toad-in-the-hole

I’ve written about my paternal grandfather before and I’m sure I’ll write about him again. He was a big, strapping, handsome Yorkshireman with beautiful blue eyes that crinkled and smiled when he smiled – which was often. He had a fabulous Yorkshire accent. He called everyone Love. “Eeeee Luv,” he would say to waitresses and shopkeepers and neighbours and really, anyone and everyone who crossed his path.

When I was very young, my grandfather lived in the Yorkshire Dales – in an old stone house with a terraced garden down to the river where he grew roses and peas and lettuce. I’m sure he grew other things too but what I remember especially were the roses and peas. The roses were fragrant and beautiful – so many varieties and he was tender with all of them. We always had a vase of roses in the house – pink were my favourite. The peas – we picked straight from the vine and ate. Sometimes he would send me into the garden with a small pudding basin to collect peas for dinner and the pair of us would sit together later, shelling them, just before he cooked them. When they appeared on my plate for dinner they were perfection – sweet, lightly buttered, often served with a bit of fresh mint. Whenever I eat peas now, I think of my grandfather. And when I think of my grandfather – I think of love.When I was a bit older and the house on the river was too much for my grandfather, he sold it and moved to Burnley Road, Mytholmroyd, where he lived in a rowhouse that backed onto a school yard because he liked to hear the sounds of life.

My first memories are of my grandfather. When I was about three, I remember being in his kitchen rolling out the pastry for jam tarts with a tiny little rolling-pin. For my fourth birthday, he invited my only and dear cousin Jackie and made me an incredibly posh fruit cake with royal icing, decorated with marzipan fruits, which he let us pick off the cake and eat.

My grandfather who wore a suit and crisp white shirt with silver cufflinks every day, often donned an apron and cooked. He baked bread, cooked roasts, and made cakes. He let me help in the kitchen – standing me on a small stool while I kneaded a piece of dough or stirred batter or was assigned the job of being ‘taste-tester.’ Before I went to bed each night, he made me a cup of hot cocoa and served it alongside cream crackers slathered in butter and sometimes Seville orange marmalade.

This is how I came to know love.

The intersection of food, longing, and love is one of my favourite subjects. Food is at the heart of everything that matters. At the most basic level – food is about life and about our survival as a species. It’s how we all begin our lives and the thing that sustains us until the end. At some point along our evolutionary path, our human brains became wired to remember food and those who provided it for us. We eat in order to live but we have also developed powerful emotional connections to food. In other words, food, nurture, and love are inextricably linked in our minds.

Toad in the Hole was one of my grandfather’s favourites. For anyone unfamiliar – Toad in the Hole is a quintessential English dish – comprised of sausages (usually bangers) cooked in a Yorkshire pudding batter. It’s a lot more delicious than it sounds. The batter seals in the flavour and the result is this incredibly rich wonderful taste. And it’s especially good if you make it with a good brown onion gravy  and serve it with fresh peas and small new potatoes.

One of the first references to Toad in the Hole comes from the Oxford English Dictionary who recorded the phrase in 1787. Mrs. Beeton included a version in her 1861 cookbook. This version below is adapted slightly from Christina Bates book, Out of Old Ontario Kitchens (as found in the “Fiskin Manuscript Cookbook, Metropolitan Toronto Library”). My adaptations are shown in square brackets. My recipe for brown onion gravy follows.

Toad in the Hole

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 1hr
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

  • 1 lb. [454 grams]  [pure pork] sausages
  • ½ oz. butter [1 tbsp olive oil]
  • 4 oz [1 cup] flour
  • pepper & salt
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ pint [1 cup] milk

N.B. These are the original instructions from the Fiskin Manuscript Cookbook. My adaptations are in square brackets.

Grease a small pudding dish with the butter [here’s where I used 1 tbsp olive oil instead]. Prick the sausages and lay them in a dish. Put in the oven for ten minutes [at 350 deg F]. Place the flour in a bowl with pepper & salt, drop into the centre, the yolks of eggs. Over this a little milk, stir in the flour from the sides – add the rest of the milk and beat well together. Whip to a stiff froth the whites, the stiffer the better, and add to the batter. When the sausages have been cooked 10 minutes, pour the mixture over and cook ½ hour [at 375 deg F].

Brown Onion Gravy

  • 2 large onions, chopped reasonably finely
  • generous dash salt
  • 1-2 tsp brown sugar
  • dash balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 cup stock

Saute onions, salt, brown sugar and olive oil until onions are completely and thoroughly softened and browned. Add balsamic vinegar. Stir. Sprinkle with flour. Stir well then whisk in the stock and thicken over medium heat. Thin with a little more stock or water if needed. Serve hot over the Toad in the Hole.

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26 thoughts on “memories of love: toad in the hole

    1. Aw Ned – thanks. He was one fabulous guy. He died when I was 14 and I still miss him very much but so thankful I had the time I did with him. Hope all is well with you. I’ve moved and finished my manuscript! Hip Hip HOORAY! xo

  1. A beautiful rant about love, life and food. I couldn’t agree more and can picture your handsome, strapping Grandpap, dressed in suit, making a meal of/with love. I only wish/hope, the children of today can have as fond of memories and inspiration of/from their meals.

  2. I love the story of your Grandfather, I remember you writing about him in another post (or two) and he sounds like such a wonderful, kind and loving man. I can visualize him from your description and his lovely cottage and can also imagine you as a child with him in that magical place. I have heard of toad in a hole but didn’t know what it was. It really does sound delicious and perfect with the peas and potatoes. It almost sounds like a savory clafouti.

    1. You know what – that’s an accurate description – the savoury clafouti. Especially this recipe which is slightly less Yorkshire Pudding-esque. SO simple and so tasty and a great old-fashioned comfort food dinner. thanks Suzanne for your comments – especially about my beloved grandfather.

    1. Thank you Ronit! So kind of you.
      And that’s a very good point about the difference between sausages and bangers.
      I’ve always thought of bangers as English pork or mutton sausages containing raw meat. Not smoked or cured or in any way like a Polish sausage or German sausage or hotdogs. I could be wrong. But the term sausage seems so all encompassing. In Canada we can actually buy sausages labelled English Bangers. They are just chubby pork sausages with very little added flavouring – perfect for Toad in the Hole. 😉

      1. Thanks for the explanation. Meanwhile I got curious and also found this on Wikipedia:
        “The term “bangers” is attributed (in common usage in the UK) to the fact that sausages, particularly the kind made during World War II under rationing, were made with water so they were more likely to explode under high heat if not cooked carefully; modern sausages do not have this attribute.”
        Sounds logical… 🙂

    1. Thank you Hilda – so happy to hear from you. I’m finished my manuscript and have moved into my new house so will have a little more time to spend blogging, reading, and cooking. And I’m ready to go foraging anytime. I found a lot of wild grapes just down the road from me if you’re interested.

      1. Thanks so much for the offer. I’m afraid I missed this reply when it was made – so I am probably late for the wild grapes. I hope you managed to get some.

  3. First, I love that you quote the OED. Secondly, what a beautiful post. There is something special about relationships with grandparents. I love that you collected peas from the garden with roses too and that when your grandfather got older he was inspired by the sounds of life. It’s amazing that you associate him with food and love. I associate my grandpa with scotch. He was possibly my favorite person in the world. As for the recipe, I’m so unfamiliar with English cooking so I love learning these things. Your photos are gorgeous. I did recently discover a wonderful gastro-pub that has enlightened the glories of English cooking. Thanks for this beautiful post.

    1. Lovely Amanda – thank you. I LOVE hearing from you. Funny that you associate your grandfather with scotch – I associate my grandfather with brandy. He said it was medicinal and had a big snifter every night before bed while I had my cocoa! I love that he was possibly your favourite person in the world. My grandfather was my favourite person. Absolutely. And oh yes – good English pub food is simply classic. xo

  4. Beautifully written, as always, my friend. Your grandpa sounds like he was an awesome, loving man. I can picture your whole story. Reminds me of my great grandpa making me porridge in my Nanny’s kitchen. Thank you for sharing and bringing my memories back to me, yet again. (Although, I would have to alter the recipe to vegetarian.) 😉

    1. Dear Kendra – you have a way of appearing in my life when I need a friend. Thank you. If your grandpa was anything like you – he was absolutely wonderful. And yes – I imagine vegetarian sausages would actually work here. What a great idea. Please come and see me. ❤

  5. Wonderful, Lindy! I never knew either of my grandfathers, who died before I was born. I did, however, spend most of my time in my mother’s kitchen, learning her secrets, creaming butter and sugar …and taste testing! I’d heard of Toad in the Hole, but didn’t know what it was. Some frosty morning,I am definitely cranking this out!

    1. Oh Tonette – I’m so sorry you didn’t know your grandfathers but it’s wonderful that you cooked with your mother. And yes – taste testing – an important part of the cooking process especially for children. Lovely to see you again. 😉

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