be great for an afternoon out with the girls:
Why do the English like their tea so much? and why don't Americans drink tea like the English? I have been asked both questions quite a bit from both sides. I guess because I am married to an English man I am an expert and because I am American. So it got me thinking were the answers I was giving people correct? This is what I found out.
It is often said that a cup of tea solves everything. It is also very hydrating and the health benefits are great, this article says its healthier than water! In the winter time, it can keep you warm so you don't have to heat the house so much.
Tea gained popularity in the 17th century after it was brought from the Far East by the Dutch and Portuguese traders. It slowly gained popularity and surpassed alcohol as the favoured drink in England. The government mainly made their money on the taxes on alcohol so they quickly placed a tax on tea first in its liquid form and later in its dry form.
It began as a drink that the wealthy would drink and slowly grew to be popular with the poor as well. Coffee houses began to sell tea and are credited to helping its success. Tea became a snack time between lunch and dinner as many people ate late in the evening. This term can also be used to mean the main meal of the day which began in the Industrial Revolution.
The answer to the second question that I often give that is has to do with the Boston Tea Party and much to my surprise, I was right! In 1773, the American settlers were getting upset over the taxes that they were having to pay on tea. There was one company that sold tea in the colonies and they owed the British government a lot of money so they suggested that they can pay it back if they increase the tax on tea. When three ships arrived with tea, the American settlers did not want it off loaded if it was going to be taxed and the ships couldn't leave with the tea as the customs paperwork was already filled out (and the tea had been paid for except for the tax). So a group of men dressed as Mohawk Indians boarded the ship and poured the tea into the sea. Something I found remarkable was that this three hour act was not violent, they only touched the tea and replaced a lock that they broke and even swept the decks of the ship. After that the Americans began to drink coffee and slowly gone from drinking warm drinks to soft drinks and water.
So now that you know this great information, how do you make a cup of tea for yourself? Try it! The tea that the English drink everyday is known as traditional tea such as PG Tips. Boil the kettle and pour over the tea bag, stir a bit and remove tea bag, and add milk and sugar as you like :)
You should be starting your Christmas pudding around October.
Traditionally Christmas Pudding is served on Christmas day but made weeks in advance and fed regularly with alcohol which allows the flavours to develop. Why don't you try to bring in this tradition to your home and make a Christmas Pudding. Make it a few weeks in advance! Alternatively you can buy one from the grocery store. Here is a recipe on how to make your own:
Preparation time: 1-2 hours/Cooking time: over 2 hours/Serves 6-8
Mix all the dry ingredients and stir in the eggs and brandy and mix well.
Spoon the mix into basins. Put a circle of baking paper and foil over the top of each basin and tie securely with string. Make a string handle from one side of the basin to the other so it is easier to pick the basin out of the pan after cooking.
Put the basins in a large steamer of boiling water and cover with a lid. Boil for 5-6 hours, topping the boiling water up from time to time, if necessary. If you do not have a steamer, put the basins in a large pan on inverted saucers on the base. Pour in boiling water to come a third of the way up the sides of the pudding bowls. Cover and steam as before.
Cool. Change the baking parchment and foil covers for fresh ones and tie up as before. Store in a cool cupboard until Christmas Day.
To serve: steam for 2 hours and serve with brandy butter, rum sauce, cream or homemade custard.
It is a pastry case that contains beef, sliced potatoes, turnip or swede and onion.
It was lunch for miners, farmers and fishermen. They would be dirty from the work that they do, so they could eat the pasty and only throw away the bit that they touched. It’s said that the pasty can stay warm for 8-10 hours.
Here is a standard recipe, if you would like to make one yourself.
If not, you can buy them in the supermarkets and there are stands all over the UK that sell them.
Cream teas are what the typical American thinks of when they think of the British and their teas.
It is not really known where the cream tea originated from but Devon and Cornwall are known for their cream teas and each have a specific way for it to be served.
In Devon, the scones are split in half, clotted cream (like whipped cream but thicker) covers each half and strawberry jam is placed on top. There is not any butter on the scone and the teas have milk in them.
In Cornwall, cream teas are served with a sweet white bread roll (known as a Cornish Split) instead of a scone. The Cornish spread the jam on the roll and then top it with clotted cream.
You are very lucky to be living in this areas as there are a few really good tearooms that you can experience a cream tea. You can go here and make your own cream teas.
Easter Simnel Cake
This is a recipe for a traditional cake eaten at Easter. It has 11 balls on top to signify the true disciples of Jesus.
Preparation time: less than 30 mins/Cooking time: 1 to 2 hours/Serves 10-12
Ingredients For the almond paste (or you can buy marizpan premade from the grocery store)
250g/9oz caster sugar
250g/9oz ground almonds
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp almond essence
For the cake
175g/6oz butter or margarine
175g/6oz soft brown sugar
3 eggs, beaten
175g/6oz plain flour
½ tsp ground mixed spice (optional)
350g/12oz mixed raisins, currants and sultanas
55g/2oz chopped mixed peel
½ lemon, grated zest only
1-2 tbsp apricot jam
1 egg, beaten for glazing
For the almond paste, place the sugar and ground almonds in a bowl. Add enough beaten egg and mix to a fairly soft consistency.
Add the almond essence and knead for one minute until the paste is smooth and pliable.
Roll out a third of the almond paste to make a circle 18cm/7in in diameter and reserve the remainder for the cake topping.
Preheat oven to 140C/275F/Gas 1. Grease and line a 18cm/7in cake tin.
For the cake, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs until well incorporated and then sift in the flour, salt and mixed spice (if using) a little at a time. Finally, add the mixed dried fruit, peel and grated lemon zest and stir into the mixture.
Put half the mixture into a greased and lined 18cm/7in cake tin. Smooth the top and cover with the circle of almond paste. Add the rest of the cake mixture and smooth the top leaving a slight dip in the centre to allow for the cake to rise. Bake in the preheated oven for 1¾ hours. Test by inserting a skewer in the middle - if it comes out clean, it is ready. Once baked, remove from the oven and set aside to cool on a wire rack.
Brush the top of the cooled cake with the apricot jam. Divide the remainder of the almond paste in half; roll out a circle to cover the top of the cake with one half and form 11 small balls with the other half.
Place the circle of paste on the jam glaze and set the balls round the edge. Brush the cake topping with a little beaten egg.
Preheat the grill to high. Place the cake onto a baking tray and grill for 1-2 minutes, or until the top of the marzipan begins to brown.
Anyone who says that the English don't like spicy food, have not tried Colman's mustard. This is not any bog standard mustard that you or I have ever tried. It is very hot and used sparingly. I can only have it in small doses because it really has a kick!
You can buy this at any grocery store.
Try it out!
Full English with Black Pudding
There are several variations of this breakfast but generally it comes with bacon (cooked the English way), sausages, fried eggs, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, toast, baked beans and black pudding.
Black pudding is cooked blood and I think it is spicy like Haggis. It is very good and worth a try.
Hard Boiled Sweets
You know that the British are in love with their sweets, you can see this buy the aisles dedicated to them in the grocery stores.
One of the favourites are known as hard boiled sweets. They are hard candies and come in a wide range of flavours such as rhubarb and custard (my favourite) and dandelion and burdock. They even have some that you can have when you have a cold that will unplug your nose!
If you want to try some hard boiled sweets, here are a few places that you will be able to find them: Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe (across the street from the Round Church) 17 St John's Street Cambridge CB2 1TW
A1 Confectioners 9 The Rookery Newmarket CB8 8EQ
There is also a stall in the market in Cambridge.
You will often hear a British person say they are feeling ill and need a hot toddy.
A Hot Toddy is a drink made up of whisky, hot water, honey, lemon and tea. The idea is that whatever is making you sick will be killed by the alcohol. They say ‘vitamin for health, honey to soothe and alcohol to numb’
This mark is given to individuals or companies who have supplies goods or services to the HM the Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh (Prince Philip- Queen's husband) or HRH The Prince of Wales for at least five years.
If it is good enough for the Queen, then it's good enough for me.
Kendal Mint Cake
Kendal Mint Cake comes from the Lake District and is used by Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay to become the first people to the top of Mount Everest in 1953. It is made out of sugar, glucose and water. It gives a quick boost of energy because of the sugars.
If you are in the area and climbing the hills, make sure to have this in your backpack.
These are chocolate eggs that have toys in them. Oddly they are not allowed in the US! Its because the toy inside the chocolate is deemed a choking hazard.
I wouldn't risk it because others have tried and have been fined $300. Here is an story about it.
So get your fill while you are here!
Marmite is made from brewers yeast when beer is made. The famous line is 'Love it or Hate It' is part of the advertising slogan as there is a clear divide between those that like marmite and those that hate it.
It is generally eaten on bread, toast, crackers and biscuits usually with a thinly spread layer of butter. Because it has a savoury taste, it works well with cheese.
Marmite is very nutritious. It has a lot of folic acid as well as other vitamins. It is gluten free and suitable for vegetarians and vegans. It does not contain any of the major food allergens but does contain celery extract for those who are allergic to celery.
I tried Marmite for the first time specifically for this blog and my verdict is- I love it!
Why don't you give it a go and find out if you 'love it or hate it'.
Mince pies are another Christmas tradition. They are made of sweet pastry and filled with mince meat (apple preserve, dried fruits, spices and shortening). Even though they aren’t filled with meat, they are not suitable for vegetarians as suet is made from fat from beef or mutton. However, you can make your own mince pies with vegetarian suet (found in any grocery store in the baking aisle).
Here is a link for you to make your own mince pies.
If you don’t have time to make your own, don’t worry, you will be able to buy these at the local grocery store during the Christmas season.
Pass the Port
Passing the Port is a tradition that believed to come from the British Navy.
The decanter is placed in front of the host who serves the guest on their right.
Then they put the decanter in front of the guest on their left (you never serve yourself).
This continues until the makes it way back to the host.
If it doesn’t make its way back to the host, it is impolite to ask for it directly. Instead the host asks the individual nearest the decanter if they know the bishop of Norwich or another village in England.
The person should not answer the question but should immediately pass the port.
If they answer the question with a “No”, they are told that “the bishop is an awfully good fellow, but he never passes the port!" which will hopefully bring to his attention that he is hogging the decanter.
When the Port is decanted at a table, it should be finished in one sitting.
Taken by Nina Cornado
This weekend at a BBQ, I was reminded of a great drink the British have in the summer, Pimms.
3 parts chilled Lemonade (not the American kind, the one that looks like Sprite)
Fruit like orange, cucumber, and strawberries
This is often served as the welcoming drink at summer weddings.
While driving around here, I am sure you will see a few signs (mainly at pubs) about Sunday Lunch. This might be also called Sunday tea, Sunday dinner, or Sunday roast. It is a meal that is served around lunchtime but might be the main meal for many families in England.
It usually consists of a roast meat (beef, chicken, pork), boiled or roasted vegetables, gravy or drippings, accompaniments (Yorkshire pudding- beef, crackling and sage/onion stuffing- pork, mint sauce- lamb, pigs in a blanket sausages- chicken).
It might remind you of Christmas dinner. So get the family together to have Sunday Lunch.
Why are the eggs in England brown? and other differences in our foods....
The eggs here in England are brown because of the breed of chickens they use here. I once heard a rumour that the eggs in the United States were bleached so that people would buy them. It was quite plausible when I read about the reason why Cheddar Cheese is orange.
If you go to a grocery store in England and look at the cheddar cheese, you will find it is not the same as the Kraft cheese we have come to know and love. The reasoning behind the difference based on my research is that the cheddar cheese in the States is dyed. Here is the logic: Cows eat grass and grass produces beta carotene and that ends up in the cheese and causes it to be orange. Later in the year, the cows eat less grass and therefore the colour of the cheese becomes a lighter colour. So cheese producers would dye the cheese so consumers could not determine when the cheese was made. That has now become the standard in the States now.