My Citizens – we have at last reached the end of our journey along the oddly-cobbled road of unusually-named British dishes, and this one is an old favorite: toad in the hole! A most auspicious finish line indeed, and one that is surprisingly easy to make despite a few unusual ingredients and a most-certainly unusual name! Never fear – although TFD is feeling under the weather today, He will rally his flagging energies and provide you with an excellent recipe indeed for your gustatory delight.
Toad in the hole or Sausage Toad is a traditional English dish consisting of sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter, usually served with onion gravy and vegetables. Historically, the dish has also been prepared using other meats, such as rump steak and lamb’s kidney – always leftovers.
The dish was originally not called toad in the hole. In the 1787 book A Provincial Glossary, for example, it was referred to as “meat boiled in a crust”. The first mention of the word “hole”, outside of Pigeons in a Hole found in the cookbook by Hannah Glasse, appeared in the 1900 publication Notes & Queries, which described the dish as a “batter-pudding with a hole in the middle containing meat”.
Despite popular belief, there is no record of the dish ever being made with toad. The origin of the name is unclear, but it may refer to the way toads wait for their prey in their burrows, making their heads visible in the earth, just like the sausages peep through the batter. It may also derive from the “Antediluvian Toad”, a phenomenon of live frogs or toads being found encased in stone, which was a scientific fad of the late 18th century.
It has been noted that an ‘origin story’ for the name does supposedly exist, but it is almost certain to be nothing more than a local legend. Some have told the tale that Toad-in-the-Hole originates from the town of Alnmouth in Northumberland, where the local golf course was overrun with Natterjack toads.
During a golf tournament, a golfer putted his ball only for it to leap back out before an angry toad raised its head, peering out of the hole that it had been sleeping in. The chef at the hotel the golfers were staying in devised a dish to resemble this humorous moment, baking sausages in batter to appear like toads poking their heads out of the golf holes – and thus Toad-in-the-Hole was born!
While an unlikely origin story, it is definitely the case that batter puddings such as toad in the hole became popular in the early 18th century and Jennifer Stead has drawn attention to a description of a recipe identical to toad in the hole from the middle of the century. At this time, Northerners tended to use drippings to make their puddings crispier, whereas Southerners made softer Yorkshire puddings.
Dishes like toad in the hole appeared in print as early as 1762, where it was described as a “vulgar” name for a “small piece of beef baked in a large pudding”. Toad in the hole was originally created as a way to stretch out meat in poor households and it served its purpose most admirably. Chefs therefore suggested using the cheapest meats in this dish. In 1747, for example, Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery listed a recipe for “pigeon in a hole”, calling for pigeon rather than the contemporary sausages.
In 1861, Isabella Beeton listed a similar recipe using rump steak and lamb’s kidney, while Charles Elme Francatelli’s 1852 recipe mentions “6d. or 1s.” worth of any kind of cheap meat. This recipe was described as “English cooked-again stewed meat” (lesso rifatto all’inglese) or “toad in the Hole”, in the first book of modern Italian cuisine, which stressed that meat was to be leftover from stews and re-cooked in batter.
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