By now, those of us gifted at-home DNA testing kits over the holidays are receiving the results. And, if you’re a Utahn, chances are good those ancestry profiles show roast beef and gravy runs in your blood.
According to national census data, Utah has the highest percentage of English Americans in any state. Even surpassing Maine and Vermont, close to one-third of Utah residents report English ancestry.
Among other influences, the big British boost came during the 1800s, when converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints migrated to the Utah Territory. Of close to 70,000 Mormon pioneers, 75 percent hailed from England and other British countries.
The emigrants couldn’t pack much, but some did bring their recipes or “receipts” as they were called at the time. English roasts, puddings and pies reminded Mormon pioneers of their home county, particularly once they established themselves in settlements across what became the 45th state. Of course, dishes changed and evolved as the cooks adjusted to available ingredients and melded tastes with favorites from other emigrants and Native American cuisine.
Today, at our house in northern Utah, phrases like “nice sponge” or “right crisp biscuit” aren’t generally heard unless someone in the house is bingeing The Great British Baking Show. We’re just as likely to enjoy a stir-fry as more English fare. But, I wondered, are there English culinary influences that have carried across generations to be more common dishes in Utah? A few possibilities …
The dependable Sunday beef roast
My mother recalls--with at least a tinge of annoyance--the undeviating menu in her childhood home for meat and potatoes every weekend. While she introduced other dishes in her own home, I still remember many a Sunday returning home to the smell of pot roast and potatoes. Except for the time I opened the front door to hear a fire alarm and cough in a billow of smoke. A scamper to the neighbor’s house for a fire extinguisher made quick work of the beef roast that day.
A pastry so good we claimed it for our own. One early version of pie came in the form of flat crusts of grain containing honey inside; they were drawn more than three thousand years ago on Egyptian tomb walls--coincidentally--also creating the earliest food blogs. (I wonder how long you had to scroll to get to the ingredient list?)
More recently, the first reference to edible “pyes” (P-Y-E-S) appeared in England as early as the 12th century. The Brits have been making them ever since with savoury meat pies including steak and kidney, pork and sausage as well as sweet pies, filled with fruits or custards. Somewhere along the way, Americans became particularly attached to the sweeter versions; pioneers made pies with wild fruits found in Utah, including plums and cherries, as well as with fruit cultivated from imported cuttings.
Lastly, we come to the conundrum that is ...
Scones are to England as toast is to America. Though Utah scones are barely like either! Researchers struggle to pin down just how Utahns came to know scones as a yeasty fry bread while our friends “across the pond” consider scones as round quick breads more like biscuits. And, that’s American biscuits, not the English biscuits we know and love as cookies. Though, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
What we do know: pioneers baked a lot of bread and they were busy people. If they pinched off pieces of dough to drop in the hot oil for a faster meal, who’s to fault them? As for calling them scones, settlers from the British isles likely used it as a generic term applied to breads that cooked up anything like the original scone from home.
If your English friends seem baffled, ask them how they pronounce the bready treat--depending on where they’re from, the answer will be either scone (rhymes with tone) or scone (rhymes with gone). Now, if they can’t even agree on how to pronounce it, then we can fry it and slather it in honey butter.
If they take one bite, I bet they’ll agree.