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Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Bellerbys & Yorkshire Hospitality

Halfway through breakfast in Holmfirth.

In Chapter 10 of All Creatures Great and Small, Alf Wight (writing under his pseudonym of James Herriot) relates an experience with the Bellerbys, a family that worked an isolated farm in the high country.  One day he was planning on attending a performance of Handel’s Messiah.  At the Bellerby farm, their daughter Ruth mentions that they "did badly want to go, but it's such a job getting the pony and trap ready and it's so slow.  If you could give us a lift down in your car, I know we'd be able to get a ride back."  Of course, James is happy to oblige.  After he finishes attending their cow, he goes over to their house, only to discover that they’ve yet to eat their noontime meal. 

The Bellerbys are typical of the kind and generous people James Herriot meets in Yorkshire.  As Mrs. Hall was preparing lunch for him back at Skeldale House, James declines their invitation to join them.  Yet his stomach rumbles as:

“Mrs. Bellerby served a large, round Yorkshire pudding to each of them and poured a pool of gravy into it from a quart-size enamel jug.”  Herriot watches as the family consumes the “thick, doughy masses.”  

“Next, a tremendous roast appeared from the oven and Mr. Bellerby hacked and sawed at it till they all had a heap of thick slices on their plates.  Then mountains of mashed potatoes were served from something that looked like a washing-up bowl.  Chopped turnip followed and the family went into action again.

Then Mrs. Bellerby produced a “great flat baking tin of steaming apple pie.  She then proceeded to carve off about a square foot for each of them and deluged it with something like a pint of custard from another towering enamel jug.”

Halfway through breakfast in Thirsk

While James Herriot didn’t share this particular meal with the Bellerbys, he records plenty of instances in his books when he did eat with the farmers.  The portion sizes Mrs. Bellerby dished out were far from extraordinary.  In the second book, All Things Bright and Beautiful, after James marries Helen, and she starts cooking him meals in their upstairs apartment, he realizes that he’s putting on extra weight.  By the time he joins the Royal Air Force (recorded in All Things Wise and Wonderful), and he is forced to jog with his fellow recruits, he regrets having packed on all those extra pounds.

Despite my dedication to my diet, and my efforts at keeping my own weight under control, I found myself eating larger portion sizes in England.  Often we stayed in hotels that offered full, complimentary, English breakfasts.  As much as we tried to steer the staff toward smaller portion sizes, we inevitably ended up with several plates full of food.  When our egg white omelets arrived, we found them not only larger, but also sizzling with more cheese than most pizzas.  Instead of oatmeal prepared with water, heaping bowls of porridge, cooked with whole milk and honey, arrived at our table.  Three or five large pieces of bacon arrived instead of the one or two requested.  One slice of toast for each of us became seven or eight, as many as could be jammed into the toast rack.  

All this good food bogged down our systems at the start of the day, as we are used to smaller breakfasts.  But we hate wasting good food.  We also recognized that we were eating things we simply couldn’t get back home.  Sure, we’ve got mushrooms, bacon, sausage, and cheese back in the states, but the varieties in England taste notably different.  Then there’s the Black Pudding, and the kippers that we don’t have in America.

A requested "half-portion" of porridge, and other good food.

How quickly the discovery of something good can lead to overindulgence!  Thankfully, another world war doesn’t seem imminent, so it’s unlikely I’ll be marching or running with the military any time soon.  Still, we plan on utilizing our gym membership more than ever in the next few months.  I expect we’ll also return to much smaller portion-sizes. 

Thanks for consuming the portions I’m serving,
Dragon Dave

Related Dragon Cache entries

Related Link
Wikipedia on James Herriot  (This page contains biographical information on the real-life Alf Wight, discusses issues raised in his James Herriot books, and correlates the American omnibus editions with their British counterparts). 

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