Before I kick in with a recipe let’s make it clear no Toads were actually harmed in the making of this post – nor any other post I’ve blogged (or not blogged as the case may be).
I have Toads in the garden, they come from a near neighbour who has a pond for them to breed in and off they potter, well clamber and crawl into the neighbouring gardens and there they settle in for the duration; living off the lie of the land eating slugs and bugs, settling themselves into nice cosy corners, under plants, sometimes creating a hole where they bury themselves a few inches – their faces peering out – no doubt cooling themselves off.
In winter, they will find themselves somewhere sheltered and warm (ish) and there they will stay – they like our wood pile, crawling underneath it, out of harms way and tucked away from the worst that winter throws at them. Toads don’t need water to live in, only to breed in, so come Spring they start a migration back across walls and through gaps back to my garden to carry on with their peacable lives. And the cycle starts all over again.
I freely admit to spending far too much time watching my amphibious friends. On a summer’s evening, after a warm day, and especially if it rains in the early part of the evening before it gets dark I can sit on the back steps and watch them criss-cross the garden off in search of, well I don’t really know, maybe more food or perhaps better accommodation.
We built a pond in our garden a few years ago and I have yet to master the art of water gardening – it’s been a bit hiss and miss, I’m slowly “getting it”, but it’s been slow progress. Gradually a few plants have settled in, a few have died off pretty rapidly – or come to nothing. And in all of this time I’ve never seen a toad in the pond – that is until this year. Late Spring / early Summer, on warm days I wander over to the pond and often spot one of my Laydee Toads soaking up the atmosphere. For your information, the ladies, or as I like to say the Laydees, are big girls – nice and rounded, rather plump, or frankly expressed much bigger than their male counterparts.
And there my amphibious laydee friend would sit, barely moving, her head above the water, nestled up against the pebbles that we placed at one end of the pond – a combination of a beautifying effect and practicalities so creatures could get in and out of the pond easily – we’re very accommodating around here you know!
And there my laydee friend would sit, and sit and sit. I watched her do this over a period of a few weeks. Lazing around, taking a dip, bathing and basking in the waters. And then she stopped visiting.
Humph, no toad watching for me! But eventually my brain made a few connections, a few internal lightbulbs flashed, and the words “BY JOVE!” formed a convenient speech bubble. She was getting all Jiggy !! You know all frisky and ahem, how do I express this delicately, she was hanging out waiting for a man. Well maybe not a man, but a male toad. As I said earlier Toads only really need water to breed in, there are times I’ve found them wallowing in murky rainwater that has collected in an upturned plant pot, but that is a purely for fun. Going to the pond is a business matter.
So my lovely laydee hung out at the rock pool bar, she had decided it was a cool place to hang out, a place where maybe the guys would like to hang out too. For days after seeing her in the water I would peer into the water in the hope of seeing eggs, and later tadpoles.
But there were none. Maybe the guys had decided to go back to the original pond, maybe the guys were a bit shy at coming forward, maybe the guys weren’t here this year. I don’t know. I’m hoping they all return in Spring, and fully avail themselves of our pond, I love to see them in the garden, and besides they are a real gardeners friend, they eat my foes the slugs!
Toad In The Hole
For those of you unfamiliar with this classic British dish – it is, as I said earlier Toad free; who knows where it got its name from, and yes I did look it up, but no-one really knows so I’m not going to add further to the speculation. The dish apparently dates back to the 17th century, making early appearances in cook books. The recipe seems to have stayed stayed pretty much the same throughout – it’s a cheap meal. A winter meal. Filling and warming. Hale and hearty.
A mix of batter and sausages and nothing else. Ignore those recipes I’ve seen online that add mustard, or heaven forbid prosciutto, and yes I’ve even seen recipes that add sugar. Now stop this nonsense right here and right now. Toad In The Hole doesn’t have herbs, spices, extra stuff and certainly doesn’t have SUGAR added. Yes I’m shouting! I double checked online before I wrote this recipe up, and I wish I hadn’t . It rather put me off, oh and annoyed me. There is simply no need to “play around” with this recipe – it is brilliant as it is, no need for adding extras and sugar is not an option – Toad In the Hole is not a sweet, if you want sugar have a pudding and stop messing !
Oooo I got all grumpy there didn’t I ! but honestly why mess with a classic? This is a meal of childhood, of feeding families cheaply and well, where a simple batter is made, sausages part cooked, oil heated up and in the oven it goes. The batter mix is a classic Yorkshire Pudding mix – flour, milk, eggs and water. The trick as with all Yorkshire Pudding is to get the oven HOT and a small amount of oil in the baking dish HOT. Do those things and the Pud will rise.
The trick with Toad In The Hole is to part-cook your sausages in a small amount of oil, in the HOT oven, before you add the batter. Do this and all will be well. The batter mix is based on my mum’s recipe and Delia Smith’s, so let’s call it fusion shall we…
INGREDIENTS FOR YORKSHIRE PUDDING
- 3 oz / 75g Plain Flour
- 1 egg
- 3 floz /75ml Milk
- 2 flooz / 50ml Water
- Pinch of salt
FOR THE TOAD IN THE HOLE – 4 vegetarian sausages, the choice is yours, but herby Quorn ones work well.
HOW TO COOK VEGETARIAN TOAD IN THE HOLE
- Turn the oven on to 220 C (Gas 7 / 425F) and then start preparing the ingredients.
- When the oven is hot, place 4 sausages in a metal oven dish (about 11 x 7 ” / 28 x 18 cm – or smaller) which has a small amount of vegetable oil in it – approx. 2 tablespoons into to the oven on a middle shelf.
- Cook the sausages for about 10 minutes – they don’t need to be cooked right through at this stage.
- While the sausages are cooking make the batter (Yorkshire Pudding)
- In a large bowl sift the flour and create a well, crack the egg into it and pour a tiny bit of the milk/water mixture into it. Using a hand held electric mixer start beating or as Delia would say ‘incorporating’ the ingredients, gradually pour the rest of the milk/water mix into the bowl as you beat away. You are looking to make a fairly runny batter mix. Beat until all the ingredients are fully absorbed and ‘incorporated’.
- Add a pinch of salt at this stage.
- When the sausages are warmed through and the oil is piping hot – about 10 minuets, give the batter a final whizz / beat and then pour it straight onto the sausages and put the dish straight back into the oven.
- Cook for about 25 to 30 minutes. Don’t be tempted to peek into and open the oven, leave it be. At the 25 minute stage peer into the oven, if the batter is looking golden-brown and is starting to turn a darker brown / crispy it is ready. Oh yes, and the batter will have risen. If the batter isn’t golden-brown cook for a further 5 minutes – no more.
- Remove from the oven and serve straight away – the longer you leave the Yorkshire Pudding mix out of the oven the more it will collapse.
Serve with an onion gravy, mashed potatoes (you can get all fancy-schmancy here and add as many herbs and spices as you like) and veggies – I like steamed greens of cabbage, kale, chard or spinach picked from my allotment, but the choice is yours.
For photos of the finished recipe I’ll refer you to Delia Smith and the BBC Good Food site – we made this dish on Sunday, after a long walk in the Sussex countryside and needed warming filling food and frankly I was too hungry to get the camera out. It was a case of focus on the food not focusing the camera. But we do eat this dish fairly often throughout winter, so I hope to take some photos of the finished dish later in the year and when I’m not totally ravenous! In the meantime I hope you enjoyed seeing photos of my amphibious friends the toads in my garden.
- How to help wildlife in your garden this winter (telegraph.co.uk)