The real thing

I’ve been thinking about recipes where the only proper thing to use is a convenience food rather than making an ingredient from scratch – for example, an obvious one is that real custard is made from Bird’s custard powder – sure, you can use cornflour and an egg in an emergency, though it wouldn’t be quite right, but in a trifle, making a ‘proper’ egg custard would just be wrong. Oh, and making the cake for it is a bit dubious, too. Bought trifle sponges or boudoir biscuits are fine. By the way, powdered custard which you make up with hot water may be kept for when you are desperate, I suppose, but it’s pretty rubbish. It has no body or substance to it and tastes of artificial sweetener. It has no place in trifle. And is barely passable on a treacle pudding or jam sponge. I agree with Sarah that tinned custard is fine though – and, for a trifle, it has the advantage of already being cold.

Salad Ni├žoise in a smart restaurant is a case in point. Seared fresh tuna is wrong. It has to be tinned. And those pallid salted anchovy fillets from the deli – no, it has to be the dark brown ones from a tin or jar. Anything else just disappoints. And, in fact, it’s not even correct.

My mother used to make proper Boston Baked Beans, about once every five years. I did, once or twice, many years ago, and tasty it was. But it’s hardly the real thing. Beans, it has to be said, meanz Heinz.

I don’t often use tomato ketchup, but there are times when nothing else will do. With shepherd’s or cottage pie, for instance. And fish fingers. And fish cakes, come to that.

There are foods which we remember from childhood, which are still a (possibly slightly guilty) pleasure, but that’s not quite what I mean – it’s foods or dishes that are actually more authentic when a tin or a packet is used. I thought I’d come up with a whole long list but, now I’m writing it down, I can’t think of many. Any suggestions? If so, I’ll add them to the post. Credited, of course.

Stock cubes (Sablonneuse)
Milk from a bottle rather than straight from the cow (Dave)
Oven chips (Mrs Rine)
Marmite as a flavouring agent (Allotment queen)
Worcestershire Sauce (Wendy)
Packet jelly (Wendy)
Tinned custard (Sarah)
Amoretti biscuits (Sarah)
Fish stock (Sarah)
Campbell’s Tomato soup (Martina & Luckyzmom)
Wyler’s Chicken or Beef crystals (broth concentrate) (Martina)
Heinz Catsup/Ketchup (Martina)
Ground mustard (Martina)

18 comments on “The real thing

  1. sablonneuse

    Yes I do agree about custard – especially as I like to make mine a bit thicker than normal. The French idea of custard (creme anglaise) is a very thin watery substance always eaten cold so that’s one thing they need to learn from the British!

    A convenience food I wouldn’t be without is a variety of stock cubes.

  2. Z

    How do Italians make lasagne without Oxo, one wonders?

    You are so right, Dave – although my milkman still delivers milk in glass bottles, which is even better.

  3. Mrs Rine

    You are right about beans, Z. We’ve gone on to low sugar and salt ones, but they are not the same and visiting children turn their noses up at them!
    I’d never make my own chips with a chip pan. If we were having them, they would be oven chips from frozen.

  4. Wendy

    Cottage pie must have Worcestershire sauce too.

    And packet jelly in a trifle – not posh jelly made from scratch with fruit reductions and sheet gelatine. (Unless you don’t like jelly in a trifle at all, of course.)

    Funny that I think of stock cubes as one of those vital pantry ingredients and not as a convenience thingy at all – sometimes, if we’ve had a roast chicken I might be moved to make proper stock but truly those moments are rare.

  5. Sarah

    You can stop writing the book Z, Delia has beaten you to it!

    Ambrosia tinned custard is the only one for trifles….and Amoretti biscuits!

    Fish stock from Waitrose…who can be fagged to boil up all those heads?

  6. Completely Alienne

    It’s funny but I always think of Birds Custard as Real Custard. Creme anglaise is fine for iles flottantes but not for anything else.

    And yes, I could imagine cooking without stock cubes, bisto, marmite and worcestershire sauce. My girls prefer cheap and nasty Wimpey style tomato sauce to Heinz. Also with you on the baked beans; only proper, normal heinz will do.

    By the way Z, when are you going to ‘fess up to whatever it was did and then casually mentioned chez Jaywalker? I am consumed with curiosity.

  7. Z

    I think that fried chips are better than oven chips actually, Mrs R, but I use oven chips myself, and I certainly don’t start with potatoes and do the whole thing – if I’m doing that, I’d do wedges or roast potatoes, far less trouble.

    Oh, Jelly -you’re right, Wendy. Mind you, home-made jelly with fruit juice is delicious, but rather a sign of trying too hard.

    Sarah, as Waitrose is half an hour’s drive away, it’s quicker for me to make the stock – though I agree in principle. Actually, I have an original 70s paperback of Delia’s cheat cookbook, and dismal reading it is. I’m only referring to where a tin is actually better than fresh, not where time-saving is the main point at issue.

    Still too embarrassed, CA – and it’s got something of a “ew” factor into the bargain. Anyway, the bleeding’s stopped now.

  8. Z

    I knew someone would mention tomato soup, Martina! And indeed, why would you make cream of tomato soup, when it tastes just the same as tinned?

    Do you mean ready-mixed mustard, or mustard powder rather than grinding the seeds? I do like it from powder best as it’s so hot, but I usually use a jar because there’s less waste.

  9. Z

    I knew that was what you meant – typos don’t count in comments as one never notices them until ‘publish’ has been pressed.

    Mind you, in an email yesterday, I hoped someone was wekk now after an operation. I didn’t even notice until I got the reply.

    And yes, I have, haven’t I? Heh.

  10. Z

    Is it cream of tomato soup with a completely smooth consistency though, Dave? My tomato soup doesn’t taste like tinned either, but I don’t add thickeners or cream.

    I nearly added a disclaimer, that Dave’s soup would be different, but I didn’t in the end in case it wasn’t. Because I haven’t actually tasted your tomato soup.


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