St. George’s Day



Here’s one of those funny English traditions that make me go… hmm. I suspect it makes a lot of English people go hmm as well.

St George’s Day is the English (note that use of “English”–that would be not Welsh, not Scottish, not Northern Irish, and thus not British) celebration of its patron saint which, for a not very religious nation, is just, well, odd. Celebrated on the 23rd of April, it’s not a national holiday and it seems to me not many people know, or perhaps care, about the day. Let’s just say patriotism is not something the English do very well–and I can say that as an American, can’t I? When it comes to patriotic fervor, America wins the prize every time. England–definitely not.

St George’s Day dates back to the year 1222. (Slightly older than 1776 then.) The George of legend is a crusading knight who saved the Libyan town of Silene from a terrible dragon. Most importantly, he saved the king’s daughter from being sacrificed to the dragon. As he was a Christian knight on a holy Crusade, the people of the town abandoned their pagan beliefs and embraced Christianity in part to thank him. George was born in Turkey, moved to Palestine, became a Roman soldier and somewhere along the line became a Christian. He protested the pagan Roman Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians, which eventually led to his being beheaded–and he never visited England.

Tales of his bravery eventually made their way to England, where George was adopted as patron saint and somehow became known as a special protector of the English. He is also patron saint of Scouting, which is what led me to spend a chilly Sunday afternoon in town watching my Cub Scout son march in a parade for St. George’s Day.

If you’re confused, fear not. Me too. We arrived at the designated meeting place prior to the parade on Sunday to the sound of bagpipes . . . as my husband remarked, “That’s the sound of ethnic confusion,” bagpipes being a Scottish instrument and all. Whereas in America there would be flag waving and cheering and possibly popcorn, in England, it’s polite waving, a bit of saluting the  mayor, and much puzzled head scratching as to quite what the whole point is. There are no picnics, no fireworks, no hamburgers on the grill (err, barbeque–I must remember to call it a barbeque here). In a country based on tradition, it’s a very confused, mostly overlooked, day.

But that’s what makes the English so . . . what they are. The English. Not giving a toss since 1222.

Gypsy Tart

P1050012This recipe is brand new to me–I made it, and ate it, for the very first time last week. It may be new to many of my British readers as well, as gypsy tart is a recipe specific to the County of Kent, where I live, and most Brits (so I’m told) who live outside the county won’t have heard of it.

Before I get into the story behind gypsy tart, let me just say this: if you are at all worried about your intake of sugar, calories, fat or carbohydrates, this would be the appropriate time for you to find a website dedicated to healthy food. This is not the recipe for you.

With that disclaimer aside, let me tell you all I know about gypsy tart–which, admittedly, isn’t much. The story goes that at the beginning of the 20th century, or perhaps during World War II, a lady on the Isle of Sheppey, a small island off the northern coast of Kent, saw either some gypsy children or some children who’d been evacuated from London, playing outside. The children looked malnourished, and this dear woman wanted to find a way to feed them cheaply and fatten them up a bit. She looked around her kitchen and found she had the necessary flour, sugar and butter to make a pie crust, as well as a can of evaporated milk and some dark brown sugar, and the gypsy tart was born. Eventually, the tart became a staple dessert in the institutional school kitchens of Kent, to either the delight or dismay of pupils.

It’s simple to make, needs very few ingredients, and has a lovely coffee/toffee/caramel-y flavor to it. And you don’t need–or want–to eat a big piece. A little goes a long way.

My first attempt at gypsy tart didn’t look particularly photogenic but tasted just fine–I’ll be making this again. Let me know if you’ll be giving this a try too.

Gypsy Tart
Serves 6

For the base:
175 grams/6 ounces unsalted butter
240 grams/8.5 ounces plain flour
30 ml/4 Tablespoons cold water

For the filling:
1 400 gram/14 ounce tin evaporated milk
350 grams/12 ounces dark muscovado sugar/dark brown sugar

1. Rub the butter into the flour until crumbly. Add the water and fold in very lightly until the pastry is only just beginning to form and bind. Press the pastry between two sheets of cling film (plastic wrap). The pastry will have a marbled look; this indicates how “short” the pastry is going to be.

2. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. Roll out the pastry and use to line a 25cm/10 inch flan ring or pie plate. (I used a 9-inch pie plate and it was just a bit too small to hold all the filling and I had to pour some away.) Line with greaseproof paper and baking beans and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until cooked. Leave to cool.

3. Whisk the evaporated milk and sugar together for 10 minutes until light and fluffy. The mix should be coffee colored (a pale, milky coffee). Pour the mix into the pastry case and bake in the oven for 10 minutes until set. The tart should now be left to cool and served cold.

Serve with cream, if you like, and enjoy!

Tasty Tuesdays on

Shepherd’s Pie

P1040968Hello there! Has everyone being enjoying some glorious spring weather? We’ve had a few lovely days over the past two weeks of the Easter break, and I’ve been enjoying a bit of “down time,” although that mainly consists of running children here, there, and everywhere. And down time in the driver’s seat of my car doesn’t particularly count! But nevermind, as a true Brit would say.

So, it’s Tasty Tuesday again, and this week I’ve got a lovely, if not entirely traditional, shepherd’s pie recipe for you. A traditional shepherd’s pie uses ground lamb or beef, but I use ground turkey. (I must give full credit for this recipe to my friend Mandy, British born but resident Canadian for many years.)  This recipe adds mashed cauliflower to the mashed potato topping, thereby sneaking an extra vegetable into my very picky eater–he’s none the wiser and it’s the only way I can get cauliflower down him. It takes some time to make this dish, what with the chopping and stirring of various pots and pans, but it makes enough for my family of 4 for 2+ meals (whether they like it or not!).

Turkey Shepherd’s PIe

3 cups peeled and diced potatoes
3 cups diced cauliflower
2-3 Tablespoons horse radish (optional)
1 clove garlic, mashed
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon butter
smoked paprika to taste

1. Cook potatoes and cauliflower until soft, then mash with the remaining ingredients. Set aside.

Turkey Base:

2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 lbs ground turkey breast
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped carrots
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic
2-3 cups corn (I don’t have a strict measurement for this; I simply put in whatever I judge to be “enough”)
4 cups chicken broth
1 Tablespoon butter
2-3 Tablespoons flour
2-3 Tablespoons grainy mustard (I tend not to use this–doesn’t go over well with the kids)
2-3 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste

1. Brown turkey in 1 Tablespoon olive oil, then add all the vegetables except the corn. Add 1 more Tablespoon olive oil and cook about 7 minutes, until veggies start to soften. Add one cup of broth and simmer.

2. In a saucepan, melt 1 Tablespoon butter and add the flour to make a roux. Then add 3 cups of the broth, the Worcestershire sauce and mustard, if using. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and stir until thickened.

3. Pour the sauce into the turkey-vegetable mixture and stir. Add salt and pepper to taste. Put in the bottom of a large casserole dish (I use 8″x10″) and spread the potato mixture on top. Sprinkle with smoked paprika and top with grated cheddar cheese, if desired.

4. Bake in the oven at 350°F for 30 minutes.

Tasty Tuesdays on

Springtime Walk

The weather for the past two days has been unbelievably beautiful–65 to 70°F, sunny, daffodils and flowering trees in bloom everywhere. The perfect weather for England to show itself off to its full glory, and we have enjoyed it. It looks like we’re in for a spell of glorious weather, and I thought I’d share photos for any reader still suffering through the cold.

20150410_145026 20150410_145941 20150410_150036 20150409_092145

Hot Cross Buns

P1040966As it’s the week before Easter, now’s the perfect time to introduce Hot Cross Buns into my #TastyTuesday posts. The origin of the buns is a bit murky; officially, they date back  to around 1733, though theories abound that they were being eaten as far back as pagan times. Some theories say a monk created them in the 12th century, others a 14th-century monk. Others claim there is a depiction of hot cross buns on a Roman coin. Some folks used to think they brought good luck and even went so far as to nail them on a wall in the house as a lucky charm.

Whatever their origin, they have been adopted into popular culture as a year-round tasty treat and now come in flavors such as Belgian chocolate, orange and cranberry, date and cranberry, apple and cinnamon, and even toffee. The Church of England has adopted a story around the symbolism of the bun, which may or may not be true, but it sounds good.

The bun, according to the CofE, represents the communion service, while the spices represent the spices used to wrap Jesus in the shroud before he was placed in the tomb. Then, there’s the rather obvious symbol of a cross marked into the top of the bun before baking (or sometimes marked out with icing, depending on the baker).

So, while we can’t claim to know the definitive story of the hot cross bun, they are at least a fairly simple treat to bake and, most definitely to eat. Enjoy!

Hot Cross Buns
Makes 10-12

1/2 cup/4 fl oz/.25 pint milk
1/2 ounce active yeast (2 envelopes)
1 teaspoon sugar
2.25 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1 ounce softened butter
1 egg
1-2 Tablespoons additional milk
1/2 cup currants (currants are simply small dried red seedless grapes; if you can’t find these, substitute raisins)

2 Tablespoons milk
2 Tablespoons sugar

1. Warm the 1/2 cup milk gently until lukewarm and mix it with the yeast and sugar.

2. Place the flour in a large bowl and add the salt, brown sugar and spices. Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture, softened butter, egg and 1-2 Tablespoons milk so that it makes a firm dough. Add the currants. Knead the mixture until the dough takes on a rubbery texture.

3. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover and let it rise for about 2 hours in a warm spot, until the dough has doubled in size.

4. Punch the dough down and shape into buns. Put the buns on a greased baking tray and allow to rise until doubled, about 1/2 hour. Make a cross in each bun with a knife.

5. Bake at 400°F/200°C  for 15 to 20 minutes.

6. Gently boil the milk and sugar in a small saucepan until the mixture bubbles and forms a glaze. Brush the buns with two coatings of the glaze while they are still warm.

Tasty Tuesdays on