On a trip to England this spring, I caught up with my golfing friends at their annual “away” outing. This year the golf was set in Shropshire’s historic Hawkstone Park. The Park boasts the usual English history complete with lords, barons, castles, gory battles and executions. In this case, it also has fascinating geography.
Hawkstone Park hosts a grotto, thought to be an old mine, set in a rock cliff (Grotto Hill) that seems spectacularly oversized in the context of the surrounding rolling English countryside. To supplement this already-impressive beauty, in the 18th century, one of the barons, Sir Richard Hill, added a gothic arch adornment along with a number of other follies. The result is a park so intriguing that it provided the setting for the original 1988 BBC production of C.S. Lewis’s “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”. Now the Park draws a bevy of tourists and offers a most delightful backdrop for golfers – such as our group of English women.
I probably didn’t mention that my “English golfing friends” were a group of about 50 women (or “ladies” as they call us in England). I didn’t think much about the size of our group, as we got together a couple of times a week at our home course when I lived there. So, this was perfectly routine for us. I was also oblivious to the deafening chatter that was coming from our banquet room during dinner. So, when I got up to use the “loo”, and a gentleman (a member at Hawkstone) jumped up from a group of gawking male golfers to question me, I was a bit bewildered. I could not imagine what I had done to attract so much attention (the English generally don’t like to attract attention). The exchange went a bit like this:
Hawkstone Golfer: We’ve never seen such a large group of women golfers here at Hawkstone. We were wondering where is your group from?
Me: We’re from The Vale in Worcestershire, and we just love this place (thinking a kind word might get me out of whatever trouble I was apparently in).
Hawkstone Golfer: Stunned silence and a look of confusion.
Me: Is something wrong?
Hawkstone Golfer: You certainly don’t sound like you are from Worcestershire.
Me: Oh, yes, I chuckled – my American accent. I lived here for a couple of years and never did master the local accent. But the rest of our group is from Worcestershire – a lovely group of English ladies here for a competition. Feel free to stop by and visit us…
He and his Hawkstone friends never did stop by. I suppose we were a bit intimidating as we were quite boisterous and outnumbered them substantially. Or perhaps he had all he wanted to know — that we were a temporary disruption and were not going to be a regular intrusion on his golf course. Or it could be that they simply didn’t want to interrupt our dinner, which was already underway.
Our banquet meal was a choice of chicken or beef. Had this been my first English meal, I would have been surprised to see the plate arrive with just meat and no garnishes, sides or vegetables. As a regular consumer of English pub meals, however, I knew the vegetables were coming later – potatoes and a medley of steamed vegetables. This was indeed the case that evening.
The English habit of serving steamed, family-style vegetables with dinner is something I’ve adopted eagerly at home and for guests. If you’re not trying to caramelize vegetables (through pan frying or roasting), steaming is an excellent choice. Compared to boiling, it is easy, allows you to cook multiple vegetable types at one time and saves nutrients as well as flavor. When cooking for guests, you can steam ahead of time (leaving vegetables just a bit underdone) and then reheat just before serving.
- COOKING FUNDAMENTALS: STEAMING VEGETABLES. Steaming vegetables retains more nutrients, flavors and colors than boiling simply because the water has minimal contact with the food. The percentage retained from steaming will vary depending on the nutrient, but it will almost always be higher than boiling. A 2007 US Department of Agriculture report (USDA Table of Nutrient Retention Factors) shows some losses from boiling vegetables as high as 35% compared to only 15% from steaming. There are also aesthetic advantages to steaming as the agitation from boiling/simmering is avoided.
Steamers come in a variety of shapes/sizes. There are, of course, built-in countertop steamers. If your kitchen isn’t equipped with one of those (mine is not), you can purchase an inexpensive stove-top steamer. They come individual or stacked. I prefer stacked as you can cook different types of vegetables in each layer and remove each one when cooking is complete. Stainless is probably the most common type of steamer, many of which have glass tops — helpful for keeping an eye on your food progress.
I prefer a Chinese bamboo steamer. I like them because they are inexpensive, steam evenly and come with multiple stackable trays. They are designed to be used in a wok (water is placed in the bottom of the wok just below steamer base). The steamer top looks solid, but the weave in the bamboo cover allows for even venting of the steam.
English-Style Steamed Vegetables
Recipe By: A Global Garnish, LLC
1 1/4 pound vegetables, fresh, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, leeks, zucchini (courgette)
3 tablespoons butter, (optional)
1 tablespoon parsley, fresh, chopped (optional)
1. Cut vegetables in evenly sized pieces. These can be bite sized or larger.
2. Place vegetables in active steamer (do not bring steam up with vegetables in the steamer). They will cook best if steamed in a single layer. If using different vegetables, steam each type separately or place in different steamer trays so that each type can be removed when tender.
3. Steam until tender. The time will vary depending on the type of vegetable and size of pieces.
4. Combine all cooked vegetables in one serving bowl. Optional: Melt butter, mix with parsley and drizzle over cooked vegetables.