Bangers, Bacon & Baps
Recently an OUTsideIN blog fan was saddened to learn that the foods eaten to celebrate the Scottish New Year holiday, Hogmanay, do not include any part of a hog (see Hogmanay Kindness, December 30, 2020). Like many people, this gentleman assumed that the presence of a food name in a word indicated food rather than something else, which is a linguistic quirk that fascinates the erudite squirrels in my brain.
An example is the hamburger sandwich, which contains beef, not ham. Some people claim it was invented by a Hamburger - that is, a resident of Hamburg, Germany – but others say it was first created in America in 1900 by Louis Lassen, a Danish immigrant and restaurant owner who may have dubbed it “hamburger” in honor of the German dish “Hamburger Rundstück Warm”, which is a hot dish consisting of a slice of warm roast beef or pork served between the slices of a halved round wheat roll, and then doused with hot gravy. Not so much a hamburger made of ground beef as an ancestor of the gravy-drenched American ground beef “hamburger steak” that was popular when I was a child. Whatever the origin of that dish, the true Hamburger is a human German citizen and not at all edible (in polite circles, anyway).
And then there’s the frankfurter, a sausage which does contain pork but also refers to an inedible human resident of the city of Frankfurt, Germany. However, I can attest to the fact that Frankfurters do eat frankfurters, so to speak. The customary approach is to remove the frankfurter (aka “hotdog”) from the bun with your fingers and eat it one bite at a time, end to end, before starting on the (usually much shorter) bun. Needless to say, the bun is not the soft cottony type Americans favor but rather a heartier German style roll, which is yummy all on its own. Perfectly simple and delicious, just the memory of a Frankfurt frankfurter makes my mouth water. And oh dear, the fresh pretzel bread slathered with butter…
Let’s head back to Great Britain before saliva begins dripping down my chin. The Brits, including the Scots, do eat quite a lot of pork (aka “hog”) in the form of a wide variety of sausages, and I’m sure the products of Williams Sausage Inc. (just for example) would be welcome there, although most “bangers” are a finer-textured sausage than Tennessee country sausage.
The term “bangers” is slang that arose from the tendency of cheap wartime sausages (plumped up with water when meat was rationed) to explode (with a bang, one supposes) in the heat of a cooking pan. It’s now a term most often used for the ever-popular “bangers and mash” – a comforting, “commoner’s” meal of sausages served with mashed potatoes and gravy that never appeared on the elegant dining table at Finlaystone. We did, however, have bacon or sausages with every breakfast, a meal that was unthinkable without meat (fish included, but that’s a whole other subject) of some sort.
Of course Scotland has its own unique varieties of sausage, including “lorne” (a flat square slice of skinless sausage), "white pudding" (oatmeal with pork meat or liver), "black pudding" (with pork blood added to the white pudding filling), and the infamous “haggis”. I confess that this proud Scotswoman has never eaten haggis. When we were in Scotland in the 1950's, my father of course gave it a try (I was too young to notice his reaction) but didn’t force it upon us children. Haggis is sheep’s “pluck”- that is, innards plucked from within, including heart, liver, and lungs, fortified with oatmeal and suet (beef or mutton fat) and encased in (of course) the sheep’s stomach before being boiled for an hour or two. Yes, I have the same reaction to that recipe, and I’m the one who claims to not be a fussy eater. But if you’re poor and hungry, you make do, and the Scots are good at making do. If there’s nothing else to eat, we eat pluck, potatoes, and suchlike.
Why are Scottish sausages called puddings rather than sausages? Although some claim the source is the French sausage “boudin” (which sounds slightly like “pudding”), it’s more likely to be the Gaelic word for sausage, “putóg bhán” (“putog” sounding something like “pudding”). In all the of the British Isles, “pudding” covers much broader culinary ground than in the States. Perhaps a topic for another day.
Bacon was another important meat served with breakfast on an almost daily basis at Finlaystone. After frying the “rashers” (slices), we religiously saved the grease, combining it with the fat rendered from any and every other meat we cooked, especially beef. We used it to fry eggs (including the 14 eggs I had to fry my first morning at Finlaystone) for breakfast, sauté vegetables, brown meat and poultry, and more. Along with the bacon and eggs we served thin slices of white bread, toasted in the Esse coal stove, then neatly set in a silver toast rack to cool - and dry - before joining the rest of the meal on the trolley journey to the dining room. I never quite came to terms with that dry, cold toast, being spoiled by butter melting in nooks and crannies, but slathering it with homemade marmalade helped me choke it down.
My favorite way to eat bacon was (and, I confess, still is) with a fresh bap. I’m at a loss to explain the word “bap,” which in the UK is also used to refer to a woman’s breast (I know, I know, but there it is). Perhaps it comes from the sound of bread dough being slapped into submission before being formed into lovely, brioche-like bap rolls. Mummy H always made us bacon and baps to eat on our way to the early morning flower market in Glasgow, where we sold the snowdrops and daffodils we slaves picked in the cold, damp grounds of Finlaystone. Originally the bunches contained 12 flowers each, but when the metric system arrived, we switched to 10 (converting to the metric system was not nearly as traumatic as most Americans imagine).
Mummy H split each bap, spread it with butter, placed three or four slices of cooked bacon on it, covered it with the other half of the bap, and wrapped it in parchment paper. Once all the flowers were loaded in the van, we hopped in and set off, happily munching baps during the 30-minute drive to Glasgow. Although carting flowers to Glasgow was an appallingly early morning task, I would have happily done so every day rather than deal with cold toast in the cold (of course) formal dining room. But it was a twice-weekly project and we slaves took turns at it. I somehow suspect all the slaves jumped at the chance to breakfast on bacon and baps while motoring those narrow country roads through scenic fields of frolicking sheep.
I’m sorry that this article ends with sheep rather than hogs, but even for the most loyal fan, I can’t conjure up a scene of hogs frolicking in the lowlands of Scotland. So please, Mr. Williams, comfort yourself with the new knowledge that sausages are indeed celebrated every day in Great Britain.