The following is a guest post.
To this very day one of my favorite comfort foods is Toad in the Hole. It takes me back to the school dinners I was served when I was in short trousers, in Birmingham, England in the early 1970’s. (Dinner, please understand, in my neck of the woods was served around noon. The evening meal was called tea or, if eaten later, supper.)
School dinners in the late sixties and early seventies were typically lovingly made from scratch and were hearty, nutritious and filling. They were free back then, and were the main meal of the day for many children. We used to get a third pint of milk free everyday also, and the notion of drinking fizzy drinks at school was an alien one. As we ate our dinner we drank council pop, otherwise known as tap water. But I digress…
Toad in the Hole is simply sausage baked in a Yorkshire pudding batter, served with brown or onion gravy and theories abound as to where its curious name came from. The simplest conclusion is that the sausage slightly resembles a toad sneaking a peek from a hole in the ground. The truth is, no one will ever really know.
The first recorded history of the dish is relatively recent, in traditional British food terms, as it dates from the 18th century. And then it wasn’t toad in the hole per se, but various other cuts of meat in an egg and flour batter that was baked.
The Art of Cookery by Hannah Glasse, the best resource for old British recipes, includes only a recipe for “pigeon in a hole.’ This is essentially the same dish but, as the name correctly indicates this time, uses actual pigeon.
The Oxford English Dictionary’s first documented example of the phrase Toad in the Hole isn’t until 1787, though references to a recipe that sounds rather like it can be found earlier.
A diary entry in 1757 by a Georgian shopkeeper called Thomas Turner mentioned a dinner of “sausages baked in a batter pudding,” which certainly sounds like Toad in the Hole, although most recipes at that time suggested using any kind of leftover scraps of meat you could get your hands on. (Back then sausages usually consisted of more filling than actual meat, and the cuts of meat used in the 18th century might make any reasonable modern day carnivore hesitate at the thought of eating it.)
Essentially, Toad in the Hole was, and still is a way of extending a small portion of meat and fashioning it into something flavorful and filling. After WWII, Spam was frequently substituted, but as rationing faded out the traditional British sausage became the prominent ingredient.
How to make Toad in the Hole:
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of salt
1 generous pinch of pepper
3 beaten eggs
1 1/2 cups of milk- I use whole milk but low fat will work.
1 tablespoon of canola oil
2 – 3 tablespoons of melted butter
1 pound of English style pork sausages or any good quality sausage you enjoy. (English styled Bangers are readily available in British import stores across America.)
Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Make a well. Pour in the beaten eggs, milk, butter into the well and whisk until completely blended. Leave at room temperature for 45 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the wet ingredients thoroughly. Brown the sausages in a skillet and turn the oven to 425°F.
Take a standard size casserole dish, coat it with the canola oil and place it in the oven. When the sausages are browned, place them in the preheated casserole dish and cover them with the batter. Cook for twenty-five minutes. The batter should rise, set, and become a glorious light brown color.
1 tablespoon of butter
1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced.
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 tablespoon of flour
2 cups of beef stock
Gently melt the butter in a large frying pan and add the sliced onions. Add the sugar and cook over a low heat until the onions become soft and lightly caramelized. Add the flour and continue to cook for 2 to 3 minutes, and then gradually add the stock stirring energetically and continuously. Bring to a full boil and then turn the heat down to low. After a few minutes, the gravy should thicken. Serve the gravy on the side in a boat or small jug.
When serving Toad in the Hole, I like to add steamed seasonal vegetables as a side dish.
Paul Gifford is an English born full time writer who has called California home for many years. He writes under the name P.S. Gifford. He has had several dozen stories published in print and on-line magazine, been included in anthologies and has several collections of his works available at all good on-line book sellers.