Remembrance of Foods Past

Nostalgia . . . . . n. 1. A bittersweet longing for things, persons, or situations of the past. 2. The condition of being homesick; homesickness.

It’s not always easy being an expat.  When in the company of British people I don’t have a common cultural reference point when people my age talk about TV programmes and events which shaped their collective lives.  But it is fascinating to learn about things like The Magic Roundabout, Tony Hancock and The Winter of Discontent.  In a funny way though, I never felt like I “fit in” in the 35 years I lived in Southern California, so it feels natural to be a misfit over here too.  At least now, I have a bona fide reason.

But sometimes I long for childhood foods which I just can’t find over here.  I grew up in the 1960’s, the Age of TV Dinners and Processed Food, but luckily both of my parents cooked from scratch.  I spent a lot of time in the kitchen and started cooking when I was 8 or 9. I was home by myself a lot and very happily made good things to eat whenever I felt like it. I hear people talk about how deprived they were as children because Mom wasn’t there to make chocolate chip cookies when they got home from school.  Heck, my Mom had a job, so I made my own cookies!

Anyhow, I recently had a hankering for Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast (or as it’s known in some circles, “Shit on a Shingle,” more politely abbreviated to “S.O.S.”) a couple of weeks ago.  That classic American comfort food made from processed, salted beef in a cream sauce.  Served over toast points.  With origins in the South as a breakfast item, traditional creamed chipped beef is most often made with dried, shelf-stable slivers of intensely salty beef.  When I was a kid, we always had a package of Carl Buddig Beef in the fridge.  I used to make this for breakfast or lunch all the time.

I had a look on some of the American food websites and forums to discover that I can’t get Buddig beef over here,

creamed beef4

but someone suggested using Bresaola (Italian air dried beef ) as a substitute.

creamed beef5

A couple days ago when I was shopping at Sainsbury’s, I also found this finely sliced salt beef in the cooked meat section and got a pack of each to do a comparison.

creamed beef1

So this morning, I made Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast for the first time on British shores.  I refreshed my memory with a recipe in The Fanny Farmer Cookbook.  She describes it as a ‘comforting, old-fashioned supper dish’ but what does she know?  Any Southerner will tell you that it’s for breakfast!

Creamed Chipped Beef

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons plain flour
  • 8 oz milk
  • 4 oz dried, chipped, processed beef, cut into strips
  • pepper to taste
  • whole wheat toast, cut into points

Melt the butter in a skillet, stir in the flour to make a paste.  Slowly whisk in the milk to form a smooth sauce.  Add the beef and gently heat until it thickens to a creamy consistency.  Season with pepper and serve over toast.

Some people leave the toast in one piece, hence the ‘shingle’, but I think it’s more elegant to cut the toast into points.  That’s part of the experience too.  Holding a hot piece of toast and cutting it up onto a plate.

creamed beef2

creamed beef3


creamed beef6


It was good and Steve really liked it, but I felt that something was missing.

It was slightly bland.  It lacked piquancy, that certain je ne sais quoi.

Maybe because I used unsalted butter or the beef wasn’t as salty?

I looked up a couple of recipes online and discovered the missing ingredient.

Worcestershire sauce!!  That’s it.  We had a bottle of French’s Wershter Sauce which is the final addition to a good plate of Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast.

The next time I whip up a batch, I’ll stir in some Worcestershire Sauce at the last minute to make it a WOW!

(Of course, these days it’ll be Lea & Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce, but what the hay!  When in Rome . . . )


2 thoughts on “Remembrance of Foods Past

  1. Mlindy! Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast!! My mother’s default on a Sunday evening over the Disney Hour and the Fred Sullivan Show, along with a lot of Campbell’s soup, and vanilla or butterscotch ‘pudding’ for desert, and then maybe popcorn. What was the other ‘creamed … on toast’ thing we would have?

    I’m reminded of Bill Bryson’s comment about the default family foods of post-1950s America: “we thought hamburgers and milkshakes were good for us.”

    When my dad was cooking, he’d make a big pot of chili con carne, or a beef stew, or hamburgers, for Sunday evening dinners, on top of a roast beef and multiple cooked veg for Sunday lunch, after bacon and eggs, and if it was winter, pancakes, for breakfast. He maintained that when he married my mom, she couldn’t cook an egg. Mom did a lot of Campbell’s soup and tuna sandwiches, if not creamed chipped beef. And cookies.

    Ahh, Nostalgia! If it doesn’t de-rail us.

  2. Nice food memories John!! My Sunday night TV fare was The Wonderful World of Disney and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. I’m working my way up to Proust via comfort food!

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