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British sausage rolls take the crown

Diane Carson’s savory bites are perfect for TV binging or a small holiday gathering.

Diane Carson

Folks at Netflix are happier than Mrs. Bob Cratchit at the sight of a perfectly turned-out Christmas pudding. After all, season four of The Crown is the series’ most popular, according to the website, Business Insider.

Netflix has planned two more seasons giving ample opportunity for fans to peek into the embellished tale of life inside the royal family. But Diane Carson, a St. Louis business owner and self-avowed champion of British food, remembers when she met a senior member of the family. In fact, she fell head-over-heels for HRH The Prince of Wales.

While working as the British pro consul, Diane hosted a proper English tea for the Daughters of the British Empire in 1976 when Prince Charles visited St. Louis, Missouri. She was given a private audience with Charles who presented her with an autographed photo, making a quip about it being taken during a time when he was younger and much more handsome.

“You know in the show how they tell people when meeting the queen or a member of the royal family what to do or say, that’s true, and one of the things you’re not supposed to do is turn your back on them when leaving,” Diane said. As instructed, while walking backwards to depart from Charles, she fell over a wingback chair. “I managed to collect what was left of my dignity and got up.”

As the saying goes, keep calm and carry on.

And that’s something Diane knows quite a lot about. While her father was a member of the Royal Navy, the family moved all around Britain. “I was in several different schools by the time I was 10,” she said.

So, to offer greater stability, her family enrolled Diane in a British boarding school in southwest England (North Devon). Here, in a “domestic science” class, she learned to cook.

“We were taught how to make scones, cheese straws, and other goodies. That was probably the only class I got really good grades in. I really liked that class,” she said with a chuckle.

Actually, Diane comes from a line of great cooks.

“My great-grandmother was a gentleman’s cook; she had the whole Downton Abbey experience, I guess. And my mother was an amazing cook,” she said.

Although Diane said her palate has become quite “Americanized,” most of her cooking is British based. Childhood memories of British comfort food includes shepherd’s pie and fish and chips.

ground beef and mashed potatoes in a green baking dish
Shepherd's pie is one of Diane's go-to comfort foods from her childhood.

“My dad called me ‘Chippy Lizzie’ because that was pretty much all I ate,” she said, laughing. “My parents ate a lot of lamb, but that’s not my meat of choice. My husband (John McPherson) loves lamb and says I make it better than anybody.”

What’s her secret? “I marinate it for a full day in Merlot, olive oil, and garlic,” Diane said.

When she was 17, Diane and her family moved from England to St. Louis as her father had a new position with Boeing (then McDonnell-Douglas). There are a few things she misses from England, including seasoned and stuffed chicken in a cooking bag that’s ready to bake at home.

“Why don’t we have that here?” she asked.

With a background in event planning, Diane hosted British-themed parties to commemorate historic happenings within the House of Windsor, including a full tea for friends in 2018 when Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, wed Meghan Markle. For fans of The Crown who would like to binge watch season four (I suppose there are a few people, like me, who haven’t seen all the episodes yet), she suggests a menu of poached salmon, tiny new potatoes with melted butter, and English garden peas with mint. In fact, in one of the episodes, Prince Edward grumbles to his mother the queen the fact they he is always served poached salmon at their luncheons together. Uneasy is the head that will never wear the crown.

Diane says she watches The Crown “much to my Dad’s chagrin. He insists there is too much poetic license.”

Or one might try these savory sausage roll bites to pair with a pint of ale or hard cider if you’re just making a night of it with the royals. These tasty nuggets would also be a great appetizer for your family’s holiday, to nibble when trimming the tree, or family game night.

“Those things (sausage rolls) disappear like wildfire,” she says. “As soon as guests arrive for my Oscar parties, their first question is ‘Did you make sausage rolls?’,” she said.

sausage baked in puff pastry on a white platter with a holiday table scape
Sausage rolls are one of Diane's signature dishes. They usually are featured on her holiday table. (Diane Carson photo)

But most of the time, this busy business owner (Promo Xperts) cooks for two—herself and her husband—and that’s her biggest challenge as a home cook. As a result, she freezes a lot of leftovers.

“My husband and I eat a lot of fish. I like salmon. We also have a fishing cabin near Bennett Springs State Park so we can go trout fishing. We use what we catch; he makes smoked trout and I remove the skin, dip the trout in egg and Panko breadcrumbs, and pan fry it for Trout Tuesday,” she said.

Dinner plans usually begin during the week with the question “what do you feel like eating tonight?” Although Diane usually cooks every day, she and her husband occasionally get barbecue or Mexican food to bring home. Weekend dinners might be the proper British roast with Yorkshire pudding.

“I use (British chef) Jamie Oliver’s recipe. The trick is using Crisco and getting the pan smoking hot for 20 minutes before you pour in the batter.”

And with the holidays just around the corner, Diane said she’ll cook for Boxing Day, the traditional holiday observed in Britain the day after Christmas.

“That’s when we have the full-blown roast turkey, roasted potatoes, Brussels sprouts, yeast rolls. Have you ever had British roasted red potatoes? You parboil them first and then put the potatoes on a cookie sheet, drizzle with vegetable oil and bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes. They turn out crispy on the outside and so fluffy on the inside,” she said.

But don’t look for the cranberry sauce.

“You wouldn’t eat that in the U.K. with turkey,” Diane said.

What you will see on the holiday table this year is the traditional Christmas cake made from her mom’s recipe. Her parents each year mailed the cake to Diane, who would then decorate it with marzipan and “put a frill around it.” Although her father lives in Scotland, Diane’s mother passed away a few years ago.

“The last time I was home, I brought all of her recipe books back; some were in her own handwriting, including the Christmas cake recipe,” Diana said. The recipe calls for a six-inch baking pan, but Diane didn’t have one, so she asked her Dad to please ship Mom’s old pan to her. The recipe also requires the cake soak in brandy for a few months. “I feed it every week,” she said.

Traditions certainly remain a big part of Diane’s cooking. For novice cooks, however, she offered this advice.

“Be adventurous. Don’t stick totally to the recipe. You can add things and change it up, as long as it’s not too weird. Experiment and have fun. It’s OK to have a kitchen disaster; everybody has (had one).”

All one needs to do is keep calm and carry on.


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