The Queen and King of Scouse
Two historical-gastronomical pieces today from Mr Lupin Senior.
But first some explanations for overseas readers and possibly any southern British who think the world ends at Watford.
The nickname for Liverpool people is 'Scousers'. This somes from a dish called 'Scouse'. It is similar to Irish Stew but should not be confused with Lancashire Hot Pot which is cooked in the oven. Both Irish Stew and Scouse are cooked on top of the stove.
But both dishes, where the meat and vegetables are cooked together, lent themselves to being cooked slowly while people were at work in the mills and other traditional industries of the north west.
The name 'Scouse' is thought to have come from the old Norse word 'Skaus', for a type of stew, and to have been introduced to Liverpool by Norwegian sailors. Some people say the stew itself was introduced from Norway. But given Liverpool's Irish heritage, it seems more likely to me that scouse derives from Irish Stew and that Norwegian sailors who were given it said 'Ah, skaus!'
Now over to my father. The first piece describes a style of shopping in the 1920s so very different from our own dear Sainsburys or Tesco.
THE QUEEN OF SCOUSE
Mary Ann must have been the uncrowned Scouse Queen of Merseyside. On a Monday morning she would bustle off to the local butcher, Mike McGann's. Rabbits and breasts of lamb would be hanging from the racks behind the counter, losing fridge space to more expensive cuts.
"Well, Mary Ann, what is it this morning?", the butcher would say. "A fillet of beef or a whole sirloin?"
"I want none of your cheek. You should be on the Metropole stage. I'll have a sixpenny breast of lamb. The last one you tried to sell me had less meat on it than piano keys. Just you get some of them down for me to look at."
"Best New Zealand lamb they are."
"Holy Jesus! They look as though they grazed on Seaforth Sands."
The haggling was a weekly ritual which always ended with Mary Ann asking "Would you be after chucking in a knob of suet? The kids love their doughboys (dumplings)."
Having purchased her sixpenny breast of lamb and scrounged her suet, she hurried into Ma Kelly's, the greengrocer.
"Good morning, Molly, I'll 'ave me usual twopennyworth of pot herbs."
And before Molly could reply, she would be helping herself to a couple of bruised carrots and a swede past its shelf life. She would remove the outer stalks from a head of celery and then hold up a withered couple of leeks and say "You'll never enter these at Southport Flower Show."
"What do you think my shop is? A parish jumble sale?"
"For God's sake, it's a favour I'm doing you, removing rubbish that you'd never sell.....this onion is sprouting. Now I'll have five pounds of potatoes and do you have a bit of parsley goin' spare?"
Mary Ann would then pay her four pence: two pence for her so-called 'Pot Herbs' and two pence for her potatoes.
Why an assortment of bits of vegetables should be called 'Pot Herbs' owed more to Irish mythology than to culinary fact.
But for ten pence and a two penny loaf, a nutritious meal would feed the whole family. All the meat and vegetables would boil in one pan and ,when served with the bread, the children would require only a spoon and a big appetite.
THE SCOUSE KING
While Mary Ann was the Scouse Queen, King George V was the Scouse King. Well, almost.
His favourite lunch was Irish Stew, an upmarket version of Scouse.
His French chef would prepare the mise en place: four lean lamb cutlets, four olive-sized dumplings, six gouged round potatoes, chopped leeks, celery, onion and a bouquet garni.
The cutlets would be set to stew, then the vegetables and some of the trimmings from the potatoes would be added, along with the bouquet garni.
The cooked cutlets would be removed and the vegetables puréed into a thick sauce. The cutlets and the sauce would be reheated.
The cooked dumplings and potatoes would be arranged alternately around the meat and sauce on a silver presentation dish. Finally, the dish would be sprinkled with freshly chopped parsley.
A dish fit for a King, but probably tasting no better than Mary Ann's Scouse that fed four children and her docker husband.