As a teenager, I read too much Jane Austen and became a raging Anglophile. Anything British was all right by me, including British food. I wanted to go round to a pub and order Bangers and Nash, pop down to the high street for Bubble and Squeak, look in at the market for Shepherd’s Pie. Mostly, I had no idea what these foods consisted of or tasted like. But they were English: that was enough.
In my Italian-American house in the New Jersey suburbs, this resulted in nothing but rolled eyes, and I was able to venture no further than orange marmalade slathered on Thomas’ English Muffins. A decade later, on a two-week trip to England with my new husband, I indulged my fantasies.
“Oh my god, it’s an ugly fish with the head still on it!” I screeched when the B&B proprietor brought my morning kippers.
Frank was tucking in to scrambled eggs and bacon, snickering.
At a tearoom in a restored castle, I scraped clotted cream off a scone after nearly spitting out the first dollop. “Feels like glue,” I explained.
Frank chuckled, sipped his coffee, bit into a cheese pastry.
It went on like this as I gamely sampled Toad in the Hole, Spotted Dick (don’t ask; okay, it’s an alleged dessert made of dried fruit and drywall pastry), and steak and kidney pie – all brown, dry, and ugly. Frank ate broiled chops, grilled steak, and charred burgers and shook his head.
“Maybe I’m just ordering the wrong things,” I reasoned.
Then I slunk home to New Jersey and began cooking seriously – mostly Italian and French. But I was still hooked on British books and films, and held onto some vague idea that I just hadn’t tried hard enough to appreciate English food. Meanwhile, I became a mother and we began hosting the family holiday meals. I went searching for dishes I could claim as my own, much as my extended family already revered “Aunt Mary’s Meatballs,” “Noni’s Fried Dough,” and “Mom’s Potato Patties.”
Then came The Trifle – capital T – The, capital T – Trifle. We don’t say The Apple Pie or The Egg Nog, but Brits do say The Trifle. There’s a reason.