Josephine Morris, from York, England, is whirring around her New Gloucester kitchen faster than I can take notes. She has gravy cooking in one pot, cabbage and green beans steaming in another, a beef roast and potatoes in the oven, a cheese sauce forming, a blender full of batter... Whatever she’s making is basically the opposite of a one-pot meal.
I ask her who taught her how to cook.
“Me mum,” she answers. “And then me self.”
I guess I can skip the DNA test to prove she’s British.
Watching her move so assuredly in the kitchen makes me doubt the legendarily poor reputation of English food. When a cook moves like that, only good can come of it.
Brits call it Sunday dinner. At Josephine’s house, though, Sunday dinner could be served any day of the week.
“Nikky always wants me to do Yorkshire puddings and a roast when her family’s coming,” she says, referring to her daughter. More than a decade ago, Nikky came to the United States for a job in occupational therapy. While here, she fell in love with native Mainer Scott Howard, the founder of Olivia’s Garden, a hydroponic greenhouse at Pineland Farms. (You might have seen his roots-on basil, lettuce, and tomatoes at the Portland farmers’ market or Hannaford; Olivia’s Garden is not to be confused with Olivia’s Organics, a different, out-of-state company.)
After Scott and Nikky had kids, Nikky would send plane tickets to her mom, so that she could come visit from England. “I’d get back [from Maine],” Josephine recalls, “And she’d send me more tickets.”
Maybe Nikky couldn’t live without her mother’s Yorkshire pudding.
“Nikky would never make Yorkshire puddings [herself]. They’re temperamental. I hope I don’t have a failure.” Josephine says, laughing.
Basically, Yorkshire pudding is crepe batter, oven-fried in a muffin tin. Made of just eggs, flour, milk, salt, and a little oil, they the lightest and airiest buns you’ll ever eat. In the 1800s, Americans gave the savory treats a new name, presumably because they realized: Hey, these things aren’t really “pudding.” Calling them “popovers” made more sense because they pop over the edge of the pan as the batter rises in the oven.
For foolproof popovers, Josephine makes sure to start with room-temperature milk and eggs, and to preheat the muffin tin with a teaspoon of oil in each hole before pouring in the batter.
“If you haven’t got your fat quite right, or your oven’s off, they might be a bit stodgy,” she says. Stodgy? “They wouldn’t rise,” she clarifies. “It wouldn’t be light. A Yorkshire pudding should be crisp on the outside and almost air in the middle.”
Turns out, it’s fun to eat food filled with air. Josephine teaches me to not pick it up like it’s a dinner roll, but to keep it on my plate, break it open, and pour gravy into the cavity.
“More.” She doesn’t let me stop until my popover is half-filled and swimming. Then, I use a knife and fork to scoop up the gravy-soaked pieces.
No worries about having a heart attack. Josephine has thickened her gravy with pureed roasted carrot, green pepper, and tomatoes instead of melted beef fat. It’s a brilliant trick — I swear the gravy tasted better than full-fat versions I remember.
“Is that something your mother taught you?” I ask.
“No, that is me,” she replies.
For the recipes, live cooking class info, and to contact the author, visit www.immigrantkitchens.com.