Old enough to go to the store, old enough to get bread

Chris Crouch

Before I left home, I was warned time and again about the horror that is British cooking. Even the British politics course I took last year included an explanation as to why English food is so bland while, just across the channel, the French make cuisine that is considered a delicacy around the world. It has something to do with the fact that the French aristocracy had money to burn on chefs and expensive food, but the English hierarchy led much more common lives and ate the same gruel as the peasants. I suppose this also goes a long way toward explaining why England still has a queen whereas the French butchered their royalty a couple centuries ago.

I doubted that British food could really be worse than anything I could cook for myself, but I took the advice anyway. As a result, I’ve shied away from British favorites such as blood sausage, the main ingredient of which is included in its name. Other classic dishes I’ve missed out on are, cheese and toast, which not surprisingly is melted cheese on toast, and fish and chips. I’ve skipped the latter not so much for its bad reputation but because I hate fish. Bangers and beans, a.k.a. baked beans and sausages, also rank among the meals with an inherently English flare, or lack thereof, on which I have taken a pass.

Baked beans are an interesting point in the history of British eating. Some circles consider them to be a national dish with no meal being complete without them, even though the beans were first served in Boston and can’t even be grown in Britain due to the climate. Regardless, baked beans are a well-loved commodity appearing on table tops and covers of “The Who Sell Out” across the country.

I haven’t missed out on all the nuances of English cooking, however. I’ve enjoyed a few plates of British beef and have not moo suffered any moo dire moo consequences. I’ve even found an outlet which far surpasses many American efforts on the same front: bakeries. At home we have cookie shops in the mall which provide perfectly good cookies to go with any flavor of squishy from Orange Julius, but the clone-ish bakeries in our supermarkets leave much to be desired. Within about two blocks of my flat here in Exeter, you can find four or five bakeries, each with its own personality and speciality. These places aren’t staffed by high school home-ec students who just got promoted out of the cart-check ranks, either. These are run by families, some of whom have been in the business for generations. In my stomach’s opinion, the people who run these bakeries are every bit the culinary artisans that the Discovery Channel show them to be on daytime television.

I discovered the first bakery after a late night at the computer lab. It was about two or three in the morning when I walked into the parking lot of my building.

The smell of warm bread filled the air and a light was on in a building off to the left. Now, the left was something of an unknown element to my roommates and me.

Campus, shopping and the grocery store were all to the right of the building. I had never gone left and had no idea what may lie around the corner, waiting to swallow me whole. It could have been the edge of the world for all I knew, or a pit that ended somewhere in the vicinity of hell. I cautiously approached the window and peered in. The light and smell were coming from the back room of a bakery. Two bakers, a man and a woman, were busy mixing and kneading and whisking. I had to shake myself back to consciousness after drooling over the pastries as they came out of the ovens.

The next day, I vowed to venture to the left. Invoking the spirit of Columbus, I proceeded to round the corner and enslave the local population, infect them with smallpox and torture all those who would not submit to my rule.

Whoops, wrong spirit. I proved that the left was not the end of the world but, in fact, a new one. There before my eyes were the riches of El Dorado in all of its buttery flaky glory. After days upon days of peanut butter and jelly and faux-chicken flavored ramen noodles, I don’t believe I could have asked for more.

Chris Crouch is a sophomore in political science from Rapid City, S.D. He will be in England for another semester until he tries fish and chips, toad in the hole AND Yorkshire pudding.