Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Faggots" in Ale and Onion Gravy

If there is indeed a heaven, I like to think it will have at least one really great pub, preferably medieval in origin, where the reward for our - ahem - exemplary behavior in this vale of tears will be an eternity spent quaffing cask-conditioned ales and that quasi-hallucinogenic, still cider one only finds in Somerset. The picture above shows just the sort of place I mean, The George and Pilgrims in Glastonbury; your humble correspondent can be glimpsed on the left, her nose buried in a pint of a golden elixir that imparted a certain glow to the remainder of the afternoon.

This venerable establishment was founded in 1430 as a place of rest and refreshment for visitors to the nearby Abbey, which traces its roots to the 7th century, but was founded in its medieval form in the 10th century by St. Dunstan, the Abbot of Glastonbury (who became the Archbishop of Canterbury in 960 - aren't you glad I'm telling you all this?!).

Of course, Glastonbury was a tourist trap for centuries before there was a festival or a High Street filled with New Age crystal emporia and vegetarian restaurants, for the simple reason that in 1191, while digging through the foundations after a ruinous fire, the monks discovered - wait for it! - the bones of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. Talk about a stroke of luck for a religious house in need of a little extra dosh for an ambitious rebuilding project, especially when added to the legend that Joseph of Arimethea had chosen a nearby site to bury the Holy Grail for safekeeping!

Thereafter, pilgrims arrived in a steady stream, putting Glastonbury on the map of medieval destination spots and making the Abbey rich in one fell swoop. Alas, this joy ride came to an abrupt end in the 1530s with the Dissolution of the Monasteries, during which erstwhile Defender of the Faith Henry VIII, in the course of establishing himself as Supreme Head of the Church in England, decided all that money and real estate could be put to better use. So much for the abbot, the monks, and their coffers, to say nothing of poor Arthur and Guinevere - le sigh - but the George and Pilgrims has endured Reformation, Revolution, Restoration, and a whole bunch of other things beginning with "R," and remains a remarkably unspoiled oasis in the midst of what is still a very bustling, busy place. Besides which, I mean - look at it!

By now you're probably thinking, "She's doing it again - this is all very fascinating, but what does it have to do with faggots?" Well, I'm coming to them (and there's nothing rude or funny about that, by the way; honestly, you people). In my heavenly imaginary pub - which has probably been forgotten in all the talk of cider and monks and skeletons and kings and whatnot -  they will have to be food, if only to keep everyone in the afterlife from being pissed out of their minds 24/7. And this food will have to be pub grub as it exists in the mind of God, right? Which means it will all be vegan - hurrah!

So amidst the shepherd's pies, "fish" & chips, bangers & mash, chip butties, etc. there will obviously be faggots in onion gravy. One recent evening, in my weak, mortal zeal to taste such celestially blissful fare without actually shuffling off this mortal coil, I decided to have a go at making some serious pub grub in my all-too-earthly kitchen, and let me just say that if dinner in the afterlife is better than this, we do have something to look forward to, because this was pretty damned good.

Please bear in mind that these aren't really "faggots," just vegetarian meatballs - for which the gentle reader should stop snickering and be profoundly grateful, since actual faggots are a nauseating, ground-up compound of the bits of our besnouted, porcine friends that nobody wants to talk about, cooked in lard and coated with a layer of...oh, never mind. This is supposed to be about food, and if I carry on this way you'll need to find a bucket to be sick in, and then where will be? Suffice to say that it were better to be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck, and instead applaud the deed once you've made this fragrant, delightfully offal-free knock-off of a pub grub classic.

On this particular occasion, I confess to taking the lazy man's way and using frozen veggie meatballs from my local market, but if you'd like to make your own, there are a million recipes out there, so by all means go for it. Since they're meant to bake in the gravy, they absorb a lot of its flavor, so don't worry too much about their seasonings, although I'd avoid aggressively "Italian" varieties that are heavy on the oregano, etc., should you follow my slothful example and go the frozen route. Optimally, these should be served with a pile of mashed potatoes and mushy peas, which might be described on that heavenly pub menu as representing the fluffy sheep which safely graze on the green and pleasant hills of Albion. Or not.

Time, gentlemen!

"Faggots" in Ale and Onion Gravy
~ 2 pkgs. meatless meatballs (TJ's or Nate's are good); about 48 smallish if homemade
~ 1 tbsp. canola oil
~ 1 tbsp. margarine
~ 2 large yellow onions, diced
~ 2 large red onions, diced
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, sugar
~ 1/2 tsp. each sage, parsley
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 2 tbsp. flour
~ 1 tbsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
~ 1-2 tsp. Marmite
~ 12 oz. good brown ale
~ 8 oz. vegetable stock

~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit; coat a large baking dish or casserole with cooking spray.
~ On a nonstick baking sheet, arrange the meatballs in a single layer and bake for 10-15 minutes, shaking occasionally. Transfer the cooked meatballs to the baking dish and set aside.
~ Heat the oil and margarine in a saucepan and cook the onion over medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until soft.
~ Turn the heat down to low, stir in the salt, sugar, sage, parsley and pepper, then leave the pan uncovered and continue cooking until the onions are brown, reduced and caramelized. Remember to give them the occasional stir so they don't stick; this should take another 20-25 minutes.
~ Add the flour and the Worcestershire sauce; stir to make a roux, adding a bit of the stock to make a smooth paste, and cook another minute or two.
~ Gradually add the ale and the remaining stock, stirring with each addition, and bring to a simmer. Cook another 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened.
~ Pour the onion gravy over the meatballs in their baking dish, making sure they are all completely immersed in ale-and-oniony goodness.
~ Place the baking dish in the center of the oven and cook uncovered at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes, until the gravy has thickened and the meatballs have softened a bit.
~ Serve hot with mashed potatoes, mushy peas, and a pint of bitter. (Some glazed carrots and individual Yorkshire puddings - a recipe I'm still perfecting, so watch this space - wouldn't come amiss, either.)


  1. This is so funny - last night my tennis practice partner and I were talking about his recent visit to the UK, what castles I've been to, and other Angophile topics, and we were talking about this very thing, but could not remember the name of the town! We were scratching our heads for a while, going, "Gloucester? Gloucester? No..." and then suddenly I remembered, "Glastonbury!" and we were laughing about the remains of Arthur and Guinevere. I've never been there.

    Love the pic. I miss England so much.

  2. Favourite blog read EVER!!!
    Love this post so so much I can't begin to tell you, but I will try. Firstly I am a Somerset lass and have a more than healthy penchant for the cider you speak of, secondly I have downed many a said cider in that very pub and thirdly I used to LOVE faggots as a pre vegan. I always found it ironic, and still do, that the number one brand of faggots in the UK is made by none other than Brains!!
    I am so excited with this idea of creating a vegan version I shall dedicate a whole heap of time to the task, and whence successful I shall name them after thee.

    Happy New Year by the way. I know I'm late but I'm still playing catch-up after the hols.

  3. Hey, Jeni, that's awesome - I didn't know you were from Somerset, it's so lovely there. My family's in the Midlands, but my partner taught a summer course in Bath this past year, which provided lots of opportunity for exploration...and cider! I wish I could remember who made the one we had at the George (it was a local draught), that stuff was ROCKET FUEL!

  4. Thanks, Desdemona! This recipe looks great, by the way.

    You'll have to let me know how the Paneer turns out...I love getting feedback :) Plus, I'm glad I could cure you crave-itis.