It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 3 and a half years since I came to England. I only came here for a month, and I just happened to stay. Do I love England? Well, as much as I’d love to say: I do, if I was to set my Facebook relationship status with England, I’d go for: it’s complicated.
Growing up in so-called continental Europe, makes you really attached to small, every day things everyone just simply takes for granted, not thinking twice about them. but when we are suddenly robbed of those everyday little things, we start to realise just how much we did care for them. but it takes time.
when I first moved here, everything was new and exciting. and since I am a person who loves discovering, exploring and is extremely curious – it did take a long time to actually realise that I live here now. I am not here on a trip. I don’t really have anything planned for the next couple of months, so I might as well stay here, at least until I figure out what it is, I am searching for in life.
I sure took my time. once I settled, found a job, got a bank account, phone contract – that was the time when it hit me. I live here, I thought to myself and I don’t think I was ready for such revelation. but I was like: why not. let’s see what England has to offer.
Funnily enough, for the first year or so, I didn’t even meet many English people. I was working as a waitress, and most of my colleagues were foreign. it was fascinating, getting to know England through my friends’ eyes, because they, too, were new to this country a while ago. it wasn’t always easy. long shifts at work, very busy and fast-paced environment and a huge variety of people: from different countries, different backgrounds, speaking different languages, some living and settling down here, some were just passers-by, staying only for a few months. I’ve learned how to say ‘hi’ and ‘thank you’ in many languages and I still know how to swear in Portuguese. I loved my job and hated it at the same time. loved it for the team-spirit, people I worked with. no matter how busy it was, we just managed. I hated it for the difficult customers, long working hours, and constant, constant busy. It was a restaurant at the airport, I forgot to mention.
But I did stay there for three years. Three years of serving customers from all the places one can possibly imagine. Working with people from so many countries, it almost felt like I’ve travelled around the world. Same problems, same worries, same issues every day, yet everyday they seemed brand-new; every time some customer was inexplicably nasty – someone would cry, get upset, take it personally.
Anyway, the longer I stayed in England, the more I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that something was missing. I had an alright job, nice colleagues at work, my best friend has moved to England, too. What was it, what was making me feel so lonely?
It wasn’t until the first time I went to visit my friends in France until I realised. It was the atmosphere, I was missing. If that makes any sense?
I was missing the sound of church bells, unknowingly I really must have loved it, without even listening to it. it was just a part of the picture, not only in Poland, in France, too. Czech Republic. Germany. Belgium. Each city, town or village I have visited had always have church bells in the background. deep, jovial sound of the church, calling. and I’m not even religious, it was just such an inseparable part of my reality, of which I had no idea until I lost it.
I was missing the food. good, homegrown vegetables, apples picked straight from the tree, tomatoes smelling like actual tomatoes, not odourless substitute sold in supermarkets here. bread, oh, I could write a poem about Polish bread. if the God of Bread exists, he or she certainly got lost on his/her way to England. something went terribly wrong here, in terms of bread baking.
I was missing beautiful cafes, not chain coffeeshops but beautiful, small cafes with a soul, where the coffee is delicious, cake is homemade (or close) and each chair seems to come from a different attic. sure you can find nice, individual cafes in London, but they are a bit too artsy and maybe slightly, just slightly overpriced. like everything in London.
Why am I still here then? my boyfriend wouldn’t mind moving somewhere else. he’d be quite happy to, considering the fact that he’s never lived outside of England.
I suppose England is quite different. and underrated.
many people visit this country to see London. fair enough, it’s a massive and quite interesting city, with many things to offer. shame that many people leave after seeing Big Ben, London Eye (ridiculously overpriced, by the way), Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and British Museum. these things are sure worth seeing, all of them being cultural symbols of Britain.
but for me, what’s the most interesting is the countryside.
English countryside is stunning. with its little cottages, beautiful old houses, fairy-tale like, that you instantly get jealous of the people who live there. the meadows and hills, with sheep on a siesta. tiny, old pubs in almost every village, serving beautifully delicious food. narrow roads, squeezed between old stone buildings. medieval castles, scattered around the countryside, hidden in small towns and villages, quite forgotten by the touristic mainstream.
and the tea, the beautiful English tea, especially if accompanied by a scone with clotted cream and jam. the tea room institution itself is worth a mention. there is one near where I live, charming tea room opened by a farm, joined with a farm shop. you can get homemade jam or other preserves from there, eggs, vegetables, some local arts and crafts. and behind the farm a huge strawberry field stretches out, in the season you can go and pick yourself some strawberries. the atmosphere of these local tea rooms or pubs is unique. pubs, especially.
imagine entering an old building, always a bit shy, to find yourself in an interior with low-ceilinngs, chunky tables, pleasant buzz of many people’s voices talking at the same time, glass-clinking, and comfy sofas and chairs all around. you find a table, and by the time you start looking at the menu, you already feel cosy and home-like. especially in the autumn or winter, when it’s cold and windy outside, the windows are steamy but you feel sheltered from the big and cold world within the pub’s walls. you make your mind up, walk up to the bar and order your meal, accompanied by a pint of a nice, craft beer. every time a member of staff carries a meal to a table, the smell clings on in the air, making you feel like dinner has just been cooked. and the food! you’d be surprised of the high standard of some of the pub-food in Britain. beautifully presented, delicious, filling, warming and the portions – huge! no way to leave the pub hungry. would you like to see the pudding menu?, the staff would ask. and you want to say no, coz you feel absolutely stuffed after such an amazing meal but you take a glimpse and – of course – the desserts are irresistible. apple crumble with warm custard? sticky toffee pudding? you end up squeezing the dessert in, even though reason tells you that you shouldn’t have. and now you feel complete. full, warm, happy. leaving this lovely place, going outside to the cold seems unlikely now.
I find it quite interesting how hugely underrated English cuisine is. the fact that fish and chips or curry are internationally recognisable as ‘Best of British’, makes me sad. why not many people seem to know about the beauty of British home-cooking? In fact, British cuisine is quite heavy but so is Mexican, yet it’s famous!
visiting England without trying a proper roast dinner accompanied by thick gravy and Yorkshire pudding, a pie (and I’m referring to the meaty ones), hearty stew – should be unthinkable, but for some reason, it’s not. reducing British cuisine to fish and chips is unfair. I wonder if someone will make an effort to resurrect the rich tradition of British cookery and make it shine again. I myself, on a small scale, will try to cook more British food and present it here.
for starters, the bread pudding, introduced and made by my boyfriend’s Mum, Pauline. although bread pudding is popular in many countries, English version seems to be one of these recipes passed from generation to generation. Pauline said that she didn’t have a recipe as such, she just remembered her Nan making it when she was a child. Rich, Christmassy flavour will make you forget about the cold outside.
below, original message and recipe from Pauline. thank you again for taking your time to introduce me to one of the wonders of British home-cooking ^^
This is what my grandparents made regularly when I was a child. It fills the home with a wonderful aroma of warm spice – almost like ‘Christmas come early’. It gives me a source of comfort of safe, loving childhood memories! I never had a recipe as there never was one, I just recall seeing it being made and you can’t really go wrong – so here it is.
Generally speaking, a recipe as such is not used, it is more of a way of using up stale bread combined with store cupboard ingredients that you may have to hand. But for those of you that have no idea of what or how much of anything to use – here is a rough guide.
6-8 slices or crusts of bread -fresh or stale
1.5 tablespoons of mixed spice
80g baking fat(butter, margarine)
100g any sugar(dark brown gives darker colour)
250g dried fruit(various)
Glace cherries, chopped nuts optional
HOW TO MAKE?
1. Preheat the oven 180 degrees
2. Grease a baking pan or deep pyrex dish
3. Break up bread but hold back a couple of slices, pour on enough water to make bread soggy. Squeeze out excess water. (The damp bread enables the dried fruit to swell whilst cooking). Add dried fruit and egg to soggy bread. If it feels too wet then add the other slices, or just add them anyway with a little more water.
4. Melt the fat, sugar and spice. Allow to cool slightly to avoid burning your hand. Pour onto bread mixture and mix well either by hand or wooden spoon.
5. Turn into greased dish. Level mixture and sprinkle some sugar on top to give a crispy sweet top. Bake in the oven 50-60 mins. Leave in pan to cool then cut into portions.
6. After trying these proportions, adjust to personal preference. You might like different amounts of spice – cinnamon or nutmeg etc, more or less sugar or different fat. Its nice hot or cold with custard, cream or ice cream.