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Britain’s food wars Is Waitrose a cure for the Westminster class?

Tuck in (Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

Tuck in (Robert Alexander/Getty Images)


February 3, 2023   8 mins

In the 18th century, when William Hogarth wished to highlight Britain’s political and cultural superiority to pre-revolutionary France in immediately appreciable terms, he did so through the medium of food, distinguishing between the Roast Beef of Olde England, and the ruddy and rotund yeoman nation fattened on it, and the scraps of putrid flesh with which scrawny Frenchmen were forced, beside the crumbling gate of Calais, to satisfy their wants. For food and political nationhood go together like few other cultural products: witness the squabbling between Israel and Palestine over the right to commercialise hummus, Greeks and Turks over baklava, or of Russians and Ukrainians over ownership of borscht. Food is, after all, inherently political, a basic building block of national identity, and it is the humblest foodstuffs, the basic comfort foods of childhood, that are more often fought over than the elaborate confections of the great chefs.

Indeed, it would be trivially easy to trace the shifting faultlines of broader political currents through the prism of food. Witness the sudden shift within America’s food culture, as a previous generations’ celebration of the diverse culinary options provided by mass immigration has morphed into stern lectures from diaspora commentators on the vaguely-defined evils of white people appropriating “ethnic” cuisine. In Britain, equally, a slim volume could easily be written on the political import uncomfortably burdened on fish and chips or chicken tikka masala by devotees of mass migration; a cultural theorist could likewise tease apart the “Proper” label now applied to a distinct category of foodstuff — proper pies, proper burgers, proper chips — as a marker of a specific type of middle-class yearning for proletarian authenticity, while maintaining socially acceptable levels of consumption standards. Like the fetishised fry-ups of London caffs in prosperous areas targeting themselves at tracksuit-wearing millennial creatives, the Proper Burger is the self-consciously gentrified football terrace of our national cuisine, a cultural marker of a precisely measurable socioeconomic bracket.

When this dynamic is considered, Britain’s strange relationship with food, and with its own national cuisine, becomes worthy of analysis. Though much mocked by online Americans, presumably inured to the Lovecraftian horrors of their own food culture, British cuisine at its best is hearty, simple fare, showcasing the natural bounty of these islands, our waters rich with fish and seafood (much of it exported abroad to more appreciative consumers), our rain-soaked pastures the nursemaid of the free-range meat and rich dairy goods Britain has excelled in for millennia. At its best, British food displays the worth of good ingredients cooked well — and at its worst, of poor ingredients cooked badly.

Yet the much-vaunted culinary renaissance in British food from the Nineties on, despite the buoyant effect of an endless stream of glossy cookbooks on the publishing industry, does not seem to have had an appreciable effect on the food most of us eat from day to day. Which British office worker does not recognise the moment of weary, grudging submission to the lunchtime meal deal, the limp and soggy sandwich which fuels the nation’s economy? If Britain has a national dish, it is more likely to be the Ballardian misery of the provincial train station panini, simultaneously scorching hot and half-raw, than it is a steaming steak and ale pie, its crust crisp with suet, or a plate of sizzling lamb’s liver fried in butter with farmhouse bacon.

There is, as there is with every aspect of British life, a strong class dynamic to British food. The most fervent appreciators of the frugal peasant dishes of the past, the nation’s only consumers of stewed beef shin or lamb sweetbreads, are more likely to be upper-middle class, middle-aged executives, who by lunching at St John or the Quality Chop House celebrate the forgotten folkways of their own country, than the call centre workers or shop assistants who have replaced our rural and industrial proletariat. Yet who in Britain is immune to the sudden craving for comfort satiable only by a serving of rich cauliflower cheese or of dark and savoury cottage pie, or has not felt the hobbit-like “Why shouldn’t I?” satisfaction of choosing the fry up at a hotel breakfast over the continental pastry selection?

Into this rich and only partly-understood realm of symbolic meaning arrive two new books, English Food: a Social History by Diane Purkiss, and Phaidon’s glossily-produced The British Cookbook by Ben Mervis. Where Purkiss’s book, an oddly fitting successor to her excellent book on the English Civil War, is a dense and often strangely freeform collection of essays on Britain’s historic relationship with food, rich both with keen observations and dubious or baffling assertions, Mervis’s conventional cookbook is a solid if unexciting introduction to (and at times a strangely defensive apologia for) our national cuisine, aimed at what is presumed to be a sceptical international audience, interspersing stirring photographs with plainly-served prose.

Each book, in its own way, recapitulates the conventional story of Britain’s culinary history, one which reflects that of the nation as a whole, the very origin story of our unique political forms. Once, in the dim and idealised agrarian past, Britain possessed a flourishing peasant food culture, analogous to though distinct from the more celebrated peasant cuisines of our European neighbours. With land enclosure, and the eradication of a free peasant class, came industrialisation and the culinary impoverishment of the new urban proletariat, reduced to a diet of bread, potatoes and dripping. That great font of A-Level history essays, the mid-19th century political battleground of the Corn Laws, symbolises the transference of Britain’s political power from a quasi-feudal landholding class to the globalising, mercantile aspirations of their liberal supplanters, finally severing the popular connection to the land.

But this is the very same political struggle that echoes today in the battle between farming and conservation groups for revitalised domestic food production, and the firm preference of our impeccably liberal, notionally conservative ruling party for reliance on cheap imports, as if Britain still controls the global seaways. Like 19th-century liberals fulminating against the Victorian nanny state clamping down on adulterated milk and flour, our free-market thinktanks campaign today for the right of the poor to gorge themselves on bad food. When it comes to food, neither our liberals nor our conservatives have changed very much in the past 200 years, even if the political labels attached to them have almost entirely switched sides.

In the same mid-19th-century period, Ireland’s potato famine, by doing away with the poorest half of the country’s population, enabled the consolidation of a more affluent Catholic dairy-farming class, the bedrock of the modern Irish nationalism which initiated the crumbling of both the Union and the empire. And just as Drake’s introduction of the humble potato eventually redrew the map of Britain, the Empire’s steady pinkening of the world’s surface reshaped British tastes, creating a market for the spices of the subcontinent, the bland white bread flour of the Canadian prairies and the cheap frozen lamb of New Zealand. Then came the war: the food rationing celebrated as an improvement in the diets of the labouring masses also accelerated the drift towards the industrialisation of food and farming, and the extinguishing of Britain’s native farmhouse cheesemaking, orcharding and fishing traditions in pursuit of bland but secure food supplies.

The immediate post-war era saw a reaction in the form of Elizabeth David’s turning towards the bright tastes and fresh produce of the Mediterranean — the origin story of both the Nineties celebrity chef and the frozen supermarket pizza — followed by the counterreaction in the form of Jane Grigson’s classic 1974 English Food. It was the initial skirmish of the ongoing revolt of middle-class tastemakers from David’s continental affectations towards the native culinary heritage of these islands, a fraught and unfinished process analogous to the rest of our contentious relationship with Europe. There, written on a plate, lies our island story: the processes which led to Britain’s past global preeminence also eradicated the foundations of our native food culture, far more so than anywhere else in Europe. As Grigson lamented back in 1974: “we are always running after some new thing
 so busy running after the latest dish, that the good things we’ve known for centuries are forgotten as quickly as the boring ones.” A perfect distillation of political conservatism, Grigson’s analysis reminds us that the history of Britain’s food is a perfectly workable metaphor for the rest of the country’s woes.

Viewed in such vein, both books are readable as not-quite-conscious expressions of the cultural moment, and there is an intriguing undertow of cultural, if not political conservatism in Purkiss’s book which contrasts with Mervis’s generic progressivism, which already seems strangely dated. An American, Mervis takes time to earnestly inform his readers in his short introductory essay that “neither the end of slavery nor the end of imperialism meant the end of white supremacy within the new British Commonwealth”, which, glancing down the list of Commonwealth countries, is presumably to be taken less as a meaningful statement than as the customary obeisance with which all American writers must perform to their new religion. Because “Britain has so few truly ‘native’ vegetables
 this topic inevitably leads us back to the immigrants and invaders, who, over thousands of years” 
 but you get the picture, as Mervis strikes his devastating cultural blow against the red-faced root vegetable extremists.

A generation after Robin Cook, Mervis is excited to christen chicken tikka masala Britain’s national dish — perhaps more excited than anyone in Britain, bored of the bland stalwart of the budget supermarket ready meal or luridly-coloured provincial takeaway, could possibly be. As Purkiss sniffs with the frozen hauteur of the foodie, this “mongrel dish”, initially produced, so the story goes, from tinned American tomato soup to satisfy a drunk Glaswegian diner, is “barely middle class, and middle-class Britons, including those of Indian origin, tend to shake it off in favour of something more ‘authentic’”. Perhaps the cultural resonances attached to British food are as hard to appreciate from outside as is the cuisine itself? But political fashions change just as quickly as culinary ones: perhaps Mervis’s recipe for the now unfashionably-named Chicken Kiev will be updated in later editions.

A professor of 17th-century English literature at Oxford, Purkiss places British food in a finer-detailed cultural context than is available to Mervis in his brief essays, giving discursive potted histories of the Enclosure Acts, the rise and fall of the Atlantic fishing industry, the role of tinned food in the British empire, Celtic mythology and a bewildering assortment of other topics. Not all the arguments are convincing, though the book is highly entertaining: her extended diatribe on the myth of Elizabeth David, her work recast as a product of literary modernism rather than food writing, a “Lawrentian myth of escape, redemption and sensual awakening”. is captivating, concluding that “turning our faces away from England sounds profoundly unhelpful, as does encouraging whole worlds of fantasy”, for “she saved English food, but she did it by killing the Englishness of it”. Economically Left-wing — railing against the enclosure of common land and celebrating failed agrarian uprisings while noting that today’s coffee, like sugar before it, “is a cash crop grown in the developing world for consumption in richer countries” — Purkiss is comfortable introducing strongly conservative opinions. No doubt unwittingly, she echoes today’s Twitter reactionaries in observing  that “the people who knocked down Euston Station and devastated the inner cities have wrecked food creation, avid as they were to have modernity and not much else”, while extolling a conservative “radical homemaker” food culture “desperate to recover a skill set and a mindset lost by their parents.”

Likewise, the post-war transferral of women from the kitchen to the workforce may have been experienced as liberation, but it was a disaster for Britain’s food culture, Purkiss observes: “one of those unfortunate moments when it turns out that feminism itself looks very like a dance to the music of business.” Perhaps the worst result, for Purkiss, is the removal of cooking from the realm of the domestic kitchen to the laboratory experiments of the male celebrity chef, the exploding seaweed gels or frozen custard mists of a Blumenthal or Adrià an expression of our estrangement from a living food culture rather than of a culinary renaissance. Unexpectedly post-liberal at times, Purkiss’s book justifies her case that “food and its decline into convenience has become the biggest and most generally agreed sign that society isn’t working and cannot continue to work in the way it currently does”.

Is there some kind of political salvation to be found in the Lancashire hotpot or toad-in-the-hole? Probably not. Yet I have often thought that, should you wish to initiate from scratch a metapolitical British nationalist project, distinct from the globalised aspirations of the Westminster class, you could do worse than take Waitrose as a model. Nationalism was always, historically, a pursuit of the affluent bourgeoisie, and even if its political content (aside from a devotion to the royal family rare among major brands) remains largely sublimated, Waitrose’s cultural production — its lovingly produced weekly newspapers and monthly magazines showcasing small-scale food producers toiling away in a timeless British countryside, its strangely feudal relationship with the Duchy of Cornwall — already echoes, in sublimated form, much of the aesthetic content and instinctive cultural meaning of classical nationalism.

The revival of Britain’s under-appreciated cuisine, halting though it may be, mocked and loved in equal measure, similarly echoes the broader angst of a nation in decline, and deep political meanings will continue to be expressed, unwittingly or not, in our conflicted relationship with our national cuisine. For Mervis, keen to emphasise Britain’s openness to the world and the bright multicultural future he sees for the nation’s food culture, change and the thrill of the new is all good and to be pursued. For Purkiss, echoing Grigson, the historical continuities of British cooking are paramount, and the sense of loss wrought by change is greater: we have lost far more than we have gained by modernity, and there is no clear path for restoration. The story of British food, full of wasted potential and opportunity, uncertain of its future direction, simultaneously seduced by new horizons and lost pastoral idylls, is the story of Britain itself.


Aris Roussinos is an UnHerd columnist and a former war reporter.

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Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago

If one has ever undertaken hard manual labour, out of doors in winter in the sleety rain and wind,live in the north in an old drafty house, traditional British food makes sense. The British navvy breakfasted on beef and beer and could excavate 20T of soil per day in all weathers. The archer could draw up to 200 lb bow 24 times in two minutes and fight a whole day.
If one lives in a modern warm home, work in an office and one eats traditional British food and portions, then one is digging one’s grave with one’s teeth. The Greek diet is a healthier option.
Britain was the first country to send women to work in factories, mills and mines so bought cooked food became more important. We were the first country to beome 50 % urban and by 1900 it was 80%. Canned food became common from the 1870s. People living then squalid slums were cut off from good ingredients and many had inadequate cooking facilities.We also underwent rationing from 1939 to 1953 and then American processed food arrived from the 1960s and fast food from the 1970s.
The decline in food in Britin mirrors our decline as a nation, especially health and fitness.
Good British cooking became an endangered species largely found in the countryside.

Helen Nevitt
Helen Nevitt
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Another reason I like heating low and live crisp cold weather. The food is so much better. I made a steamed sponge treacle pudding Sunday. Oh God.

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
1 year ago
Reply to  Helen Nevitt

Seconded! Can’t beat a sunny, frosty winter morning. Nor a treacle sponge, come to that.

When I was a child, my grandfather and I delighted in sharing both – the sponge usually following my grandmother’s generous Yorkshire luncheon, the whole being preceded by a winter’s morning walk on the Westwood (Beverley’s town common). Funny how a simple pudding can be so evocative. Thank you for sparking the memory!

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
1 year ago
Reply to  Helen Nevitt

Seconded! Can’t beat a sunny, frosty winter morning. Nor a treacle sponge, come to that.

When I was a child, my grandfather and I delighted in sharing both – the sponge usually following my grandmother’s generous Yorkshire luncheon, the whole being preceded by a winter’s morning walk on the Westwood (Beverley’s town common). Funny how a simple pudding can be so evocative. Thank you for sparking the memory!

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Digging one’s grave with one’s teeth. Good, there are too many ill old fat people as the world becomes ever more crowded.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 year ago
Reply to  James Kirk

You are correct! I know.
I’m 73 and overweight.. far too many of us.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 year ago
Reply to  James Kirk

You are correct! I know.
I’m 73 and overweight.. far too many of us.

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

I beg your pardon but Britain is not the only cold place on earth and as such, its cuisine still doesn’t make much sense compared to the mouth watering stews and meals of similar climate countries like France, Germany, Poland….no. That argument doesn’t hold much weight.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

Have you worked out of doors doing manual labour in winter on a hillside exposed to the bitterly cold winds from north or northeast?
Britain is an island with a climate which is very good good for growing grass and woodlands which meant plenty of cereals, meat, milk, cheese and fish. One needs to study the diet of pre Industrial Britain. Hence Wilkes comment “Beef and liberty “.

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Yes.
I am from the Midwest of the United States. And I have done all of that. Chicago is one of the coldest places in the country and when I was younger I worked with horses in rural areas where the wind temp was -30F. Our children were allowed to play on the playground when it was single digits outside.
Again. England is not the only cold place on earth. Barely one of the coldest, actually.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

It is calories burnt and strength needed. Strength requires high protein diet. The steak and beer diet of the navvy enabled them to shift 20 T of soil or rock in a day in all weathers. A sailor in the Royal Navy in days of sail consumed about 4500 calories and those exploring at the poles and undertaking mountain/arctic warfare are on about 8000 calories. In addition they were not wearing modern clothing so surface of body would be wet from sweat and rain and hence evaporation of water would burn up calories.
It is the combination wind and rain/sleet especially when not wearing water proof clothing which induces hypothermia even at temperatures as high 10 C, hence people getting into trouble in summer in places such as Brecon Beacons, Dartmoor, Lake District.
The Innuit have a very high calorific diet.

Matthew Fox
Matthew Fox
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

It’s not the cold, it’s the combination of cold and wet that makes the difference. Ask any soldier who has trained in winter in Wales, Dartmoor or Scotland!

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

It is calories burnt and strength needed. Strength requires high protein diet. The steak and beer diet of the navvy enabled them to shift 20 T of soil or rock in a day in all weathers. A sailor in the Royal Navy in days of sail consumed about 4500 calories and those exploring at the poles and undertaking mountain/arctic warfare are on about 8000 calories. In addition they were not wearing modern clothing so surface of body would be wet from sweat and rain and hence evaporation of water would burn up calories.
It is the combination wind and rain/sleet especially when not wearing water proof clothing which induces hypothermia even at temperatures as high 10 C, hence people getting into trouble in summer in places such as Brecon Beacons, Dartmoor, Lake District.
The Innuit have a very high calorific diet.

Matthew Fox
Matthew Fox
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

It’s not the cold, it’s the combination of cold and wet that makes the difference. Ask any soldier who has trained in winter in Wales, Dartmoor or Scotland!

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

I have. So did many of the women who cooked the food that you celebrate from the past.
Working class and rural women have always worked. They just weren’t always recognised or paid for it.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago

Women have always worked. What made the difference was the creation of factories, mines and mills with rigid starting and finishing times with long working hours. This made it difficult for women to cook.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago

Women have always worked. What made the difference was the creation of factories, mines and mills with rigid starting and finishing times with long working hours. This made it difficult for women to cook.

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Yes.
I am from the Midwest of the United States. And I have done all of that. Chicago is one of the coldest places in the country and when I was younger I worked with horses in rural areas where the wind temp was -30F. Our children were allowed to play on the playground when it was single digits outside.
Again. England is not the only cold place on earth. Barely one of the coldest, actually.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

I have. So did many of the women who cooked the food that you celebrate from the past.
Working class and rural women have always worked. They just weren’t always recognised or paid for it.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

Availability, and choice is far better than those countries, as is our restaurant and pub food

Su Mac
Su Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

I think much of the best variety of British cooking is best enjoyed at home – homemade roast potatoes, cottage pie, roast chicken, sherry trifle are all uniquely British and completely delicious. Fish and chips is the “eat-out” exception and unmatched IMHO as an outdoor meal. The British Christmas lunch is a most marvellous collection of beautiful flavours and historic recipes.
In contrast to African or Mexican origins American food, butter and varied cheeses feature strongly in British cuisine. Interestingly – as someone who have travelled the Southern USA quite a bit – I am amazed at the poisonous nature of corner shop/garage snacks and sweets in the USA. In Britain you could get an edible Cornish pasty, a huge range of tasty biscuits and many, morish chocolatey treats in a tiny garage. American gas station snacks are simply vile, greasy, artificial non-foods.

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  Su Mac

Well, if you need a t*t-for-tat lol…
Ok. You got me with “garage store” snacks, I guess. But if you really needed to bring America into the argument…you go.

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  Su Mac

Well, if you need a t*t-for-tat lol…
Ok. You got me with “garage store” snacks, I guess. But if you really needed to bring America into the argument…you go.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

I enjoyed a Polish bigosh cooked by my neighbour on our campsite here in Portugal. Diners included Germans, French, Dutch and this Paddy.. really nice. Weather was warm and sunny and we ate out of doors.. all lovely!

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

Have you worked out of doors doing manual labour in winter on a hillside exposed to the bitterly cold winds from north or northeast?
Britain is an island with a climate which is very good good for growing grass and woodlands which meant plenty of cereals, meat, milk, cheese and fish. One needs to study the diet of pre Industrial Britain. Hence Wilkes comment “Beef and liberty “.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

Availability, and choice is far better than those countries, as is our restaurant and pub food

Su Mac
Su Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

I think much of the best variety of British cooking is best enjoyed at home – homemade roast potatoes, cottage pie, roast chicken, sherry trifle are all uniquely British and completely delicious. Fish and chips is the “eat-out” exception and unmatched IMHO as an outdoor meal. The British Christmas lunch is a most marvellous collection of beautiful flavours and historic recipes.
In contrast to African or Mexican origins American food, butter and varied cheeses feature strongly in British cuisine. Interestingly – as someone who have travelled the Southern USA quite a bit – I am amazed at the poisonous nature of corner shop/garage snacks and sweets in the USA. In Britain you could get an edible Cornish pasty, a huge range of tasty biscuits and many, morish chocolatey treats in a tiny garage. American gas station snacks are simply vile, greasy, artificial non-foods.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

I enjoyed a Polish bigosh cooked by my neighbour on our campsite here in Portugal. Diners included Germans, French, Dutch and this Paddy.. really nice. Weather was warm and sunny and we ate out of doors.. all lovely!

CLARE KNIGHT
CLARE KNIGHT
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

As a Brit recently living in the American Midwest, I must say how much I miss English home cooking. The food here is abysmal, bland and unimaginative, the “bakery” untouchable. I also miss English pies and the wonderful selection of candy. American candy is the pits. I dream of an English breakfast -eggs, bacon, tomatoes, fresh picked mushrooms, sausage, thick toast with marmalade, all on one plate! Oh, and bubble and squeak. I’m so homesick!!

Last edited 1 year ago by CLARE KNIGHT
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  CLARE KNIGHT

The best pies I have eaten are in Lancashire , the result of women working in the cotton mills; they used to buy them on the way home.
Pork pies were developed for the hunting field, they fitted in the pockets of the jackets..
Whe it comes to a fry up, the best are on construction sites canteens. Start work at 8am in Winter or 7 am in summer and have breakfast at 9 am. The canteens were usually run by ladies as a separate business to the main contractor. Tea served in half and pint mugs. Lunches are very good quality and portions substantial.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  CLARE KNIGHT

The best pies I have eaten are in Lancashire , the result of women working in the cotton mills; they used to buy them on the way home.
Pork pies were developed for the hunting field, they fitted in the pockets of the jackets..
Whe it comes to a fry up, the best are on construction sites canteens. Start work at 8am in Winter or 7 am in summer and have breakfast at 9 am. The canteens were usually run by ladies as a separate business to the main contractor. Tea served in half and pint mugs. Lunches are very good quality and portions substantial.

Helen Nevitt
Helen Nevitt
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Another reason I like heating low and live crisp cold weather. The food is so much better. I made a steamed sponge treacle pudding Sunday. Oh God.

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Digging one’s grave with one’s teeth. Good, there are too many ill old fat people as the world becomes ever more crowded.

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

I beg your pardon but Britain is not the only cold place on earth and as such, its cuisine still doesn’t make much sense compared to the mouth watering stews and meals of similar climate countries like France, Germany, Poland….no. That argument doesn’t hold much weight.

CLARE KNIGHT
CLARE KNIGHT
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

As a Brit recently living in the American Midwest, I must say how much I miss English home cooking. The food here is abysmal, bland and unimaginative, the “bakery” untouchable. I also miss English pies and the wonderful selection of candy. American candy is the pits. I dream of an English breakfast -eggs, bacon, tomatoes, fresh picked mushrooms, sausage, thick toast with marmalade, all on one plate! Oh, and bubble and squeak. I’m so homesick!!

Last edited 1 year ago by CLARE KNIGHT
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago

If one has ever undertaken hard manual labour, out of doors in winter in the sleety rain and wind,live in the north in an old drafty house, traditional British food makes sense. The British navvy breakfasted on beef and beer and could excavate 20T of soil per day in all weathers. The archer could draw up to 200 lb bow 24 times in two minutes and fight a whole day.
If one lives in a modern warm home, work in an office and one eats traditional British food and portions, then one is digging one’s grave with one’s teeth. The Greek diet is a healthier option.
Britain was the first country to send women to work in factories, mills and mines so bought cooked food became more important. We were the first country to beome 50 % urban and by 1900 it was 80%. Canned food became common from the 1870s. People living then squalid slums were cut off from good ingredients and many had inadequate cooking facilities.We also underwent rationing from 1939 to 1953 and then American processed food arrived from the 1960s and fast food from the 1970s.
The decline in food in Britin mirrors our decline as a nation, especially health and fitness.
Good British cooking became an endangered species largely found in the countryside.

Michael W
Michael W
1 year ago

I can understand Italians being smug about their cuisine but I do find it ridiculous when Americans on the internet mock British food by showing bake beans when their traditional food is just bastardised European food, fast-food and meatloaf, whatever that is. British food is hearty and tasty, can’t beat a good stew or roast. Northern Europeans were limited by the vegetables that they could grow so naturally there is less variety and a greater reliance on subtle flavours in the traditional cuisine.

mike otter
mike otter
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael W

I am sure hush puppy and dripping has a British equivalent but it got lost in the mists of time

Su Mac
Su Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  mike otter

Not lost yet I hope. Toast and dripping with some of the jellied juiced and sprinkled with salt was an adored treat of my childhood and hopefully still is for those that still cook roasted meat.

Last edited 1 year ago by Su Mac
Su Mac
Su Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  mike otter

Not lost yet I hope. Toast and dripping with some of the jellied juiced and sprinkled with salt was an adored treat of my childhood and hopefully still is for those that still cook roasted meat.

Last edited 1 year ago by Su Mac
Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael W

Black American cuisine, Mexican American cuisine….we grew up with that. And when we go to the UK to taste your food…nope. Doesn’t compare.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

Of course it doesn’t compare – literally. You are talking about spicy food, often chilli hot. Those spices were not available in England, or when they were were very expensive. Flavours in traditional English food are way more subtle because our flavourings are from herbs not spices. if your palate is used to spice then it is difficult to appreciate subtle flavours. Now we have plenty of spicy food available, but from imported cuisines.

CLARE KNIGHT
CLARE KNIGHT
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

Ah but have you experienced English home cooking? I think not.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

one must laugh in pity

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

We had plenty of high quality fresh meat and fish and cooler climate so did not need spices to hide the decaymor make inredients go further. Out navvies breakfasted on steak and beer.
Hereford cattle came from Hereford in England.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

Of course it doesn’t compare – literally. You are talking about spicy food, often chilli hot. Those spices were not available in England, or when they were were very expensive. Flavours in traditional English food are way more subtle because our flavourings are from herbs not spices. if your palate is used to spice then it is difficult to appreciate subtle flavours. Now we have plenty of spicy food available, but from imported cuisines.

CLARE KNIGHT
CLARE KNIGHT
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

Ah but have you experienced English home cooking? I think not.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

one must laugh in pity

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

We had plenty of high quality fresh meat and fish and cooler climate so did not need spices to hide the decaymor make inredients go further. Out navvies breakfasted on steak and beer.
Hereford cattle came from Hereford in England.

mike otter
mike otter
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael W

I am sure hush puppy and dripping has a British equivalent but it got lost in the mists of time

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael W

Black American cuisine, Mexican American cuisine….we grew up with that. And when we go to the UK to taste your food…nope. Doesn’t compare.

Michael W
Michael W
1 year ago

I can understand Italians being smug about their cuisine but I do find it ridiculous when Americans on the internet mock British food by showing bake beans when their traditional food is just bastardised European food, fast-food and meatloaf, whatever that is. British food is hearty and tasty, can’t beat a good stew or roast. Northern Europeans were limited by the vegetables that they could grow so naturally there is less variety and a greater reliance on subtle flavours in the traditional cuisine.

David Lawrence
David Lawrence
1 year ago

There is really very little need for any food more exotic than egg and chips.

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lawrence

Spoken like a true Englishman!

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

Unless you are English you won’t have encountered real egg and chips.

CLARE KNIGHT
CLARE KNIGHT
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Exactly!

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

French fries and eggs?
Well, I suppose if you want that as your claim to European cuisine fame….

CLARE KNIGHT
CLARE KNIGHT
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Exactly!

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

French fries and eggs?
Well, I suppose if you want that as your claim to European cuisine fame….

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

Unless you are English you won’t have encountered real egg and chips.

CLARE KNIGHT
CLARE KNIGHT
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lawrence

Except for fish and chips!

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lawrence

Spoken like a true Englishman!

CLARE KNIGHT
CLARE KNIGHT
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lawrence

Except for fish and chips!

David Lawrence
David Lawrence
1 year ago

There is really very little need for any food more exotic than egg and chips.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

I was given the Purkiss book as a Christmas present, but haven’t got around to it yet.
I have a soft spot for Waitrose. Some of the offerings on the delicatessen counter are above average, and a go-to for half price hunters like me. As one assistant said, “I hoped you would show up”. I have noticed though that horizons are, sadly, shrinking. The in-house publications are full of, what to my mind, is unintended humour: With just a modest selection of “essential” ingredients, you can rustle up something to which you can attach an exotic nom de guerre.
My recommendation: WMW Fowler’s Countryman’s Cooking. As his widow wistfully put it ” He liked women. Unfortunately, they liked him”. I am glad that someone understood the point of cooking.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

I was given the Purkiss book as a Christmas present, but haven’t got around to it yet.
I have a soft spot for Waitrose. Some of the offerings on the delicatessen counter are above average, and a go-to for half price hunters like me. As one assistant said, “I hoped you would show up”. I have noticed though that horizons are, sadly, shrinking. The in-house publications are full of, what to my mind, is unintended humour: With just a modest selection of “essential” ingredients, you can rustle up something to which you can attach an exotic nom de guerre.
My recommendation: WMW Fowler’s Countryman’s Cooking. As his widow wistfully put it ” He liked women. Unfortunately, they liked him”. I am glad that someone understood the point of cooking.

Justine Brian
Justine Brian
1 year ago

From Roussinos’ reviews of the two books there sounds little original in the content overview that hasn’t already been written before. The Purkiss sounds like the better bet and I’ll be interested to see if she does have original material.

One of my favourite takes on British food, and why it is as it is – related both to trade and Empire as covered in this piece – is AA Gill’s notion of it emerging from a ‘magpie nation’, which he argued was a positive thing, giving Brits the best of everything.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Justine Brian

Ah, the late lamented AA Gill, worth buying a copy of the Sunday Times for his restaurant reviews alone. One his favourite places to dine was actually called “The Magpie”, an ever-so-slightly up-market purveyor of fish and chips on the harbour front at Whitby.
As for the article, i’d not be inclined to read either of those books, or indeed watch any of the multitude of excruciating cooking programmes which infest the TV evening schedules, with their gurning and false attempt at suspense. I’d also take issue with the writer’s description of the UK’s preference for free trade “as if Britain still controls the global seaways”. What utter nonsense.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Justine Brian
Justine Brian
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Gill could be a right snob, but his writing on food was always compelling (I felt).

The Magpie Cafe piece was the last restaurant review he did for The Times, and also the piece where he announced he had cancer and was dying. Incredible piece of writing I felt. And somehow perfect.

On the book reviews – I will likely give the Purkiss one a go to see if there’s anything new in it (hope so, as I keep reading the same ideas and histories over and over again).

I’ve found little to better C.Anne Wilson’s 1973 ‘Food and Drink in Britain’ for historic overview.

Justine Brian
Justine Brian
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Gill could be a right snob, but his writing on food was always compelling (I felt).

The Magpie Cafe piece was the last restaurant review he did for The Times, and also the piece where he announced he had cancer and was dying. Incredible piece of writing I felt. And somehow perfect.

On the book reviews – I will likely give the Purkiss one a go to see if there’s anything new in it (hope so, as I keep reading the same ideas and histories over and over again).

I’ve found little to better C.Anne Wilson’s 1973 ‘Food and Drink in Britain’ for historic overview.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Justine Brian

Ah, the late lamented AA Gill, worth buying a copy of the Sunday Times for his restaurant reviews alone. One his favourite places to dine was actually called “The Magpie”, an ever-so-slightly up-market purveyor of fish and chips on the harbour front at Whitby.
As for the article, i’d not be inclined to read either of those books, or indeed watch any of the multitude of excruciating cooking programmes which infest the TV evening schedules, with their gurning and false attempt at suspense. I’d also take issue with the writer’s description of the UK’s preference for free trade “as if Britain still controls the global seaways”. What utter nonsense.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Justine Brian
Justine Brian
1 year ago

From Roussinos’ reviews of the two books there sounds little original in the content overview that hasn’t already been written before. The Purkiss sounds like the better bet and I’ll be interested to see if she does have original material.

One of my favourite takes on British food, and why it is as it is – related both to trade and Empire as covered in this piece – is AA Gill’s notion of it emerging from a ‘magpie nation’, which he argued was a positive thing, giving Brits the best of everything.

tom j
tom j
1 year ago

Thanks the Dianne Purkiss book sounds interesting. Glad to see you dismiss Chicken Tilkka Masala, what a gruesome new labour moment that was.

tom j
tom j
1 year ago

Thanks the Dianne Purkiss book sounds interesting. Glad to see you dismiss Chicken Tilkka Masala, what a gruesome new labour moment that was.

Chris Hume
Chris Hume
1 year ago

No doubt unwittingly, she echoes today’s Twitter reactionaries in observing that “the people who knocked down Euston Station and devastated the inner cities have wrecked food creation, avid as they were to have modernity and not much else”

I had no idea my objections to the mid-20th century taste for destroying town centres and rebuilding them in concrete blocks made me a “twitter reactionary.” Tower blocks and miserable grey boxes must be progressive, I suppose.

Chris Hume
Chris Hume
1 year ago

No doubt unwittingly, she echoes today’s Twitter reactionaries in observing that “the people who knocked down Euston Station and devastated the inner cities have wrecked food creation, avid as they were to have modernity and not much else”

I had no idea my objections to the mid-20th century taste for destroying town centres and rebuilding them in concrete blocks made me a “twitter reactionary.” Tower blocks and miserable grey boxes must be progressive, I suppose.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago

Although turkey is America’s national dish for Thanksgiving, the best I ever had was at a lovely waterside restaurant on the Shropshire Union Canal. Melt-in-your-mouth perfection, accompanied by Yorkshire puddings the size of cantaloupe, I couldn’t believe how fresh and tender the meat was! Then I glanced out the window and saw in the garden several big Toms milling about. Ah . . .

Last edited 1 year ago by Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago

Although turkey is America’s national dish for Thanksgiving, the best I ever had was at a lovely waterside restaurant on the Shropshire Union Canal. Melt-in-your-mouth perfection, accompanied by Yorkshire puddings the size of cantaloupe, I couldn’t believe how fresh and tender the meat was! Then I glanced out the window and saw in the garden several big Toms milling about. Ah . . .

Last edited 1 year ago by Allison Barrows
mike otter
mike otter
1 year ago

An enjoyable read at the surface of food politics but its grubby depths are funnier and more illuminating. There are Cheese Freedom Riders (YES IT’S A THING*) who illegally transport cheese starter cultures across US state lines. Are they the successors to the 60s “freedom riders” or the 19th C undergound railroad? OR Libertarian anti-Feds like the Oath Keepers now or W C Quantrill in the civil war. Same can be said for the French Comte dairy farmers who protect their produce with force against the EU? *Wouldn’t normally note a comment on here but it sounds so odd it needs verification. Percival B & F, Bloomsbury 2017 ISBN 978-1-4729-5551-7

mike otter
mike otter
1 year ago

An enjoyable read at the surface of food politics but its grubby depths are funnier and more illuminating. There are Cheese Freedom Riders (YES IT’S A THING*) who illegally transport cheese starter cultures across US state lines. Are they the successors to the 60s “freedom riders” or the 19th C undergound railroad? OR Libertarian anti-Feds like the Oath Keepers now or W C Quantrill in the civil war. Same can be said for the French Comte dairy farmers who protect their produce with force against the EU? *Wouldn’t normally note a comment on here but it sounds so odd it needs verification. Percival B & F, Bloomsbury 2017 ISBN 978-1-4729-5551-7

Suzanne C.
Suzanne C.
1 year ago

An irrelevancy but I grew up Syrian Orthodox, and we made Baklava, with pistachios, but pronounced it “bitlawa”. I still make it. It’s not that hard, just time consuming. Worth fighting over.

Suzanne C.
Suzanne C.
1 year ago

An irrelevancy but I grew up Syrian Orthodox, and we made Baklava, with pistachios, but pronounced it “bitlawa”. I still make it. It’s not that hard, just time consuming. Worth fighting over.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Did not the French in the 15th century shout “Rosbif” at our gallant lads, whilst they supped on a diet of frogs and snails?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Did not the French in the 15th century shout “Rosbif” at our gallant lads, whilst they supped on a diet of frogs and snails?

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago

There are apparently Waitroses in the posh bits of Edinburgh but apart from that I don’t think we have them in Scotland.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

They will let you in if you dress appropriately, Brendan. No carpet slippers and onesies.
When I was a student, my girlfriend and I would wander around Harrods. An alert security guard would follow us. Probably thought that we might try and steal a baby polar bear from the exotica section.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Onesies? You mean my silver shell-suit is now passé?

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

Mine is restricted to indoor use only. Fashion is remorseless.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eej3_Zn8bD8

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

Mine is restricted to indoor use only. Fashion is remorseless.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eej3_Zn8bD8

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Onesies? You mean my silver shell-suit is now passé?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

There used to be one in Sterling.

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago

If it was sterling, probably got rid of by the SNP

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

In Swaffham, whilst the ” settee leounge” clean car bourgeois go to Waitrose, the landowners go to the bang next door Tesco… this would cause seizure in kent, surrey and East Sussex!!!!

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago

If it was sterling, probably got rid of by the SNP

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

In Swaffham, whilst the ” settee leounge” clean car bourgeois go to Waitrose, the landowners go to the bang next door Tesco… this would cause seizure in kent, surrey and East Sussex!!!!

Chris Hume
Chris Hume
1 year ago

There are 3 in Glasgow. I mean they’re in Milngavie, Byres Road and Newton Mearns, but that still basically counts.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Hume

I have selective blindness with Byres Rd – I only see the bars and restaurants.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Hume

a better sort of chib razor and Rangers scarf available?

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Hume

I have selective blindness with Byres Rd – I only see the bars and restaurants.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Hume

a better sort of chib razor and Rangers scarf available?

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

They will let you in if you dress appropriately, Brendan. No carpet slippers and onesies.
When I was a student, my girlfriend and I would wander around Harrods. An alert security guard would follow us. Probably thought that we might try and steal a baby polar bear from the exotica section.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

There used to be one in Sterling.

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
Chris Hume
Chris Hume
1 year ago

There are 3 in Glasgow. I mean they’re in Milngavie, Byres Road and Newton Mearns, but that still basically counts.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago

There are apparently Waitroses in the posh bits of Edinburgh but apart from that I don’t think we have them in Scotland.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

An excellent piece! the ironies and contradictions of Britain remain, when it comes to food: we now have arguably the best availability and quality anywhere in the world.

Our chefs are not only superb , but so often come from backgrounds of no cooking culture whatsoever,unlike in Italy and France, yet are more innovative and creative by a country mile!

Whilst people in UK appear to love cooking programmes and their associated books, my experience of brit cooking actual ability is not great, bar a few men whom I know.

We should celebrate our cooks and chefs way more than we do!

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago

Too long a read. Food is just not that interesting.

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago

Too long a read. Food is just not that interesting.

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago

I think Americans judge British food against other European and ethnic food. And yeah…it is sorely lacking. Sorry. But it is. And yes, it is mocked by Americans, especially black and other ethnic groups who declare it is bland and flavorless compared to their cultural cuisine. Black Americans especially deride British food as “white people food” with little to no seasoning…They have a point. I have always found it very bland.
While we have our share of garbage cuisine (god, do we) we also embrace the food of of our South American and Mexican and Asian neighbors. You would be hard pressed to find an American who hasn’t had authentic Mexican food on more than one occasion (and no, not Taco Bell, I mean the good stuff). The most ordered dishes in the US include Pad Thai, burritos of all types, and fish tacos. Most breakfast menus have Chilaquiles or Huevos Rancheros. Cheeseburgers? You bet. But you will find alongside those with cheddar or American cheese, offerings of burgers with eggs on them or veggie burgers with Korean bulgogi flavorings. To those who wish to gorge themselves with vast quantities of red meat and excellent wine, Argentinian beef restaurants are all over.
Italian, French, Spanish cuisine? Oh we bastardized them horribly left and right. But any major city will offer a handful of places with authentic European cuisine, including places like Danish and Polish restaurants. And African cuisine is the new darling of the big cities.
Obviously other countries have this as well, but my point is as far as food goes: Our diversity has made for some wildly tasting offerings.
Now, if you want to talk about what we consider genuine American cuisine? Oh, we have good stuff if you’re lucky enough to get it homemade. Buttermilk fried chicken, ranch dressing, brownies, pecan pie…honestly. Why do you think we’re so fat? lol…it’s good if you can get your momma or grandmother to make it. Unfortunately, most visitors only taste it at a second rate restaurant chain.
Now if you compare any of the above mentioned cuisines and dishes, you have to agree. The Brits, although from the land of Shakespeare and great military maneuvers, are lacking in their cuisine as far as FLAVOR is concerned.

Last edited 1 year ago by Marissa M
nick miller
nick miller
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

.

Last edited 1 year ago by nick miller
Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

As I have said above, England has herbs not spices, so the food is not comparable to those cuisines majoring on spices, especially ‘hot’ ones. As the other replier Mr Miller notes, there really is not much truly English food available in restaurants. One item we really do better than any other country is cheese; more hard than soft but any decent supermarket, even, has a better range of cheese than any French supermarket I have been to. If you have decent cheese in the USA it’s very well hidden!

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

You…must be joking!! England has better cheese than France?
Oh, I think not.
And as far as herbs vs. spices….well, English biscuits are filled with spices aren’t they? Ginger, cinnamon, cardamon….but your neighbors, the French, do tend to utilize both herbs and spices in a decisively more advantageous way.
We can’t all be good at everything. Like I said, you’ve got Shakespeare and brilliant military maneuvering, not to mention the Royals, leave the bragging rights for cuisine to others.

Last edited 1 year ago by Marissa M
Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

And I am afraid Mr. Miller deleted his comment. It is even better hidden than American cheeses, apparently….

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

You…must be joking!! England has better cheese than France?
Oh, I think not.
And as far as herbs vs. spices….well, English biscuits are filled with spices aren’t they? Ginger, cinnamon, cardamon….but your neighbors, the French, do tend to utilize both herbs and spices in a decisively more advantageous way.
We can’t all be good at everything. Like I said, you’ve got Shakespeare and brilliant military maneuvering, not to mention the Royals, leave the bragging rights for cuisine to others.

Last edited 1 year ago by Marissa M
Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

And I am afraid Mr. Miller deleted his comment. It is even better hidden than American cheeses, apparently….

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

ms woke… yawn…

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago

Is that the real British wit on display? A worthy foe!
I would have thought you could do better than that.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

My Father used to holiday on a widows farm in Herefordshire in the 1920s and 1930s . On Sunday two joints were roasted, one was eaten on that day; the other remained uncut and was eaten on Monday. The leftovers from the joint eaten on Sunday were fed to the dogs: it was considered unfit to eat cold as only joints which had been uncut were served as cold roast beef. Yet the conditions of Depression hit parts of industrial Britain were appalling as described by Orwell in Road to Wigan Pier. Orwell is very good on discussing British food and comments on the left wing middle class snobbery towards it.
Britain is small island but with varied geology, topography and climate. The pre industrial food based upon high quality and abundant protein, cereals, beer, root vegetables, dairy, hard fruit and soft fruit was debased in urban areas because of the changes I have mentioned but remained in the homes of country people.
Much of the fruit and vegetables which have the best taste and texture do not last. Consequently, modern supermarkets with long storage time requirements demand food which lasts and looks good but lacks taste and texture. An example would be Lord Lambourne apples which taste superb and have good crisp juicy texture but suffer from disease and do not last. The cheeses which Britain produces are largely hard, Cheddar, Stilton and the northern types such Lancashire, Cheshire and Wensleydale. All of them quite superb at their best but easily debased by modern supermarket demands.
When it comes to quality, rearing of animals is vital. Pigs allowed to forage for acorns and beech nuts( pannage )produce deep rich flavoured meat.
In summary, industrialisation, war and American ready meals/fast food debased British cooking and one needs to be skilled country people know what food used to be like.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

My Father used to holiday on a widows farm in Herefordshire in the 1920s and 1930s . On Sunday two joints were roasted, one was eaten on that day; the other remained uncut and was eaten on Monday. The leftovers from the joint eaten on Sunday were fed to the dogs: it was considered unfit to eat cold as only joints which had been uncut were served as cold roast beef. Yet the conditions of Depression hit parts of industrial Britain were appalling as described by Orwell in Road to Wigan Pier. Orwell is very good on discussing British food and comments on the left wing middle class snobbery towards it.
Britain is small island but with varied geology, topography and climate. The pre industrial food based upon high quality and abundant protein, cereals, beer, root vegetables, dairy, hard fruit and soft fruit was debased in urban areas because of the changes I have mentioned but remained in the homes of country people.
Much of the fruit and vegetables which have the best taste and texture do not last. Consequently, modern supermarkets with long storage time requirements demand food which lasts and looks good but lacks taste and texture. An example would be Lord Lambourne apples which taste superb and have good crisp juicy texture but suffer from disease and do not last. The cheeses which Britain produces are largely hard, Cheddar, Stilton and the northern types such Lancashire, Cheshire and Wensleydale. All of them quite superb at their best but easily debased by modern supermarket demands.
When it comes to quality, rearing of animals is vital. Pigs allowed to forage for acorns and beech nuts( pannage )produce deep rich flavoured meat.
In summary, industrialisation, war and American ready meals/fast food debased British cooking and one needs to be skilled country people know what food used to be like.

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago

Is that the real British wit on display? A worthy foe!
I would have thought you could do better than that.

Su Mac
Su Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

I think you are comparing the best of a whole world of cuisines imported into the USA with 1 native cuisine from 1 small, northern climate island. We have our share of international restaurants/ fast food including a great tradition of Indian curry houses.
One of my favourite parts of British cooking is still “proper” cake (and puddings) made with pure, simple ingredients – butter, flour, eggs, sugar, fruit as a Victoria sponge, Dundee cake or rhubarb crumble with custard. Unmatched by over fussy, formal European offerings or “look better than they taste” American layer cakes.

Last edited 1 year ago by Su Mac
Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  Su Mac

To each their own. Meh. I wasn’t a fan of English desserts or cuisine. The Germans do a far better rhubarb dessert and I certainly wouldn’t choose a Victoria Sponge over the sheer (and proper) delicacy of an Austrian Apricot Linzer Tort! Or a plate of homemade brownies, for that matter. No, I think the rest of the world is correct when they talk about English food. It is sorely lacking. We can’t all be good at everything.

Last edited 1 year ago by Marissa M
Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  Su Mac

To each their own. Meh. I wasn’t a fan of English desserts or cuisine. The Germans do a far better rhubarb dessert and I certainly wouldn’t choose a Victoria Sponge over the sheer (and proper) delicacy of an Austrian Apricot Linzer Tort! Or a plate of homemade brownies, for that matter. No, I think the rest of the world is correct when they talk about English food. It is sorely lacking. We can’t all be good at everything.

Last edited 1 year ago by Marissa M
nick miller
nick miller
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

.

Last edited 1 year ago by nick miller
Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

As I have said above, England has herbs not spices, so the food is not comparable to those cuisines majoring on spices, especially ‘hot’ ones. As the other replier Mr Miller notes, there really is not much truly English food available in restaurants. One item we really do better than any other country is cheese; more hard than soft but any decent supermarket, even, has a better range of cheese than any French supermarket I have been to. If you have decent cheese in the USA it’s very well hidden!

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

ms woke… yawn…

Su Mac
Su Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

I think you are comparing the best of a whole world of cuisines imported into the USA with 1 native cuisine from 1 small, northern climate island. We have our share of international restaurants/ fast food including a great tradition of Indian curry houses.
One of my favourite parts of British cooking is still “proper” cake (and puddings) made with pure, simple ingredients – butter, flour, eggs, sugar, fruit as a Victoria sponge, Dundee cake or rhubarb crumble with custard. Unmatched by over fussy, formal European offerings or “look better than they taste” American layer cakes.

Last edited 1 year ago by Su Mac
Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago

I think Americans judge British food against other European and ethnic food. And yeah…it is sorely lacking. Sorry. But it is. And yes, it is mocked by Americans, especially black and other ethnic groups who declare it is bland and flavorless compared to their cultural cuisine. Black Americans especially deride British food as “white people food” with little to no seasoning…They have a point. I have always found it very bland.
While we have our share of garbage cuisine (god, do we) we also embrace the food of of our South American and Mexican and Asian neighbors. You would be hard pressed to find an American who hasn’t had authentic Mexican food on more than one occasion (and no, not Taco Bell, I mean the good stuff). The most ordered dishes in the US include Pad Thai, burritos of all types, and fish tacos. Most breakfast menus have Chilaquiles or Huevos Rancheros. Cheeseburgers? You bet. But you will find alongside those with cheddar or American cheese, offerings of burgers with eggs on them or veggie burgers with Korean bulgogi flavorings. To those who wish to gorge themselves with vast quantities of red meat and excellent wine, Argentinian beef restaurants are all over.
Italian, French, Spanish cuisine? Oh we bastardized them horribly left and right. But any major city will offer a handful of places with authentic European cuisine, including places like Danish and Polish restaurants. And African cuisine is the new darling of the big cities.
Obviously other countries have this as well, but my point is as far as food goes: Our diversity has made for some wildly tasting offerings.
Now, if you want to talk about what we consider genuine American cuisine? Oh, we have good stuff if you’re lucky enough to get it homemade. Buttermilk fried chicken, ranch dressing, brownies, pecan pie…honestly. Why do you think we’re so fat? lol…it’s good if you can get your momma or grandmother to make it. Unfortunately, most visitors only taste it at a second rate restaurant chain.
Now if you compare any of the above mentioned cuisines and dishes, you have to agree. The Brits, although from the land of Shakespeare and great military maneuvers, are lacking in their cuisine as far as FLAVOR is concerned.

Last edited 1 year ago by Marissa M