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Don't Question Bread Sauce, Just Bask in Its Beige Glory

There’s something comfortingly British about bread sauce. Not only is it exclusive to the UK, but its bland meh-ness seems core to our culinary tradition.

by Ruby Lott-Lavigna
17 December 2018, 10:00am

Photo via author.

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Bread sauce is one of those things that should have probably gone with the turn of the 20th century. The festive side dish, usually made with bread, milk, onion, and nutmeg, screams of something eaten in ye olden times in order to ward off bad spirits and heathen thoughts, filling ye stomaches on the Eve of Christmass at the humble, holy feast. Despite these archaic connotations and the fact that no one really understands why they feel drawn to a bowl of carby mush alongside delicious crunchy roasties or honey-glazed carrots, bread sauce remains a staple on Christmas Day for Brits.

There’s no denying bread sauce is strange. What you’re essentially doing is breaking down stale bread with liquid and some seasoning to make it edible again, which is horrible? It’s also very filling—what with it just being liquid bread—which becomes extremely inconvenient when you’re trying to inhale as much Christmas dinner as humanly possible despite your siblings telling you to “stop” and that they “think you’re going to hurt yourself.”

Everyone loves bread, even in a conceptually questionable form such as a goo.

So, what is it about the creamy mush that makes it work? It’s clearly not just a dogged commitment to tradition, or else we’d all be eating boar on the 25th of December. The essence of bread sauce’s greatness is in its simplicity: it’s unchallenging, simply spiced, and comforting. Compared to bacon and Brussels sprouts, a Coca-Cola-glazed ham, or rich beefy gravy, there’s something humble and uncomplex about this cute little side, and it’s basically the only dairy that grazes the Christmas table. Also, everyone loves bread, even in a conceptually questionable form such as a goo.

There’s also something comfortingly British about bread sauce. Not only is it a dish exclusive to the UK, but its beige meh-ness seems core to our culinary tradition. We are unfairly renowned for having a terrible food culture (which, obviously, if you’ve ever read this website before, you’ll know is wrong) but sometimes, when I’m eating a potato waffle, heating up some rice pudding, or spreading pungent Marmite on my toast, I am comforted by the variety of strangely shit foods we do still consume. Bread sauce taps into this. It’s not super flavoursome nor complex, which fits in with a tradition of stodgy—yet tasty—British foods.

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The author's bread sauce (top right) on her Christmas dinner.

Which makes sense, seeing as bread sauce is really, really old. Bread sauce did, in fact, originate in medieval England, and is allegedly one of the few leftover “bread-thickened” sauces we still consume today. Instead of using animal fat or eggs to thicken sauces as we might in contemporary recipes, the people of medieval England would use leftover stale breadcrumbs as they were cheaper and more accessible. Consequently, one can estimate that we’ve have been eating our bread sauce alongside veg and meat for at least 1,700 years.

The enduring presence of bread sauce throughout history is another testament to its greatness. Despite literally hundreds of years of us refining our Christmas dinner—introducing the turkey in the 16th century, or more recently, phasing out things like custard on our dessert and drinking sherry and brandy—we still cannot ditch the creamy carb sauce. Every year, for over a thousand years, people across the country sit down to write a Christmas dinner menu, and think, huh yes, this year, again, I would like to squish some breadcrumbs into liquid form to eat alongside some meat wrapped in meat.

Despite its fundamental strangeness, bread sauce has existed for over a thousand years on our Christmas dinner table because it is delicious. Unlike almost every other thing that has existed for that long (racism, Jacob Rees-Mogg, climate change), it’s not something that we need to phase out for the good of the people. Bread sauce: pure, holy, special, gentle, and kind. Despite having eaten it only 12 to 25 times in my life, there’s no doubt bread sauce is one of the real heroes of the Christmas dinner table.

Just like the plague, torture, and exceptionally bloody conflicts, if it was good enough for medieval England, then it’s good enough for us.