the jailer's daughter brings toad some toast
illustration by E.H. Shepard
"Bubble-and-squeak" is one of my family's favorite meals: leftover pork scraps, shredded cabbage, a good dose of cream, a bit of paprika, some caraway seeds, and a sprinkling of Swiss cheese baked all together until the whole mess "bubbles and squeaks." This is the sort of dish I have to ask my husband to move as far away from me as possible after dinner, so that I don't endlessly pick and nibble and soak up stray juices with bits of buttered bread.

I learned about bubble-and-squeak in college, when my husband (to-be) read Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows to me for the first time. Inspired by the name of the dish, we threw a dinner party, the whole point of which was bubble-and-squeak. Our friends—literary types, to be sure—were as excited as we were about the onomatopoetic casserole. That night we used (and still do) Fanny Farmer's recipe for a similar dish, "Pork Baked with Cabbage and Cream." (Though we've since learned that real bubble and squeak is usually just cabbage —the squeak— with potatoes —the bubble).

Like so many seriously yummy, homey dishes, it is sadly unphotogenic.

We had it again tonight, for dinner, and I feel about three pounds heavier than I did an hour ago, but also inspired to dig up the quote from The Wind in the Willows. It occurs in the chapter called "Toad's Adventures," after Toad finds himself "immured in a dank and noisome dungeon, and knew that all the grim darkness of a medieval fortress lay between him and the outer world of sunshine and well-metalled high roads where he had lately been so happy." Shedding "bitter tears" and abandoning himself to "dark despair," he laments, "This is the end of everything . . . at least it is the end of the career of Toad, which is the same thing; the popular and handsome Toad, the rich and hospitable Toad, the Toad so free and careless and debonair! How can I hope to be ever set at large again . . . who have been imprisoned so justly for stealing so handsome a motor-car in such an audacious manner, and for such lurid and imaginative cheek, bestowed upon such a number of fat, red-faced policemen!"

It is the jailer's (or "gaoler's) daughter—"a pleasant wench and goodhearted"— whose heart breaks for Toad, and who brings the miserable animal the fragrant, melodious dish:

It was bubble-and-squeak, between two plates, and its fragrance filled the narrow cell. The penetrating smell of cabbage reached the nose of Toad as he lay prostrate in his misery on the floor, and gave him the idea for a moment that perhaps life was not such a blank and desperate thing as he had imagined. But still he wailed, and kicked with his legs, and refused to be comforted. so the wise girl retired for the time, but, of course, a good deal of the smell of hot cabbage remained behind, as it will do, and Toad, between his sobs, sniffed and reflected, and gradually began to think new and inspiring thoughts: of chivalry, and poetry, and deeds till to be done; of broad meadows, and cattle browsing in them, raked by sun and wind; of kitchen-gardens, and straight herb-borders, and warm snapdragon beset by bees; and of the comforting clink of dishes set down on the table at Toad Hall, and the scrape of chair-legs on the floor as every one pulled himself close up to his work. The air of the narrow cell took on a rosy tinge; he began to think of his friends, and how they would surely be able to do something; of lawyers, and how they would have enjoyed his case, and what an ass he had been not to get in a few; and lastly, he thought of his own great cleverness and resource, and all that he was capable of if he only gave his great mind to it; and the cure was almost complete.
But we can't stop here. Though Toad never actually eats the inspiring bubble-and-squeak, he does eat some of the most delicious toast in all of literature in the very next paragraph:

When the girl returned, some hours later, she carried a tray, with a cup of fragrant tea steaming on it; and a plate piled up with very hot buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter running through the holes in it it great golden drops, like honey from the honeycomb. The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one's ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender; of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries. Toad sat up on end once more, dried his eyes, sipped his tea and munched his toast, and soon began talking freely about himself, and the house he lived in, and his doings there, and how important he was, and what a lot his friends thought of him.
RELATED POST: Ratty's Picnic

1 comment:

  1. The way you stroll around culture and see recipes every where? That's the way my garden is filled with friends, stories and art, literature and film, memories and lies.:)


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