Hannah Glasse, who came up with the term ‘Yorkshire pudding’ in 1747, also had a recipe in her book The Art of Cookery for ‘Pigeons in a Hole’. It was basically a toad-in-the-hole using whole pigeons rather than bangers (sausages).
Fifty years later the novelist Fanny Burney mentions the trend for ‘putting a noble sirloin of beef into a poor, paltry batter-pudding!’ (Diary and Letters of Madame D’Arblay, December 1797). Sausages were being used in this manner as well; in the mid-eighteenth century the diarist Thomas Turner mentions that he ‘dined on a sausage batter pudding’ (9 February 1765). Richard Briggs, in The English Art of Cookery (1788), is the first instance I can find that actually names the dish Toad-in-the-hole, although his version uses beef.
Alexis Soyer gives not one but eleven versions of a toad-in-the-hole in A Shilling Cookery for the People (1854), his book aimed at the working classes. The first uses ‘trimmings of either beef, mutton, veal, or lamb, not too fat’; then there is a plain version with potatoes, and one with peas. Further, he suggests to use calves’ brains; larks or sparrows; ox cheek or sheep’s head; a rabbit; the remains of a previously cooked hare; a blade-bone of pork; and finally the remains of salt pork.
The next mention I wish to share with you comes from the Italian Pelegrino Artusi. He mentions a recipe for toad-in-the-hole in La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiare Bene (1891). The recipe is called ‘twice-cooked meat English style’ (lesso rifatto all’inglese) and in his description he mentions that ‘toad-in-the-hole’ is the name of this twice-cooked meat. He also goes on to explain that it is a delicious dish and it would be an insult to call it a toad. Artusi had a great sense of humour and that is something you can see in his introductions to his recipes. However, the toad-in-the-hole he mentions is not for a sausage cooked in batter, but uses meat for boiling, sliced and browned on both sides.
What becomes clear is that the toad-in-the-hole is a popular dish to use up leftovers at this period in time. Mary Jewry gives three recipes for toad-in-the-hole in her book, Warne’s Every Day Cookery: one for a batter pudding with a veal-stuffed chicken, one with rump steak and one to use up cold roast mutton.
During the war years, people were instructed to cook toad-in-the-hole using Spam rather than the (by then) more commonly used sausage. Today the dish has become so connected with British food culture it is no wonder references can be found as early as the mid-1700s.
Toad-in-the-hole is now a favourite dish of small and tall: every child loves a banger, and every grown-up likes to be transported back to his or her childhood. It now features on the menus of laid-back pubs and restaurants that prepare it with posh locally sourced bangers. And a festive Bonfire Night, too, wouldn’t be the same without it.