Thursday, August 23, 2012


There used to be a time—long before we had small children and a mortgage and a car with more than 100,000 miles on it—that Adam and I would come home exhausted on a weeknight and order takeout. Even typing the word makes me feel a little bit excited. Takeout means no dishes, no fight over what to make for dinner, and no need to pay attention to nutritional information. How many calories are in butter chicken, basmati rice, naan, and samosas from the Indian place around the corner? Who knows. Who cares? Now that we have two kids in daycare, takeout has been relegated to an occasional luxury, and I think that’s why I got so excited about Colman’s Season & Shake chicken tikka masala. It’s Indian food at a fraction of the takeout cost. Colman’s is one of many brands owned by mega giant Unilever, which holds a Royal Warrant from Queen Elizabeth as “Manufacturers of Food and Household Products.”

Colman’s of Norwich is most famously associated with mustard, and the company’s 200-year history makes it one of the oldest food brands in the world. That’s why I think Colman’s acquisition by Unilever in 1995 was somewhat unfortunate. Colman’s has retained its signature bull’s head logo, but you could argue that Unilever has done away with much of its storied past. That’s why it’s so great that a local Norwich preservation organization now runs the Colman’s Mustard Shop & Museum independent of Unilever. The website explains the museum, which displays objects like antique mustard tins and old advertisements and includes a shop meant to replicate a Victorian-era one. The website also features some interesting and unexpected recipes you can make with Colman’s products.

Don’t have time for cooking during the week? No problem—neither do I. Colman’s now also makes a host of meal kits with the Season & Shake name that seem a little more accessible for working families. For chicken tikka masala, you simply add cut-up chicken, yogurt, tomatoes, and onions to the bag of seasoning, shake it up, and then toss the whole thing into a pan in the oven. When the bag balloons so big that you think it might explode, it’s done.

Convenience food seems like a funny addition to our list of Royal Warrant holders. Its place seems to make more sense on my pantry shelf than on the dining table at Buckingham Palace. I suspect that Queen Elizabeth has never consumed a Season & Shake meal in her life and that if she ever wanted takeout she could afford it...and I’m probably right. But that’s not to say that the British royal family has never had to think about money.

During the Great Depression the British economy grew so weak that it was forced to go off the gold standard, and unemployment climbed to a staggering 25%. King George V, Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather, asked the government to cut his income in half, and he requested that his four sons—among them Elizabeth’s father Bertie—also make cuts in their extravagant lifestyles. Bertie gave up expensive hobbies like hunting, and he sold his prized horses. He also located his family—which consisted of four people after the birth of Elizabeth’s sister Margaret in 1930—in a comparatively modest townhouse at 145 Piccadilly in London. I picture it looking like every other house on the block—like the kind of place where you’d eat Colman’s Season & Shake meals for dinner. Alas, a Google search showed me (as you can see from the picture below) that I am probably wrong.

Queen Elizabeth grew up at a time of economic distress that bred frugality among even the wealthiest members of society. I think this goes a long way to account for her simple taste in so many products from groceries to cosmetics to clothing. Certainly she knows nice things, but she also seems to realize that you shouldn’t always have to spend a lot to get a good quality product.

It was Adam who made our chicken tikka masala one night while I hung out with the boys in the living room. He ended up substituting salsa for tomatoes since we didn’t have them (I would make more of this if it weren’t totally something I would do too), so the final dish could best be described as...interesting. It could not best be described as chicken tikka masala. My advice? Stick with the mustard.

Where to buy: These Season & Shake meals are made for the British market, but you can find them on Amazon. Colman’s mustard is available in most U.S. grocery stores.

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