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Bubble and squeak |

Bubble and squeak

Back when I was a kid, country breakfasts often consisted of what was left over from yesterdays meals, which was — listen up city folk — dinner at noon and supper in the early evening. Dinner was the big meal of the day as there was still a lot of muscle-intensive work to be done before the evening repast.

Contributing to this practice of yesterday’s leftovers for breakfast, besides the economics of it, was the lack of refrigeration like we have today. Usually, there was an ice box, a wonderful oak cabinet with brass fixtures — actually a handsome piece of furniture that had a tin-lined compartment on the top for a block of ice brought in from the ice house, a boxy, shed-like structure that held great blocks of ice cut from the lake in winter and stored in sawdust.


Sawdust is an excellent insulator and ice could be kept this way for two years or more, even through the summers. (Hmmm. Maybe a container full of sawdust would be a good thing to have during a prolonged power outage to store refrigerator/freezer food in?)

A drain emptied the melted ice from the top of the ice box to a collecting tray at the bottom. In between was the tin-lined food cabinet.

Although efficient, obviously food could not last in the ice box for long, so food was put to use quickly, usually for breakfast.

And so many of the breakfasts we are familiar with today came from this history: red flannel hash — from left-over boiled dinner; biscuits and sausage gravy, self-explanatory; Kedgeree (ke’ jer-ee), an old English dish, which utilizes leftovers and trimmings from smoked salmon or finnan haddie (smoked haddock), for examples.

But one of my favorites, bubble and squeak, also comes from English tradition. It was introduced to me by my late friend, a very “English lady,” Evelyn. She was a prim and  proper English “lady” when she pleased, while, at times, was full of the famous English bawdy humor that could make a truckdriver blush.

She was born in England in 1896. (Died at the end of 1999, just before her 104th birthday. She remembered watching Queen Victoria’s funeral cortege.) Her mother was from a prominent English family, “Palmer’s Biscuits,” and her father, a Burke, was Irish, direct descendants of the famous 18th-century statesman, Edmund Burke, whose most famous line is: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

She grew up in Nottinghamshire, where her parents had an English Pub, smack dab on the Old North Road, originally built by Rome for traveling from London to Scotland. In those times, a pub would include a dining room and rooms for travelers.

She lived through the horrors of WWI in London and lost her Canadian RAF pilot in the war, leaving her alone with an infant.

Years later, during WWII, her son also flew for the RAF. He was shot down and lost over Normandy.

Her long and convoluted life’s path included owning a partnership in a speakeasy in Buffalo, N.Y., during the days of Prohibition. Eventually, at age 86, she ended up in Waldo County. This is how I met her. She was my neighbor out here in Morrill. I was the lucky recipient of grand old English dishes passed down through the centuries. Her roast beef and Yorkshire pudding are on my Christmas table each year.

Her Yorkshire pudding recipe had been her grandmother’s, in the early 1800s, and who knows how many generations back from there. She passed along a couple of invaluable tips on making it that aren’t written in the recipe books. She’s been gone now for 18 years, but her Yorkshire pudding is served in my family every Christmas — and a few times in between. I will pass on one of the secrets: it must be cooked in cast iron. No exceptions.

And once in a while, the morning after a New England boiled dinner, I will fix her bubble and squeak for breakfast. Evelyn claimed its name comes from the sounds made while cooking. However it came by its name, it’s worth the bit of time to make it. First thing you’ll need, as in most of the old recipes from so long ago, is a cast iron skillet. (Cast iron is the first “ingredient” for the success of many a meal. I have a nest of different size cast iron skillets that sit, always at the ready, on my stove.)

And speaking of cast iron skillets, you are fortunate, indeed, if you have an old one with the “smooth as a baby’s butt” surface inside. (Griswold and Wagner factories made the best.) I wouldn’t give house room to the ones made today. The inside hasn’t been sandblasted smooth. The rough surface is not friendly to cooking — or to cleaning. (Old ones can be picked up a flea markets and eBay. They’re worth it. It’s a one-time purchase. They’ll last a lot longer’n you, so you can hand them down for generations.)

Where was I?

Oh, right. Bubble and squeak.

So here’s what you’ll need for

Bubble and Squeak

Left-over boiled potatoes, sliced

Left-over cooked or raw cabbage, shredded

Few strips of bacon (slab is best)

An onion

A cup of left-over ham. (I do not cube my ham. I do not like it in cube shapes. No reason. I just don’t. So I chop it up.)

A goodly dollop of butter. (If you use a butter substitute, don’t complain to me if it doesn’t taste great. No make-believe butter allowed in my house.)

A pinch of paprika

S P

1. If you’re using raw cabbage, slice it thin and cook it in a small saucepan, in a small bit of water, until tender, 5-7 minutes. If using cooked cabbage, just wait to add to the skillet with other stuff when almost done.

2. In your cast iron skillet, cook the bacon and sliced onion until onion is soft and bacon on the crisp side.

3. Add the ham and stir until it’s heated through.

4. Add the butter and as it’s melting, stir in the cabbage and potatoes.

5. Sprinkle with S P and paprika and cook until browned on bottom. Turn and brown up again. (A couple of fried eggs on the side go good with it, too.)

6. Pour a goodly cup of coffee and enjoy your “olde time” English breakfast.

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, is a Maine native and a graduate of Belfast schools. She now lives in Morrill.

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