Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.
Many Celebrate the Holidays With a Prime Rib Dinner
The festive days between Christmas and New Years are filled with customs, and foods are central to much of the celebration. For many, a dinner of prime rib is one such tradition. Prime rib is one of the hallmarks of fine dining, and most people enjoy it with the customary accouterments of au jus, horseradish, and that strange bread-stuff called Yorkshire pudding.
What Is Yorkshire Pudding and Where Did It Come From?
Yorkshire pudding is not really a pudding at all, at least if you consider pudding to be a dessert. This concoction of flour, eggs, and milk, baked in the drippings of a roast, was the invention of frugal cooks. Rather than allow those flavorful melted meat fats to plunge into the fire, they were absorbed by a pan of batter placed below.
The first recorded recipe for “dripping pudding” appeared in the book “The Whole Duty of a Woman.” This politically incorrect publication devoted its first 176 pages to "rules, direction, and observations (to the fair sex)…for their conduct and behavior” and covered such topics as modesty, vanity, pride, and “a wife’s behavior to a drunkard.” However, it’s apparent that tending to the feeding of the drunkard was of greater importance since the remaining pages (177 to 646) contain detailed recipes. On page 468 we find:
Make a good batter as for pancakes, put it in a hot toss-pan over the fire with a bit of butter to fry the bottom a little, then put the pan and batter under a shoulder of mutton instead of a dripping pan, keeping frequently shaking it by the handle and it will be light and savory. When your mutton is enough, then turn it in a dish and serve it hot.
Was It Celebration or Sorrow?
Peter Brears, formerly director of York's Castle Museum and for 15 years director of Leeds City Museums, has conducted extensive research on the foods and traditions of British households. He is regarded as one of Britain’s leading food historians and has authored numerous books including “The Gentlewoman's Kitchen”, “Traditional Food in Yorkshire”, “The Complete Housekeeper” and “The Book of Carving”. The Telegraph (an online publication of the U.K.) interviewed Brears and provides this insight:
It could only have been invented, he points out, in a community rich in "both coal and meat". Brears figures that the first ones to cook it must have been the wives of the coal miners of West Riding. The miners were given free coal as a perk of the job and always had large roasts on the table.
If Brears is right, there's a sadness behind Yorkshire pudding. Compared with other local workers, such as weavers or farmers, the miners of Yorkshire were famous for squandering their wages on expensive meals. It was typical for miners to serve "three joints of different sorts of meat on the table at one meal". Plus Yorkshire pudding! The reason these miners spent their money so freely was because their work was dangerous and their life expectancy short. By the time they were in their forties, if they were still alive, most of theYorkshire miners had arthritis and rheumatism, plus silicosis from the dust, and were bent double like old men.
In this context, Yorkshire pudding takes on an "eat, drink and be merry" quality. For tomorrow, we die.
— Peter Brears
But Then Out of the Coal Mines
Yorkshire pudding is no longer the food of those hoping to fill stomachs with something other than meat, or dining to excess because the end is near. We now enjoy it as part of an annual celebration. And, guess what? You really don't need to have a prime rib (or mutton) to pull this off.
Of course, everyone proclaims to have the "best" recipe. Let's look at a few of the ideas on the internet, and then I'll let the jury (that's you) decide.
1. Tyler Florence's Yorkshire Pudding
Tyler Florence (Food Network) prepared this pudding on his show "How to Boil Water". Yes, it is just about that easy. You can follow that same link to learn how Tyler prepares prime rib and a yummy side dish of scalloped potatoes.
2. Foolproof Puddings
The website TheFreshLoaf is a gathering place for baking enthusiasts. That's where I found this recipe for individual foolproof (according to the author) Yorkshire puddings. The directions couldn't be more clear and, as you can see from the photo, they rise tall and proud.
No discussion of yorkies is complete without including a recipe for toad-in-the-hole. For the uninitiated, it's traditional pudding batter baked with sausages. Just as a vegetable or salad and you have a complete meal. Please, don't ask me where that crazy name came from.
4. The Food Lab's Ultimate Yorkshire Pudding
Perhaps I should have posted this recipe first; with these directions from Kenji, you really don't need to look anywhere else. Here he provides the ultimate set of step-by-step set of instructions and provides the science behind achieving the ultimate towering pudding.
© 2017 Linda Lum