2 Luxury Teacakes and other English noms

November 26, 2012 • 9:51 pm

As I’m leaving very early today (i.e., the 6 a.m. train from Glasgow to Edinburgh, and then a ride to the airport), I decided to purchase some noms to consume along the way. In the Queens Street railway station in Glasgow, I found these comestibles in the Marks and Spencer shop where people buy food for the journey. These “2 Luxury Teacakes” cost me all of £1.05.

The label notes that “we enrich our moist teacakes with juicy sultanas, currants, & tangy citrus peel to give then a sweet indulgent fruitiness.”

Pondering the incipient noms, it struck me that almost no foods in the U.S. are labelled “luxury.”  We don’t, for example, have “luxury cookies” or “luxury candies,” yet in Britain many foods have that label. I have seen, for example, luxury biscuits” (cookies), “luxury chocolates,” “luxury Christmas puddings,” “luxury jams,” and so on. There are even “luxury cheese and port hampers.

The word “luxury” is ubiquitous in the UK, but not in the U.S. Why the difference? I don’t think it’s simply a matter of linguistic differences. Rather, I propose that it’s a vestigial remnant of the British class system, which once distinguished classes of people by their dress, their accents, and their manners. Those were the days of British “ladies” and “gentlemen”, of “toffs” and “swells.”

If you want to see what it was once like, read George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London or The Road to Wigan Pier. Orwell, of course, was slumming when he experienced the lower-class side of British life, but the class distinctions he portrays so clearly were real—and invidious.

My theory, then, which is mine, is that “luxury” is a holdover from those old days when the “lower classes” could pretend for a time that they were toffs— by buying fancy chocolates or other foods (usually “luxury” chocolates aren’t so fancy, though!), or having a holiday by the seaside. If you couldn’t go into a club, or had the wrong accent, you could still engage in a fancied form of upper-classness.

That at least, is my theory, which may well be wrong.

I do note that McVities, which makes the best biscuit in the world, the Dark Chocolate Digestive, also makes a Luxury Victoria Biscuit.  Forget those, and indulge in the ones shown below, which I always do when visiting the UK (see many reviews here and here):

This is the world’s greatest biscuit.

And, of course, an ad:

The British make the finest “biscuits” in the world; I’ve written about them previously, and you can peruse the selection at The Great British Diet or at the apotheosis of biscuit websites, A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down.

I wrote about some of my favorite British biscuits nearly two years ago, and they remain the same. And, by the way, Orwell also wrote one of the best essays ever on British food, “In defense of English cooking.” Go read it: it’s free, it’s short, and it’s still true. An excerpt:

It is commonly said, even by the English themselves, that English cooking is the worst in the world. It is supposed to be not merely incompetent, but also imitative, and I even read quite recently, in a book by a French writer, the remark: ‘The best English cooking is, of course, simply French cooking.’

Now that is simply not true, as anyone who has lived long abroad will know, there is a whole host of delicacies which it is quite impossible to obtain outside the English-speaking countries. No doubt the list could be added to, but here are some of the things that I myself have sought for in foreign countries and failed to find.

First of all, kippers, Yorkshire pudding, Devonshire cream, muffins and crumpets. Then a list of puddings that would be interminable if I gave it in full: I will pick out for special mention Christmas pudding, treacle tart and apple dumplings. Then an almost equally long list of cakes: for instance, dark plum cake (such as you used to get at Buzzard’s before the war), short-bread and saffron buns. Also innumerable kinds of biscuit, which exist, of course, elsewhere, but are generally admitted to be better and crisper in England.

Then there are the various ways of cooking potatoes that are peculiar to our own country. Where else do you see potatoes roasted under the joint, which is far and away the best way of cooking them? Or the delicious potato cakes that you get in the north of England? And it is far better to cook new potatoes in the English way — that is, boiled with mint and then served with a little melted butter or margarine — than to fry them as is done in most countries.

Then there are the various sauces peculiar to England. For instance, bread sauce, horse-radish sauce, mint sauce and apple sauce; not to mention redcurrant jelly, which is excellent with mutton as well as with hare, and various kinds of sweet pickle, which we seem to have in greater profusion than most countries.

Crumpets! Treacle pudding! Lamb with mint jelly! Cheese and Branston pickle sandwiches! Bring ’em on!

I’m curious which foods my expat British readers (or those who have visited the UK) miss the most.

135 thoughts on “2 Luxury Teacakes and other English noms

  1. I’m curious which foods my expat British readers (or those who have visited the UK) miss the most.

    British-style Mars bars, Aero, Cadbury’s Flake (most of the TV ads for which were NSFW), M&S prawn salad sandwiches, black pudding, Ambrosia rice pudding, Penguins, Wagon Wheels, Jammy Dodgers, Curly Wurlies.

        1. I assume a “M” painter paints “M”s on M&Ms, sorta like Smarties. I see that s/he no longer work here, perhaps because s/he painted too many “W”s… 🙂

      1. Sorry, but I worked in Slough, for Honeywell (some distance form the Mars factory), for a few years and, on a hot day, the sickly smell seeping from the works seems to have put me off Mars Bars for ever.

        worse, still, was driving past on such days. The sweet, sugary, chocolate-ish odour seemed to stick to one’s clothes. Yuk. 🙂

        1. If you want a real experience, be on the floor when the peanut oil machine goes nuts. I haven’t had to comb my hair in 30 years.

          1. I too used to work at the Mars factory in Slough. I unloaded the peanuts in goods-in. They would occasionally spill on the floor and get flattened by the fork lifts making traversing the floor there somewhat interesting.

    1. Marmite, crumpets, wholemeal bread (unsliced and from a bakery, not a supermarket), PG Tips, HP Sauce (made in Holland, these days, but nigh-on impossible to get on mainland Europe other than from the ex-pat shops, Taylor’s English Mustard, Frank Cooper’s Marmalade, Digestive Biscuits, Piccalilli, kippers, mature Cheddar (most English & Welsh cheeses, for that matter)… the list goes on.

      1. OK, the bread here in the UK is much better than in most countries, including the US. (There are of course other European countries with excellent bread.)

        The British cheeses are excellent. People go on and on about the French cheeses, but meh — the British ones are better.

        Yes, this is cheese sacrilege, but I don’t care.

        1. Like many other things, good bread can be readily found in most places in the US. Like many things, it remains a specialty item and costs more; but it stands out clearly above a sea rubbich the passes for bread, cheese, beer, etc. in the US. We ARE getting better.

          1. That would be new, for sure. WhenI bought my last cheese guide to the world, France took up 40% of the book by page count.

            I’m extremely fond of French cheeses and eat a lot of them. Good ones are easier to find (and in more variety) in the US than UK cheeses.

        2. We certainly have some great bread in Britain, but I don’t think we can claim that it’s better than in most countries. Visit a good bakery at dawn in Germany, for example, and you’ll be blown away by the variety and quality. Bakeries like that are sadly hard to find these days in much of the UK.

          Italy and France have a much better attitude toward bread than we do too: bread is something to be bought fresh every day, not something we expect to last for a week.

        3. I’m not sure that UK bread, generally, is better than most. I rather like German and especially Austrian bread, but it doesn’t make good toast and takes ages to go crisp and brown. Give me a good UK wholemeal for toast any day.

          However, bread on the continent also seems far more expensive. I divide my time between Oxford and Vienna. There is a Lidl in Oxford, where one can buy e.g. 4 pumpkin seed rolls, fresh from the oven for £1. From a Lidl in Vienna, the same would cost around €5.

    2. Isn’t the UK Mars Bar exactly the same as the US Milky Way?

      They are a good snack on long walks, although Snickers (formerly ‘Marathon’ in the UK) is better IMO.

      I also love the UK digestive biscuits and would miss them if I lived elsewhere.

      Re regular food: the British roast dinner (beef, pork or chicken), with plenty of roast potatoes and vegetables, is a nice treat. One seldom finds it elsewhere.

      1. Isn’t the UK Mars Bar exactly the same as the US Milky Way?

        I wish! The US Milky Way is a pale anemic pretender compared to the UK Mars bar. Everything about the Mars is thicker: the outer chocolate, the caramel layer, even the fudge. It’s possible (or at least it was in my youth) to bite off the top chocolate layer, revealing just the caramel underneath. Try doing that with a so-called “Milky Way”!

    3. I saw a Wagon Wheel on a recent trip back and thought “I haven’t had one of those in 40 years” so I bought one and realized why. It was ‘orrible.

    4. A hot (English) bacon and sharp cheese sandwich on a fresh roll from a hole in the wall tea shop on the walk from the Royal Lancaster Hotel to Paddington Station… and the tea with real milk was great as well…

  2. I’m not convinced by your theory Jerry, though I’m not unconvinced either…

    I’m a Brit & I think what’s going on with “Luxury” in food descriptions is it’s merely a synonym of “Gourmet”, but without the pretensions of the latter term, but also it’s applicable outside of just food. All the British supermarket chains offer their own “economy” versions of the basic household essentials under their own label [muesli, cornflakes, shampoo, baking foil, tomatoes, beans, biscuits, bread, cheese, milk, coffee, tea etc.] & there is no shame attached to appearing at the checkout with these items in your trolley…

    The point is everyone here understands that “Luxury” indicates that you pay a premium for 10% more dried fruit in your muesli or a more complex wholegrain bread.

    That’s all it is. I think…

    1. Yip, I came to the same conclusion when I lived in England. Mince pies or luxury mince pies?? Luxury mine pies defo more boozy and with deeper, richer fill…

    2. Exactly my thought. When I worked in the US, the company cafeteria was full of pretensions such as putting up menus advertising “Gourmet sides”. I said to the kitchen manager “they’re just PEAS!”

  3. Well, there was a time in the US when Luxury was current. Upscale Dodges of the immediate pre-WWII era were “Luxury Liners”, and you knew when you came up behind one at a light because Luxury Liner was embossed into the rear bumper, as in this ’41 Dodge 3-window (“business”) coupe, which was about the best pic I could find. Fords of that era came in Standard and DeLuxe versions.

  4. Cornish Pasties. I haven’t found a decent one anywhere over here. It is literally the first thing I buy when I land in England.

    1. Over where? We have excellent Cornish Pasties in South Australia, because so many Cornishpeople came here. If you’re in the US try the UP of Michigan, or wherever Cousin Jacks and Jennys congregate.

      1. Excellent Cornish pasties on the Iron Range of northern Minnesota in the US as well. Wherever those Cornish ended up …

    2. If you’re in the metro Phoenix area, try the Cornish Pasty Co. on the northeast corner of University and Hardy in Tempe. No clue how authentic they might be, but they’re good.


      1. Hailing from Cornwall myself, I could never live without the Cornish Pasty. Fortunately, my grandmother taught me well in the way of the oggie, and I am more than capable of producing my own wherever I have the ingredients available.

        1. Seems to me that it’s simple fare that requires no great skill in preparation — exactly as one would expect, what with it being peasant / working-class on-the-run portable food.

          I happen to be quite the fan of such simple food, myself.

          It’s also worth noting that basically every culture on Earth has its own variation on the same thing: stuff wrapped in bread. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they all generally do it quite well, even if they take radically different approaches.

          There’s your pasties, there’s English sandwiches, Russian pirogi, Italian calzones, Chinese baos, Middle East pitas, Spanish tacos, Navajo fry bead….



  5. Just yesterday I bought “ever so posh hand cooked sea salt & lemon vinaigrette Herefordshire potato crisps” from M&S. A very large packet, obviously. I do love chocolate digestives, but M&S also sell Les Galettes de la Mere Poulard from Brittany and they are seriously luxurious.

  6. Agreed on the Chocolate Digestives.

    Raspberries with double cream and demerara sugar. (Even better when my aunt and uncle had a small Jersey herd and we had the cream straight from them.)

    Red currant jelly with pork or lamb (my grandmother use to make her own jelly), boiled new potatoes and fresh garden peas (she also grew her own potatoes and peas).

    Proper whole wheat rolls.

    Boiled fruit cake. Ideally home made. Note the flour in the US and the UK is different and cake recipes don’t readily transfer.

    Golden syrup (though I suspect that was very much a childish treat). Same with smarties.

    1. My grandma had a small Jersey herd. I churned the butter and cracked the black walnuts. She made chocolate syrup from cream, honey and bittersweet baker’s chocolate which we swirled into home made ice cream… black walnut chocolate swirl ice cream…

    1. There has always been a class system in the US, as probably existed in every human cultre more complicated than hunter-gatherers or maybe nomadic herders.

      The US revolution was, in many ways, a reaction to all things British. This, for the majority, inclued reaction against hereditary titles, “nobility”, and class system. (I’m just reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin and it touches on this subject.)

      The class system is here, it’s based almost solely on wealth, but it’s more permeable and there are fewer distinctive “field marks” of class (accent, etc.). In other words, it’s easier to buy your way in in the US (I think.) But wealthy people in the US all know exactly what is meant by nouveau riches.

      1. “There has always been a class system in the US, as probably existed in every human cultre more complicated than hunter-gatherers or maybe nomadic herders.”

        That’s what I thought too.

        “The class system is here, it’s based almost solely on wealth, but it’s more permeable and there are fewer distinctive “field marks” of class (accent, etc.). In other words, it’s easier to buy your way in in the US (I think.) ”

        I guess that also agrees with what I little I have seen of the US.

    2. Jack Vance’s fictional mouthpiece in some of his books, Unspiek, Baron Bodissey, in his non-existent multi-volume commentary on everything, “Life”, remarks that two people is the necessary and sufficient condition for a caste system to arise.

  7. I read an English recipe book years ago with a recipe in it for something like “Rich man’s pancakes” which the author said was representative of a sad tendency in England to ascribe the best foods to the rich. This suggests a similar theory to yours about class or money and “luxury”.

    I am afraid that while Australia still makes the “Double Dip Tim Tam” neither the English nor anyone else (but Australia) can claim to make the best biscuit in the world. Although I must admit a chocolate Hob Nob is a damn fine thing it is still second to said DD Tim Tam.

      1. I’ve tried Vegemite. It tasted like a cheap colonial imitation of the real thing. Marmite is genius. A healthy tasty foodstuff created from the sludge of the brewing industry.

        1. I keep both Marmite and Vegemite in the house and eat either according to mood (I find the latter rather milder than the former, and the empty jars more useful for storing the small objects an Englishman so easily accumulates). Last year, Marmite produced a commemorative limited edition for the Queen’s jubilee called “Ma’amite” – though as the word is officially pronounced “Mam” when addressing the Queen, it turned out to be a bit of a faux pas. 🙂 I’ve stored a jar away to see if it increases in value, but I’m not holding my breath. One day I’ll crack and eat it.

          The UK equivalent to Tim Tams are Penguin biscuits, I seem to recall. Tried the tea-straw thing once and lost the biscuit to the tea, resulting in a very chewy cuppa – neither tea, nor yet quite biscuit…

    1. Tim Tams are a thing of beauty. Bite the ends off and use them as a straw to suck up tea – the middle melts and it works! For a short while, and then the whole thing collapses.

  8. Sausages. I lived in the Nordics for two years and every time I flew back to the UK I would fill a freezer bag or two with proper sausages. Neither Europeans nor Americans appear to know how to make them properly…

  9. Christmas mince pies, laced with brandy or cognac. Ditto Christmas puddings, along with brandy butter. TV ads from Marks and Spencer advertising luxury Christmas food (“this is not just Christmas, this is….”)

    1. All too true. “Luxury” is but a marketing ploy.

      Tea cakes, for instance, are supposed to be moist and contain “juicy sultanas, currants, & tangy citrus peel”.

      The UK has stronger laws that most countries regarding the detailed listing of ingredients on a product’s packaging.

      All supermarket pizza, it seemed, last time I checked, listed “cheese substitute”, but no cheese.

  10. Real ales most of all.

    Also shortbread, scones and Dorset cereals. Marinated lab chops. Wensleydale with cranberries. And probably a dozen other things I can’t remember now.

    1. vHF,

      Real ales, shortbread, Wensleydale – about these, we think as one. But I can only go so far.

      Wensleydale with cranberries? Cranberries? Noooo! How could you insult the noblest of all cheeses by putting bits of fruit in it?

      I’d have to add to the list the sausage. There’s something about a really top quality British banger that seems to have eluded the worthy efforts of the rest of the world.

      1. Yeah, I’m a purist myself but it’s just that the cranberries go so well with Wensleydale. But I admire your counter-revolutionary zeal.

        Real ales. Good God. The closest thing they have here in the local “pub” is Fuller’s London Pride. It is horrible, I know it, and yet I have it every now and then out of sheer desperation.

        Sausage, yes, but only the fancy kind. Britain also has a lot of bad quality sausages.

    2. In the matter of sausages, I must give an honourable mention to the South Africans’ boerewors – which I can happily get at my local butchers.

    1. I’m sorry to offend the Americans here, but bacon in the US is the pits. Far too crisp – bacon in Australia is lovely and flexible. I almost decided to boycott bacon when I was in the US in 2003. They do so many things quite well, but bacon isn’t one of them. Brits, Aussies and (?)Canadians know how to cook it properly.

      1. Bollocks! I know how to cook bacon! I remind my countrymen: Guys, this is meat, not cardboard. A thin slice should not stand on its own. It should be soft and juicy. I agree that the Brits, Aussies, and Canadians do cook it well.

        1. In Britain, we tend to use back bacon. In the US, from my experience, they tend to use belly. I find that back bacon has a much more satisfying texture.

  11. I wonder whether luxury started to be used as a kind of response to rationing after the 2nd World War. Wikipedia says that rationing continued in various forms until 1954 so after nigh on 15 years of making the best of very little British cuisine took a bit of kickstarting and everyone would be very susceptible to a bit of differential marketing.

    Or something….

  12. I’m an Aussie who visits the UK every so often, and there’s nothing there I can’t get here, so I don’t miss their cooking.

    I like to tease my British friends on various issues, especially the following piece of Internet lore:

    “Heaven is where the police are British, the lovers French, the mechanics German, the chefs Italian, and it is all organized by the Swiss.

    Hell is where the chefs are British, the mechanics French, the lovers Swiss, the police German, and it is all organized by the Italians.”

    British cooking is, in my experience, quite okay, especially pub meals. I tend to eat a lot more Indian food in the UK than I do in Australia because there’s an Indian restaurant on every corner there, and they taste good and are inexpensive. I do love crumpets and kippers though. (But not together.) I guess I should try a “warm” ale next time I’m there… 🙂

    I’ve never noticed an overuse of the the word “luxury” in reference to British stuff. Probably just marketing hype.

  13. “I’m curious which foods my expat British readers…miss the most.”

    You don’t actually have to move out of the country to be deprived of a favourite food. I only moved from North Staffordshire down to Oxford but I miss my Staffordshire Oatcakes. Like an extremely thin savoury pancake. Heat up under the grill, butter and eat them on their own or add any filling you like, roll them up and eat them like a big cigar. A very short shelf life makes it difficult to ‘export’ them to other parts of the UK.

    I wonder if there are any other regional foods which are only available within that region?

    1. I think you can only really get clotted cream in Devon and Cornwall. Elsewhere in the country clotted cream is more like double cream rather than the being nearly solid as it is in the southwest. I have no idea why this is though.

  14. Melton Mowbray pork pie, steak and kidney pie, bangers, chip butties (slightly disgusting but in a comforting way), unsliced puffy white bread from the local baker, OXO bouillon cubes, Bisto gravy, prawn cocktails, curries (made for British taste therefore drenched with ‘gravy’), all of their fantastic cheese, but esp Cheshire and red Leicester, local strawberries in season, GORGEOUS fondant-covered cakes, packaged pork cold cuts, chutneys, apple cider, properly made cucumber sandwiches, Typhoo tea, their varieties of potatoes and apples, especially Cox and Bramley apples, and of course Weetbix anddark chocolate digestives (both which are easily gotten in France thankfully). Never got around to having Pimms, as I prefer plain, homemade lemonade.

    I lived both in the north and south of England for a total of about five years. In the north it seems your class distinction was more apparent (ordinary butchers would have the words high class on their windows), while in the south less so where luxury meant simply gourmet.

    In my native NYC, there is a great distinction between high and ordinary quality food. This demarcation is usually designated by the words, speciality foods while in France where I live now, the word artisanale carries much weight in identifying excellent food.

    1. Another aspect is that the British culture seems to appreciate the little extras way more than the American one which could be derived from post-war rationing–Bill Bryson covers this angle well.

        1. I hereby confer upon you the Howard Kaikow award for replying to your own posts… 🙂

          Yeah, I’ve wanted to have Beef Wellington for about 30 years now, but I just don’t seem to have got around to it. Perhaps next visit.

  15. wensleydale, cheshire, caerphilly, stilton all the little cheese dairies, fresh fruit and veg that looks good and tastes good, real ales, marmite, twigletsRowntrees smarties not the version with blue smarties (blue smarties I ask you) I’ve been away too long, now where’s that rope

  16. The class system over here has relaxed since the Orwell days but is still very real. I suspect you might be spot on with the idea of “Luxury” being a way of appealing to the upmarket aspirations of the working class. Generally it’s thought that *truly* luxury products don’t self-proclaim like that – it’s considered brash. Those in the know just know that those things are better. So calling things “Luxury” is kind of the advertising equivalent of sticking your little finger up when you drink tea: it’s an invention by “new money” who *think* it’s what rich people do.

    I’m speaking as a middle-class boy with something of an upper-class family history on one side. My mum’s side of the family are the kind of people who don’t own land any more, but still speak and behave as if they do. That’s the insidious thing about the class system that something akin to racism: you can get richer or poorer but your class stays the same.

    As usual Monty Python brilliantly lampooned this phenomenon: four Yorkshire men arguing proudly over who had it worse growing up.

      1. It’s the same principle as recognising posh people – posh is a word they never use. Duchy don’t call their biscuits ‘luxury’; they are like that Belgian beer reassuringly expensive.

        1. It’s all about consumer perception. Sometimes, a target market can be put off by low price. Some years ago, I worked on a small project with a well-known UK manufacturer of range ovens. In the course of conversation, they mentioned that they had had experienced initial difficulty breaking into the lucrative US market, but couldn’t understand why. They had high quality products, which were competitively priced, but they just weren’t selling. Then someone suggested putting their prices up. So they doubled them. Pretty soon, they couldn’t ship units over there fast enough.

          What the supermarkets seem be doing, however, is design some nice packaging, add a ‘luxury’ name and slap high-margin price tag onto a mediocre product. It must work, though, otherwise they would have stopped doing it.

  17. The “luxury” business is just a case of price discrimination. You offer a range of goods at different prices to extract as much money as each consumer is willing to pay. Standard economic practice which I’m sure goes on just as much in the US as in Britain. Yes, part of it is making people think that they’re buying a slice of social superiority. But doesn’t that apply in the US too?

    I don’t think these practices trace back particularly to Britain’s class-oriented past. They’re timeless. It was probably the same in ancient Rome. Roman “luxury” pies probably had added lark’s tongue.

    1. Yeah, I think this is close to the mark. We’re being sold a lifestyle, to be sure, but I suspect the intention is just to screw a bit more money out of those who can afford it but still sell the economy brand to those who can’t.

      Perhaps the existence of a luxury brand helps some people feel that the economy brand is also somehow luxurious, encouraging them to buy it (the luxury mince pies look great, the economy ones area basically the same, right?)

      Perhaps it makes some people feel guilty for buying the economy brand (you wouldn’t want to give your family an inferior product, would you?)

      All the supermarkets here have an economy brand and a fancy, luxury brand. They aren’t always called ‘luxury’ but they universally have much fancier packaging and – as far as I can tell – a *lot* more fat, salt and/or sugar. The Tesco luxury brand is called The Best. There is always an asterisk after the brand name on the packaging. I’ve always assumed there’s a footnote somewhere that reads “Warning: may not be the best”.

      I’m not convinced about the class interpretation. I think British people spend a lot less time thinking about classes than Americans seem to think.

  18. When I am in the states, I spent/spend a couple of hours searching all the nearest supermarkets for: Wheetabix (found in 1, and they discontinued them while I was there); mint sauce (was in the imported food section of 2 stores, both around the $8 mark); brown sauce (again, found in 1 store in foreign foods, grossly overpriced); “fruit squash” – a ready mixed dilute flavour you add water to (didn’t find anywhere); baked beans (Heinz brand found in foreign foods, very expensive. Though did find some “vegetarian beans” in one store that were essentially baked beans); gravy granules (nowhere!). But really, the biggest problem was the absence of ‘proper’ bacon. The American bacon is nice, but I wanted proper meaty ‘English’ bacon. Impossible to find. I can’t even put any brown sauce on my Yank bacon because I refuse to pay $7 for it.

    1. I believe that Trader Joe’s now has Weetabix at bargain prices. Reader Andrew Berry, who taught me to love Weetabix, should weigh in here, as he buys the stuff by the case in Massachusetts.

  19. I know Jerry can’t stand Marmite – it really is a comestible shibboleth for the British (just as Vegemite is for the Australians) – something you have to have grown up with; but for those in the Marmite camp, hot buttered toast with Marmite with a mug of tea is the taste of an English teatime on a wintry day for me. My American partner can’t stand it, but that’s ok, I’ll sacrifice my Tunnocks tea cakes to her and keep my marmite.

    1. I like hot buttered toast with a SMALL amount of Marmite or Vegemite on it. The key (IMO, as a Yank) is to use the MM or VM as a SEASONING, not the main course.

      We Americans are used to layering on a thick covering of peanut butter (our nearest analog to MM or VM — though not close at all) and when you do that with MM or VM — ugh.

      1. Bleurgh to Marmite & all its evil minions! I would put more ‘urghs’ in bleurgh, but there is not enough space on this page… Only use for it is in gravy.

        1. I’ll vouch for that. My wife ‘discovered’ it a few years ago and sneaked it up on me. One of life’s enjoyable WTF? moments. It sounds wrong but really does work, like strawberries and freshly ground black pepper.

  20. The “luxury” bit is entirely linguistic.

    We Yanks use “deluxe” instead, which is just a French-derived version of “luxury”. As pointed out above, we do tend to use “gourmet” for food items, and mostly reserve “deluxe” for non-edible things.

    I don’t think your class theory holds any water. While the US has never had aristocracy, we have had rich and poor for the duration.

  21. US native here:

    FYI Trader Joe’s has crumpets in the bread racks. Are these “true” crumpets?

    it took me too long to get hip to crumpets.

    1. At my former employer; my ex-pat Brit colleagues brought in “proper” crumpets (in packets) from somewhere. They are superbly yummy.

  22. My mother is English and has several British ex-pat friends, so I learned how to cook Cornish pasties, meat and potato pie, shortbread, treacle tart, empire biscuits, mince pies, victoria sandwich cake, lemon curd, malt loaf, and more. When my husband and I were married, Mom made two wedding cakes: a traditional English one (complete with marzipan and royal icing) and an American layer cake.

    As a child visiting relatives in England, I learned to appreciate SOME English food (not chips or ale, though – I’m not a fan of the Holy Potato, and I don’t drink alcohol). I still love black pudding and several other sausages, good chocolate (Cadbury’s Flake, Fry’s Turkish delight, and maltesers), lemon barley water, rabbit stew, and English ice cream (the U.S. has never been good at ice cream except for rare local varieties, and cannot match the rich, buttery, not-too-sweet English type). We used to get “milk roll”, a type of thin-sliced white bread, which I’ve since learned to make at home, to spread with the required golden syrup.

    I miss English bakery goods – Americans are too enamored of crisco, and there are large areas of the country that don’t even recognize butter as food (Shedd’s spread, anyone? Ugh.)

    As for those who crave English bacon: try American country ham. It varies in smokiness and saltiness depending on where it’s made, but some varieties are very similar to English bacon, and work perfectly for “bac’n and tomatoes” over toast.

  23. I find that the word “luxury” is often an indicator of low quality. Like when an estate agent says “fantastic” or “charming”, it’s a placeholder term, used only when there’s no better selling point.

    For example, “luxury shortbread” is likely to be of low quality. High quality shortbread is usually sold as “all-butter shortbread”, as this guarantees that unlike cheap versions, the butter hasn’t been diluted with other fats.

  24. I’m finding quite a lot of things I used to miss from Old Blighty at World Market (e.g. McVities chocolate biscuits. When I visit the UK I always bring back some teabags (Earl Grey and Assam) from Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s or Waitrose and some Jordan’s super berry granola. Also some Atora dried suet for making mincemeat at Christmas.

    Thing’s I’m not able to import and miss: decent breakfast sausages and Finnan haddock (great poached for breakfast, topped with a poached egg, or made into Cullen Skink soup).

  25. It works the other way around too, of course. There are lots of things that are hard to get here in the UK that are two-a-penny in the US.

    Good sandwiches, for example. We don’t seem to have got the hang of sandwiches, despite inventing them. We just seem to be suspicious of being generous in making sandwiches and even more suspicious of fillings other than the six or seven more or less standard ones. I’ve never once had a decent Reuben in the UK, for example.

    We have some great delis – although they are quite thin on the ground here in the North – but it’s hard to get proper corned beef or good pastrami, for example. And while we are great at smoked fish, cheese and bacon, we seem to be quite bad at smoking other meats for some reason. I don’t know why.

  26. When I used to live in Sweden, it was sausages I missed the most. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the Swedish ‘korv’, and German retailer Lidl sold excellent bratwurst, but there was nothing as comforting as the great British banger. Also, the Swedish have a habit of smoking their meats; I am more partial to unsmoked bacon.

    Now I have returned, I miss Jansson’s Frestelse (a potato dish), baconost ( a spreadable bacon and cheese paste) and stekt stromming (herring fried in breadcrumbs and butter).

  27. For me it’s English bacon and sausages. I can buy things like Marmite, Branstone pickle, McVities Digestives, Stilton etc. But the ‘Wiltshire’ bacon sold here tastes bland and the ‘English bangers’ are completely wrong.

    I persuaded a local butcher to make some up to my recipe and they weren’t bad, but I have to buy them in 50lb batches.

  28. I find the term “luxury” widely used in marketing in the US, not so much with respect to food, but other commodities, like clothing, accessories, travel acommodations, real estate and many others. Needless to say, most of the time this label is so inflated that means nothing. Depending on the location, a “luxury apartment” could be something marginally better than an average prison cell; it esentially means that it is fairly new and has no cockroaches.

  29. As an expat myself I do miss most, but not all, of the items mentions and I’ll add one I’ve not seen above:

    Cod’s Roe – shapped into a patty, battered & deep fried from a chip shop.

    Though that is difficult to get even in the UK nowadays.


    1. Which reminds me, what happened to all the ox tails? There must be millions but impossible to find, even the Chinese supermarkets don’t have them anymore.

    2. Cod’s Roe – shapped into a patty, battered & deep fried from a chip shop.

      Hmm, when I’ve seen [various] roe on the wet fish counter, it’s been the whole organ, complete with membranes with blood vessels anastomosing across the surface.

      Though that is difficult to get even in the UK nowadays.

      I’m not a great one for fish myself, but we’ve got roe on occasions for the wife, who is more piscivorous. But she’s not generally been impressed with it, preferring икра from the local Russian shop. (That’s “caviar” or “red caviar” in English.)
      Generally we use Morissons for fish-shopping. But most of the others are good, too. (I don’t recall us having used the Asda/ Walmart fish counter ; I’m not sure there is one, at least locally.)

  30. Interestingly, though the days when the description of Victoria BC as “a wee bit of Olde Englande” are long past, one of our local grocery chains now has sections devoted to delicacies imported from the UK. Branston pickle in variety, canned puddings (including Spotted Dick), Ambrosia canned custard (but that’s been available here forever), and so on. Candies, “biscuits”, tea, and so on.

    Is this a more general phenomenon? I should add that the same chain also has huge Asian food sections devoted to food from China, Southeast Asia, and India; and smaller sections devoted to Dutch and Mexican delicacies.

    As for English food in general, I point those interested to “The Constance Spry Cookery Book”, dating from the early 1950s. Its coverage is really “what the toffs ate in 1935”, but where else will you find sound recipes for lard cake and jugged hare?

  31. I miss the excellent scones and “Chelsea buns” I could get at certain coffee shops in Cambridge. The local Marks & Spencer, which acted as my family’s kitchen for 7 months, had really great frozen meals and meat pies. And then there’s Black Sheep Ale.

  32. Some British food I have particularly enjoyed over the course of many visits:

    Indian food (if it counts) – Not just restaurants, which I’ve found to be generally better (and cheaper) than their counterparts in the U.S., but lots of Indian foods in regular supermarkets also.

    Potato chips (“Crisps”) – Lots of weird but tasty flavors you just don’t see in the U.S., like roast chicken and tomato ketchup.

    Candy bars – So much better than American ones. Mars, Yorkie, Wispa, Aero, Crunchy…

    Mr Kipling cakes and pies – especially Bakewell (?) Tarts & Apple and Blackberry pies.

    1. Gaaaaah! Bakewell tarts! Bah. As someone who was brought up in Bakewell, I can state with authority that dessert nirvana (or, at afternoon tea time, main course nirvana) is the true Bakewell Pudding, nowadays available only from the Bakewell Pudding Shop (.co.uk) and Bloomers bakery (both of which do mail order, I recall). The so-called Bakewell tart is a mere commercial shadow of the real thing, christened a tart so as not to fall foul of the Trades Descriptions Act – or vigilante Bakewellians.

      Many years ago a friend – by that time of the evening rather wobbly on his feet – was chatting to a tourist in the Red Lion when the tourist asked him how to tell the difference between a Bakewell Tart and a Bakewell Pudding. “Thez nowt to it, lad” he replied. “If tha canna fook it, it’s a puddin’.”

      Bakewell pudding is the food of the Gods. Try one and you’ll see that Bakewell tart is an pale, sugary abomination.

  33. McVitie’s Hob Nobs… the best of the best of the best… ask Maggie Smith who lamented their absence in The best Exotic Marigold Hotel…

  34. Now that I’m back in the States, let me second Michelle’s approbation for Melton Mowbry Pork Pies, which I love, and the second best cheese in the world: Keene’s Farmhouse Cheddar, preferably aged so long that it starts to develop mold on the surface. Montgomery Farmhouse Cheddar runs a close third. (The world’s best cheese is 3-year-old Comte from France.)

    But if I could have only one British thing to ingest in Old Blighty, it would be a good pint of real ale, well kept.

    1. Jerry,

      Any hints on where one might find said cheddar here in the States? I don’t recall seeing it in stores….

      I’m a huge cheddar fan, myself, so I’d love to try something that comes with such a lofty recommendation.



  35. Stinking Bishop and proper Stilton. Proper vintage (sharp, what is sharp!!?) Cheddar. Preferably crunchy.

    While I agree most of the rest of the world doesn’t do great sausages, I think French and Italian ones are both decent, particularly a thick, meaty Toulouse.

    Lastly, and possibly most importantly, as an Englishman; A DECENT CUP OF TEA!! Sorry USA, you do many things well, but tea you do not. Wrong leaves, wrong method, wrong milk, wrong temperature. Wrong.
    While having breakfast in a reputable Diner in New York with a former girlfriend who was something of a tea aficionado, she actually burst into tears at the tepid “vegetable stock tasting” tea she was served! I’ll leave it to Christopher Hitchens to explain how to do it properly. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2011/01/how_to_make_a_decent_cup_of_tea.html

    Ps, I’m not precious, or blinkered enough to disagree with the people who shouted Tim Tams as the best biscuit. Astonishingly good.

    1. Actually, I’d take issue with The Hitch on that one.

      Different teas should be steeped at different temperatures and for different lengths of time, though generally always in the same quantity (mass, not volume).

      Some black teas and most herbal teas should use boiling water, but many black teas are improved by using water just off the boil, at about the same 200°F preferred for French press coffee. Oolongs generally should be steeped a bit cooler still, at about 190°F, and green teas should be steeped much cooler at about 175°F.

      And, generally, the hotter the water the longer the steeping time: five or six minutes for black teas with boiling water, four minutes for oolongs in very hot water, and only a couple minutes for green teas in hot water.

      I’ve become a huge fan of Strand Tea Company. Indeed, I just placed an order a few minutes ago. Give them a call at 1 888 718 6358 and they’ll be more than happy to talk teas and give you expert advice on what’s most likely to suit your tastes and what’s new and exciting. It’s generally Mr. Strand or his wife answering the phone, and they’re both passionate about tea.



      P.S. Tea should never be steeped in a bag! That’s just horridly worng, on so many levels. It’s so easy to use a proper pot with a mesh infuser; there’s no point in a bag. Brew a pot, pour into a quality thermos, and dispense from the thermos into a small teacup. b&

      P.P.S. Rather than fiddle around with a thermometer, get an electric kettle with temperature settings. Cuisinart makes an excellent one, but I’m sure there’re others. b&

  36. My father own and operated a creamery in Bemidji (in northern) Minnesota during 1930 – 1960. The brand name for his butter and ice cream was Luxury. I think the ice cream was comparable to today’s richest brands. I seem to recall that he put a lot of butter in it.

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