Tea, a Potted History.

 

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A nice big mug of tea is one of the most popular beverages to accompany a fryup, often included in the price if you dine in a greasy enough spoon. Much is written about the history of tea and its importance in the development of world trade and social history. Almost all tea historians view the story of this wonderful substance positively through rose-tinted spectacles and ignore the dreadful impact its trade has had on the health and welfare of millions of ordinary people over the centuries.

Yesterday was the 358th Anniversary of the arrival tea in the UK, there was even a google doodle about it, but before you pop the kettle on and make a delicious brew, please consider the following brief points –

  • Originally grown in China, in the 1500s it’s brought to Europe and Britain goes absolutely mental for it, heavily investing in a naval empire to help import it safely.
  • Britain buys all the tea in China (this is where that expression comes from) using almost all of its silver bullion reserves in the process, virtually bankrupting the country and forcing millions of ordinary British citizens into poverty and early graves.
  • To reduce the debt and the balance of trade deficit, Britain introduces the Chinese public to opium through intermediaries (these days we’d just call them drug dealers). China isn’t particularly happy about this situation and the ensuing conflict saw the start of the Opium Wars where 69 british soldiers and 18,000 Chinese troops were killed in the first one alone and many millions of Chinese citizens still remain hooked on opium, completely destabilising their once strong economy.
  • Meanwhile Britain forces India and other colonies to start growing tea to completely cut China out of the equation, the British East India Tea Company commandeers vast swathes of land in India to accommodate tea plantations, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and forcing local people to work on the plantations in conditions close to or often worse than slavery.
  • The popularity of tea drives up the need for a substantial and regular supply of sugar, production and trade in this commodity is inextricably linked with the slave trade from Africa, displacing and enslaving millions of people as sugar plantations spring up around the British colonies in the Americas.
  • China is on its knees, a ruined economy, millions of citizens addicted to opium, their monopoly on the production of tea gone. Africa has millions of its citizens in slavery around the world and the impacts of the slavery trade still resonate today. India takes over a century to fully recover from colonial rule and the impact tea had on the transformation of rural economies. The Americas are laughing, making huge profits from the slave trade and plantations. Britain does quite well out of it, they got all the tea they would ever need and make a fortune out of the trade, but at what cost?

I won’t stop drinking tea, or using sugar, or wearing cotton (or trying opium at least once in my life if I ever get a chance) but I will always spare a thought to the millions of people who have suffered and died over the centuries to bring me my cuppa.

I think I need to put the kettle on after that rant!

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On a lighter note, my research has led to me joining an absolutely delightful facebook group called “Rate My Tea” full of quite wonderful people with a true passion about the nation’s favourite beverage. Please check it out and say hello if you see me in there, if I haven’t already been banned for heresy!

 

Hash Browns – An Exposé

I’ll just start by saying that a portion of hash browns, as they are now commonly made or bought, on a Full English Breakfast isn’t really my top preference in the morning. On a huge evening fryup I feel that they have some merit, but I also feel that there are more and better options for presenting the humble fried spud and that we might actually have been doing it all wrong for a long time.

The Hash Brown is an American import which has firmly established itself as a favourite on Britain’s greasy fryups. They were originally called “hashed brown potatoes” (or “hashed browned potatoes”), of which the first known mention is by food author Maria Parloa wrote about in 1888,

Or so Wikipedia would have us believe. But we’ll come to that in a bit…

In the UK, sadly the most popular choice is frozen blocks of processed potato deep fried. Cheap, nasty and absorb almost their own weight in the fat they’re fried in. Some caffs don’t change their fat very often and fry lots of different things in the same fryer. Just ponder on that one for a moment.

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The other option is to make your own, there are lots of variants but probably the most popular is a Swiss rosti-style affair using shredded raw potato with the moisture squozen out and sometimes customised with exotic  flavours then fried in a pattie shape like a burger.

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But…..

What if we’ve been doing it wrong? What if Hash Browns weren’t an American import, what if the origin of proper bona fide bull-goose Hash Browns went back centuries and were almost the opposite of sh!t frozen hash or solid rosti wannabees.

Please take a minute to look at this brilliant article by the Old Foodie, I agree with almost everything the author says here.

I’ve almost always conformed to the idea that a hash has to be a regular solid shape, usually a patty. It seems now that cooked loose is the proper way. I have hardly ever used raw spuds in my home-made Hash Browns. Potatoes are blanched or boiled, sometimes leftover surplus spuds or roasties from the previous night, which is bang on with the traditional recipes. The Old Foodie’s article has got me wanting to try a few of the recipes on there and bend them a little maybe. Of course if you fully subscribe to the idea that proper Hash Browns are actually a loose fried up collection of potato-rich leftovers then in theory, (dons tinfoil hat) Hash Browns are actually merely an inferior version of the mighty Bubble & Squeak. 

Mind=blown

Now I’m not saying that loose cooked fried spuds are better because they are ‘traditional’, positive change should be encouraged, we can’t live in the past forever but the past often has a few secrets which we can learn from and I think this is one of them.

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Hash Browns as described in the article are better because they are better. Ironically though, all of the top 3 Hash Browns I have experienced in a loose rather than solid style had North American origins. Moose Cafe in Liverpool city centre, a Canadian stylee place that didn’t do a fryup but did a mean mustardy soft and crispy concoction, a mad Bostonian relative who used to live off them but had straightforward diced and seasoned par-cooked spuds, fried on a cast iron skillet with onions down to a tee. The best though were when I was but a young Dr Fryling and drove out to Snoqualmie in Washington State to hang around all the Twin Peaks Locations. Yes, I was that sad. As well as having damn fine cherry pie and coffee in the diner that was used by David Lynch in the series (as it turns out just from the outside, the inside was built in a studio to mimic Mar-T’s) I had some breakfast and with it the most marvelous delicious soft spuds hard fried in bacon grease, and described as “home-fries”.

So there it is, out in the open, you’ve been doing it completely wrong for ages. I for one welcome our new soft spud loose-fried overlords and will most likely be banging them on my next fry to try them out.

 

 

 

Class War

I had quite a busy day away from my practice today and came home to find that there had been an almighty disagreement between some organisations who purport to exist to drive up standards in food. The conflict started with a public statement by the head of one of the big-hitters in the British Fryosphere who, to put it in a nutshell, called all fryups “shit” and cheap and went on to question the competence, literacy and intelligence of anyone who disagreed with this conjecture; then went on to dogmatically state the only true representation of an English Breakfast should hark back to some pre-Victorian time when breakfasts enjoyed by the elite are the way to go and that promoting excellence and some control and restraint in preserving the integrity of fryups was a lost cause and one which shouldn’t be promoted in the national press.

I think there was a justifiable reaction by groups and individuals to whom this was aimed I would have been surprised if there wasn’t and I am sure that this was exactly the reaction which was begged by the author of the original statement. From what I caught between dispatches the whole thing became quite volatile. Which again I feel was part of the purpose of the original statement.

My own take on this, for what it is worth is this. Those with a common aim to raise the standards of the food which this nation consumes should be applauded for their efforts. Those who choose to try to promote their own agenda through manipulating undignified conflict are being counter-productive and are complicit in increasing the divide between those who have and have not.

No matter how well you prepare one, a fryup is something which can be enjoyed by prince and pauper. Yes there is a long history of those who are better-off enjoying some amazing meaty combinations of the best which their country estates have to offer them for breakfast, yes this is part of our heritage and should and must be recorded for posterity, but this is 2016. A time of bleak austerity for the majority of the 60+ million people who inhabit our isles and for whom, very often, a fryup is a real and rare treat for a struggling family.

I’ve never eaten a mixed-grill which has met my expectations (for this is all that an ultra-‘traditional’ Anglo-Saxon/Victoriana breakfast is) but I have eaten and seen many fryups which have provided more than affordable joy.

I must therefore kindly thank the Society for admitting me as a Fellow but not very regretfully withdraw from their fold with immediate effect. I would also remind any f*cker who tries to pass off my work as theirs that I know, or can very easily find out where you live and that I do not tolerate fools easily x.

I called this post “Class War” because I feel that this is at the heart of the disagreement. More and better for the few who can, trying to ride roughshod over the many who struggle on a daily basis to exist. It’s 2016. Those who deferred to the ‘upper’ classes are literally a dying breed and the daily revelations of the dark and dirty personal financial affairs of those trusted to a position of authority are gradually helping to reduce the dreadful syndrome of embourgeoisement which has haunted us since the mid-1970s.

Please don’t ever feel that your fryup isn’t worthy compared to something with marrowbone, kidneys, a pig’s head or whatever, be proud of your right to fry and your right to be proud of your own achievements.

If you’ve actually read this far then I think you really deserve something for your efforts so here’s a picture of something.

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This one’s by Aaron Gartside, his fries rock.