One of the newspapers I like to read on the Web is The Guardian. Today I came across a blog entry about pie and mash. I’ve mentioned this subject before but I was always intending to write a more detailed entry and this looks like the right moment. I found the following historical information on the BBC website:
“In the 18th and 19th Centuries, east and south London were largely populated by working class people. With the spread of heavy industry across London came a lot of air pollution; due to the prevailing westerly winds from the Atlantic, the smog was almost always blown towards the east, resulting in it becoming a home for the working class, while the upper classes settled in the smog-free West End. Not being able to afford the delicacies offered ‘up West’, the workers strove to create their own special dishes. At the time the River Thames was filthy and the only creature known to be able to survive in it was the eel, making it a cheap source of food when boiled in gelatine. Potatoes were another source of cheap food and were mashed up as a side dish to the main meat: cheap mince without onions or any other ingredients, served in a pie. To add a bit of flavour a parsley sauce, known as liquor, was added.”
Now that I’ve whetted your appetites, a personal note. When I was a kid, it was something of a Saturday morning ritual to go the children’s matinee at the Trocadero cinema at the Elephant & Castle (named after a famous pub that became a landmark). If my memory serves me right, there was a chemist’s shop nearby that sold glasses of homemade sarsparilla. After the show, we’d wend our way to culinary heaven – Manze’s, in Tower Bridge Rd. I have never been able to eat the stewed or jellied eels and always stick to the pie and mash. After the main course, it was off to the baker’s a few doors down where you could watch the donuts frying before you bought them.
I took my wife to Manze’s a few years ago and to say she was underwhelmed is putting it mildly. The blog writer in the Guardian was not too impressed either (link here).
I came across this great photo of two guys eating jellied eels in the 1920s.
Wikipedia has a pie and mash page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pie_and_mash). There is also a pie and mash club (http://www.pie-n-mash.com/), whose members make regular outings to the various shops in London. Traditionally, the dish was unique to dockland (perhaps because of the availability of eels?). Now there is even one in suburban Orpington. Though Stogs tried to get away from them, the barrow boys joined the exodus…
This gives you some idea of why foreigners are so disparaging about British food! A few years ago I read an article stating that tandoori chicken was now the official national dish (instead of roast beef). I shall be eating all three next time I’m there.