23 December 2009

Aunt Bessie's

Who is Aunt Bessie?
Aunt Bessie does not exist. Nevertheless, she's a ruddy-faced individual with her hair drawn back into a rather severe bun, clad in a polka-dotted blouse with a Peter Pan collar. Her right hand clutches a slightly over-filled mixing bowl, in which she is vigorously stirring a sturdy wooden spoon. I say vigorously - you can't really tell, as the style of the drawing tends more towards a pastel sketch than cartoon graphics, and thus motion lines are not included. However, the contents of the bowl appear to be swirling, and possibly in danger of spilling over the side. For protection against such accidental spillage Aunt Bessie is equipped with a white apron that only just covers her rather ample bosoms, which are permanently projected over a red swoosh of ribbon, upon which the words Aunt Bessie's are proudly emblazoned. Aunt Bessie, whilst unashamedly mammiferous, may have no legs; we will never know.

Whenever you see Aunt Bessie, she's guaranteed to be chilled to at least 0°C, and usually to even less. Well known for hanging round chill cabinets and freezer units, mention Aunt Bessie to almost anyone in the United Kingdom and you're guaranteed at least some sort of response. If you're not sure why... read on!

So who is behind Aunt Bessie?
Aunt Bessie is the product of Tryton Foods, a long-established company based in Hull, UK. Tryton Foods itself, should you be interested, is also part of the WJS Group, which includes Kwoks, a company aiming to become "Europe's best oriental food company ... by providing authentic, exciting and convenient food of the quality that you would find in the best restaurant", Jackson's Bakers, who offer "quality high specification sandwich and other bread products for the fast food industry", and The Ferguson Fawsitt Arms, a pub and restaurant near Beverley. Beverley itself is local to Hull, and in fact one of the stops between Driffield, near where I used to live, and Hull. Mentioning Driffield, since I've never heard of any of the other partners in the WJS Group, it was at the famed Driffield Show where I first encountered Tryton Foods: Their stall offered a giant yorkshire pudding with onion gravy for a notably nominal fee. Who could resist, even if you did have to eat it from a plastic tray with a wooden fork?

Notably, at this time, Aunt Bessie did not exist. Or maybe she was there, just a gleam in the eye of a marketing executive. Maybe, one day, sitting down to a cosy roast dinner at someone else's house, everything just clicked.

executive thoughts: . o (The Way To Sell More Yorkshire Puddings!)

Well it's obvious, isn't it? Who wants to buy mass-produced yorkshire puddings with a vague link to the Greek god of the sea's son when you can have home cooked goodness from dear, dear old Aunt Bessie; the very name conjuring up images of Sunday lunch, Nan fresh home from Church with the grandkids to find the roast potatoes growing crisp around the rib of beef, thick gravy bubbling on the stove with all the tasty bits scraped out of the bottom of the roasting pan. There's Aunt Bessie, with her florid cheeks and good, strong arms that have wrung out a thousand sheets, banging warmed plates onto the cork mats. Good creamy farm milk from Old Buttercup stands in jugs, everything set out just so on a big checked table-cloth and there's Uncle Simon shouting "Who's seen t'big servin' spoon?" and Granny proclaiming her intention to have just one more small sherry before everyone retires to the summer house for cloudy lemonade and an apple and custard tart while Grandpa Alf plays cricket with the young 'uns on the cow pasture over t'hedge. Come on, Barney, you tousle-haired oaf! Ginger nuts for everyone! Oh - I do apologise; I've just come.

But, yes, let's get serious. Marketing genius, that's what Aunt Bessie's is, cleverly offsetting the idea of a traditional family lunch against the slightly repulsive idea of purchasing a TV dinner. And the beginnings - the humble yorkshire pudding - what a place to start. Everyone knows yorkshire puddings can be troublesome. I had some go flat for no reason at all last week, the bastards. They do it on purpose. Oh, the convenience of Aunt Bessie's - the oven's already hot, you fling them in, wait three minutes and bang - instant crunchy Northern pleasure.

The Lure Of Aunt Bessie: A Lament
But that's all it is, really, a cleverly packaged TV dinner. I'd hate to proclaim all TV dinners as poor fare, of course; it's quite possible to buy processed food of a high quality, just as it's exceedingly easy to buy processed food of low quality. As processed food goes, Aunt Bessie's is damn fine stuff. The yorkshire puddings are crisp and uniformly risen. While you may end up adding non-biodegradable plastic packaging to landfill sites around the UK, at least you don't end up with any messy bowls and wooden spoons, and there's absolutely no need to get any flour all over those pristine weighing scales you've been keeping in the kitchen. But yes, yorkshire pudding can be a tricky little beast, as previously mentioned, and so the convenience drags us in. Only it doesn't stop there. Allow me to introduce the entire range. If you're sane, you'll feel a slow sense of despair as you progress through this part.

Aunt Bessie's Range
Aunt Bessie's Frozen Meal Solutions includes pies containing chicken or steak, and cottage pie. There's oven-ready toad in the hole, vegetarian toad in the hole and something mysteriously called Tidgy Toads. That's miniature sausages in miniature yorkshire pudding. You can get giant yorkshire puddings filled with either beef steak in gravy or sausage casserole. And that's it for the TV dinner department. I don't know about you, but there's something about pre-made pies that doesn't draw me in. For about the same price, you can grab some beef skirt, braise it gently for a couple of hours and whip up a quick batch of pie crust yourself, engendering awe in your dinner guests, particularly if you cut out little crinkly leaves from the left-over pastry and stick them to the top of the pie with a dab of water.

Aunt Bessie's Frozen Baked Yorkshire Puddings we've already mentioned. There's a 12-pack of bun-sized puddings, a four pack of larger puddings, a single or even twin-pack of giant puddings, or 40 mini yorkshire puddings, endearingly known as 'tidgy puds'. They're quite good for when you're having curries, by the way - you can dip them in like naan breads. If you've got the oven on already you can buy frozen, uncooked puddings. Oven-ready uncooked puddings, that's right - each in a little individual tin. 12 small ones, in normal or organic, or 6 large ones. And to complete the pudding range, you can buy a small tetra-pack of batter. That's right - pre-mixed flour, eggs and milk. This is where convenience and laziness become blurred, I feel; it's hardly convenient and it is entirely lazy. Oh, hang on - that's not blurred, that's really is ridiculous.

Still, if we're resigned to being unforgivably lazy now, what else can we find? Which other simple kitchen tasks are beyond us? Aunt Bessie's Frozen Stuffing Balls, Aunt Bessie's Frozen Dumplings and Aunt Bessie's Frozen Pancakes. There's Aunt Bessie's Frozen Cookies - not actually cooked, just mixed together and ready-to-bake. Scones, too. I mean, what is wrong with people? It's flour, butter and a splash of milk, then you put them in the oven. I worry, I really do.

I forgot the vegetables! Is peeling a parsnip too much for you? Worry not - Aunt Bessie's got it covered. I can understand oven chips - that saves getting out the pan of hot oil and risking life and limb from scalding oily splashback. Oven roast potatoes I'm having trouble justifying - parboil potatoes and place in a tray of oil - not too different from 'open freezer, cut open special cutting-resistant plastic bag of Aunt Bessie's Frozen Roast Potatoes and place on oven tray'. But parsnips? You peel them and cook them. Oh, the inconvenience!


The Madness Of Aunt Bessie: The Website
Finally, we come to Aunt Bessie's pride and joy, her ready-made frozen website. Simply unwrap, pop in the oven and thirty minutes later you'll have a complete website. Ha - not true. Aunt Bessie's own website is an amazing place. Why not join Aunt Bessie's club? Contact Aunt Bessi to share recipes - perhaps suggest a new range of pre-mixed salt and pepper - the convenience!

There used to be a lovely 'News' section, which featured quotes from the media, such as:

"Love freshly baked cakes but can't be bothered to make them? Then try Aunt Bessie's new frozen range. It includes fairly cakes, cookies, a Victorian sponge - and our favourite, fruit scones."
- Chat Magazine

We assume that 'fairly cakes' was a typo, rather than a sad indictment on the quality of the sponge. Even better was this one:

"Good batter - crisp, tasty and well risen - with two generous sausages."
- That's Life! Magazine

Presumably they take the less-philanthropic sausages out on beneficial trips, treating them to an ice-cream.

Sadly, too, in a recent update Aunt Bessie saw off her 'History' section. Not, as you'd expect, a history of Aunt Bessie's, waiting for an eager writer to find out information about Tryton Food's origins, but instead 'The Discovery Of The Parsnip' and 'The History Of Yorkshire Puddings'. Apparently, parsnips were cultivated by the early Romans, and Emperor Tiberius liked them so much he had some shipped from France each year. Oh, and yorkshire puddings originally started as flat pudding cooked underneath a roasting joint, slowly absorbing all the fatty juices from above, until one day in the 18th Century Hannah Glasse, in a move which is not made clear, somehow produced a puffed-up version. Perhaps she used the wrong flour.

I think, and I probably shouldn't say this, but I think that despite her unashamed inculcation of laziness in the common man, her yorkshire puddings are firm and crisp enough that I must confess that I'm helplessly in love with Aunt Bessie.

They're right about the flat version, by the way.

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