Reynolds mentions slop-in-the-pan, but not that almost identical item of Victorian cuisine, slops-in-the-pot. Each had its adherents, its devotees. There was a sort of tribal loyalty to one dish or the other, so that brawls in taverns or dens of vice, or out in the stinking streets, might be occasioned by the “wrong” answer to the challenge “are ye a potman or a panner?”
Victorian readers were so familiar with the rivalry between the two that it drives the plot of many novels of the era. In Pallid Ada, The Crippled Heiress, for example, the eponymous heroine is torn between her guardian, a slop-in-the-pan man, and her suitor, who favours slops-in-the-pot. I haven’t actually read the book myself, so I can’t tell you how things work out. It is just one of a great pile of novels referred to in a majestic academic study of fictional slop and slops from the Victorian era that I borrowed from the library but had to take back because umpteen other borrowers had reserved it. I wish now I had photocopied some of the more startling bits.
On the face of it, one would think slops-in-the-pot won out over slop-in-the-pan every time. After all, with the former you’re getting more than one kind of slop presented in a presumably ceramic pot, whereas the latter promises just a single slop still in the pan in which it was boiled. I suppose what we have here is an echo of the eternal battle between Cavaliers and Roundheads, hedonists and puritans. The louche and foppish Victorian man-about-town with his decisive cravat and gaudy cuffs would plump for multiple slops in a decorative pot, while the severe hawk-faced miseryguts groaning under the weight of self-imposed moral strictures would deny himself anything but a simple slop in a simple pan.
If I still had my library book I could copy out its summary of the plot of another novel, or rather part-work, A Canker In The Belly Of The Immoral Maniac Husband, or The Ruination Of Captain Purvis. In this piece of virtually unreadable tosh, seemingly hundreds of characters, whom we have difficulty keeping track of, devour endless pots of slops and pans of slop, chapter after chapter, in between taking part in scenes of unimaginable vice and degradation, not the least of which is the tying of a tin can to the tail of an orphaned puppy. They don’t write ’em like that anymore, for which perhaps we should be thankful.
NOTE : Reynolds refers to sop-in-the-pan, not slop-in-the-pan. My mistaken recollection, twenty-four hours after typing up the original quotation, clearly makes a nonsense of this entire piece. But I refuse to apologise. My short-term memory may be in as ruinous a state as Captain Purvis’s domestic hearth, but I shall carry on regardless, contemptuous of brickbats, and I have no doubt that I shall prevail, in the end, whenever an end may come.