memories of love: 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 was my early introduction to love.

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. The pink ones 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 food, love, joy.

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 that 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 quintessentially 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 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”).

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

Toad in the Hole

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: moderate
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  • 1 lb. [454 grams]  [pure pork] sausages
  • ½ oz. butter [or 1 tbsp olive oil]
  • 4 oz [1 cup] flour
  • pepper & salt
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ pint [1 cup] milk

Grease a small pudding dish with the butter [or olive oil]. 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, add 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.