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The Cuisine of the United Kingdom


SobaAddict70
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Jack's fantastic foodblog got me thinking -- we talk all about the cuisine of England, Scotland and Wales as being no cuisine at all but rather an unidentifiable morass of roast beef, gray vegetables and tea -- a gross over-generalization to be sure.

I know that isn't true, and yet the stereotype persists.

For example, we have glorious summer pudding (the combination of ripe berries bursting with flavor, sugar and bread alone is sheer and utter genius), Bath buns, all the trappings of high tea, scones and Devonshire cream, haggis, English breakfast, and two of the best cheeses in the world: Cheddar and Stilton.

And then, there's Gary Rhodes -- Britain's answer to Thomas Keller. :wub: Let's face it, Jaime Oliver he's not. :biggrin:

What are your favorite aspects of British cuisine? Any tales to tell?

Soba

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Smoked fish in Scotland;

-Salmon, hot and cold cures although the Irish seem to do the latter better.

-Haddock, ditto, hot and cold cures, really great food.

-kippered herring ('Kippers')

- eel, no eel damn it all.

Sussex Pond Pudding. Just excellent really.

Proper cured hams (almost non-existant now), especially the dark cures.

Game;

-Pheasant, Wood pigeon, Partridge (grey and red legged), Grouse (red and once a ptarmigan), Hares (both the brown, introduced by the Romans and the Blue Mountain natives), Snipe and Woodcock.

Shetland Native lamb.

Apples, all the excellent types that nobody really eats now.

Scottish raspberries, so rich and intense in flavour that visitors have commented that they taste as rich as mangos.

Devonshire Squab pie (actually a lamb pie/pot roast type thing).

Proper Pork pies, not the nasty crap sold in supermarkets. I love them, but for the calories I only treat myself when they are of excellent quality.

Squat Lobsters, rare and not commercially fished, but by far the best crustacean I have tasted.

Mince pies and Plum pudding.

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Anything made with golden syrup and treacle

Kippers

Bridies

Raspberries and double cream...heaven!

Gooseberry fool

Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding

Steak and kidney pie

Lamb shoulder, roasted til crispy on the outside

Scotch eggs ( from a little sausage shop in Bath, whose name I can't remember)

All artisan cheeses with oat cakes or brown bread

Malt loaf! with fresh, unsalted butter

Somerset cider and Guinness

Now I'm really hungry and don't have money for the airfare!

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You can make miniature sussex ponds with kumquats, but the ratio of outside to inside goes wrong if you make them too small.

I think the whole citrus is essential.

Kentish Well (which is Sussex pond with currants) is a heresy

Lots of other good puds:

Boiled Baby (bacon+leek suet roll)

Spotted Dick

Treacle

Marmelade

Sticky Toffee

Steak and kidney pudding. Not pie, which is merely a stew with a lid on it, but a proper boiled suet pudding.

To quote Dr Marigold (one of Charles Dicken's more obscure characters)

"A beefsteak-pudding, with two kidneys, a dozen oyetes and a couple of mushrooms thrown im. Its a pudding to put a man in a good humour with everything, except the two bottom buttons of his waistcoat"

Rather than list all the UK foods I should point out

a) It is still regional

b) It is a cuisine based on good ingredients, plainly cooked ("not mucked about with")

Even high versions, such as the Fat Duck or St John rely on good ingredients, cooked to achieve maximum flavour.

c) It is basically a farm/estate rather than court cuisine, although court and Grande Hotel customs and ethnic cultures (especially India and other former colonies, meant simply in the historical sense) have had their influence

Read

Florence White "Good Things in England"

Dorothy Hartley "Food in England"

or anything by dear Henrietta Green, including her Food Lovers Britain site

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I'm proud to say that I passed through my Jamie-hating stage and have emerged purified and serene on the other side of the debate, and will state with vim and certitude that he is a positive force in England's food world whether England's food world and Jamie-bashers worldwide see it or not. He embodies what is best about the English culinary spirit (and thus does wonders to dispell the "English food sucks" stereotype): boundless enthusiasm for both local and exotic ingredients and dishes, a can-do populism, and a sincerely generous spirit. Plus, his recepies work. Plus, he has a kick-ass theme song. Plus, cute sticky-up hair that chicks dig. Sure, sometimes I catch an episode from his first series, and remember why I hated his living guts -- I was reacting viscerally to the MTV-isation of cookery. But there's more to Jamie than that, and, really, the only possible reason I would have for hating even MTV-chef Jamie of the first season is simply an underlying fear that the world is being overrun by kids with scrap-metal in their nostrils.

--

ID

--

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Have just found a book "English Provincial Food" by Elisabeth Aynton for £2 in a junk shop, it is very good. Also "Consuming Passions" by Philippa Pullar (recently re-printed) is excellent (much better IMO then Colin Spencer's "British Food").

RE: Sussex pond pudding - I if you eliminate the fruit does this not bring the filling to pastry ration more into balance for a mini-pud?

Just to add to Jack's comments on British food been plainly cooked. It wasn't pre-17th C. and even now some very interesting regional dishes are of the old fashioned more spiced types of dishes. I know that 19th century British food is now the standard by which people judge 'British cuisine', but it would be a shame to miss out on the other styles of cooking that are part of the British heritage, even if some of them now appear more Moroccan then English (eg. Devonshire squab pie, Spiced Beef, Cumberland sweet pie, that chicken stuffed with prune dish with the lemon sauce (can't recall the name)).

edit: Chicken Dish = "Hindle Wakes" ("Hen da le Wake", chicken to be eaten after the fair, accourding to E. Aynton).

Edited by Adam Balic (log)
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If you're really interested in what English food once was, how it got to where it is, and the prognosis for the future, there's no better source than Colin Sencer's monumental history for Roman times to the present, English Food. It has the added attraction of being civilized, entertaining, literate and historically informed. For a catalog of traditional foods, there's the encyclopaedic Traditional Foods of Britain by Laura Mason.

For recipes, White and Hartley, already mentioned, are primary sources, plus Jane Grigson's English Food. For ancient recipes made usable without being corrupted, Maxime McKendry's Seven Hundred Years of English Cooking is a treasurehouse.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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As I mentioned above, I didn't really enjoy Colin Spencer's "British Food" (it is "British", not "English" isn't it, hence the passing references to Scotland and Wales in the book). I think that the book is a good resource, but found the style to be a little grating and much of the pre-17th century anaylsis to be superficial. The analysis from the 19th century onwards was very good though.

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Here I sit, a Southern Californian in a cybercafe (one word?) on Queensway, warming up after a walk across Kensington Gardens in a snow flurry. Having spent the morning wandering New Covent Garden market and seeing the gorgeous leeks that grow so beautifully in this climate, I'm wishing I brought along my copy of Lamb, Leeks and Laverbread by Gilli Davies. Glamorgan sausages, parsnip pie but especially a simple leek dish, based on a recipe back when Romans resided on these shores. Thick slices of leeks cooked long and low in olive oil and white wine, salt and pepper. Simply dip your bread into it and eat...always the favorite dish at parties when everyone comes into the kitchen and dips directly into the pot on the stove. Double-dipping allowed. Perhaps Roman in origin but only because they came to Britain and encountered the tasty leek. Someone correct me if they had leeks in Rome!

To my favorite leek, I add the following:

mushy peas (with battered haddock and chips at Brady's last night)

rhubarb compote (they currently have it at Baker & Spice made from the gorgeous forced rhubarb that is available)

bubble & squeak and egg and beans and sausage from Marie at her little stand which has replaced the Borough Cafe just outside Borough Market

cream, oh the cream. I don't buy it because the container says it is for "spooning" and I do just that -- straight out of the container and into my mouth.

lemon curd

sausage rolls

hot cross buns chelsea buns bath buns sally lunn buns

yorkshire tea cakes

crumpets

and the fact that you can get a decent cup of tea almost anywhere (remember folks, I'm from LA)

kit

"I'm bringing pastry back"

Weebl

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Phillipa Pullar's Consuming Passions is appropriately titled, giving especially detailed attention to English food's erotic associations. Her other magnum opus was a biography of the Victorian rake Frank Harris; she later discovered yoga and New Age mysticism and disappeared from the literary scene.

Colin Spencer is a food historian and cook of many years experience. He wrote the Guardian's recipe column years ago when Christopher Driver was its food editor. As an undogmatic and frquently lapsing vegetarian, he has written a number of vegetarian cookbooks and a history of vegetarianism as detailed and entertaining as his British Food. (Yes, Adam, of course you're right; my apologies.)

The latter grew out of research for a Guild of Food Writers' annual lecture in which he traced the effect of the enclosures on British cuisine:

Rural life was radically altered  and partially destroyed and whole villages were abandoned. Within a generation, cooking skills and traditional recipes were lost forever, as the creative interrelationship between soil and table (the source of all good cuisine) had been severed.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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Phillipa Pullar's Consuming Passions is appropriately titled, giving especially detailed attention to English food's erotic associations. Her other magnum opus was a biography of the Victorian rake Frank Harris; she later discovered yoga and New Age mysticism and disappeared from the literary scene.

Colin Spencer is a food historian and cook of many years experience. He wrote the Guardian's recipe column years ago when Christopher Driver was its food editor. As an undogmatic and frquently lapsing vegetarian, he has written a number of vegetarian cookbooks and a history of vegetarianism as detailed and entertaining as his British Food. (Yes, Adam, of course you're right; my apologies.)

The latter grew out of research for a Guild of Food Writers' annual lecture in which he traced the effect of the enclosures on British cuisine:

Rural life was radically altered  and partially destroyed and whole villages were abandoned. Within a generation, cooking skills and traditional recipes were lost forever, as the creative interrelationship between soil and table (the source of all good cuisine) had been severed.

John - this isn't the time or the place to discuss the relative merits of each book, nor am I interested in having such a discussion.

While you obviously enjoyed the book a great deal and have given it a plug on a number of occasions, I found it to be valuble, but very frustrating, in particular the lack of detailed references, which I thought was a great fault as Spencer clearly has strong opinions and it would be useful to be able to seperate out his opinions (Saxons could smell better then us modern types) from fact.

Philipa Pullar struggled with mental health issues for most of her adult life, as do many people. She died of cancer in the early '80s (I think). Her food book was first published in the 70's, and was re-printed in ~ 2000. Not bad for a book nearly thirty years out of print and I will be curious to see it 'British Food' is re-printed in thirty years time.

It would be best for British food if people bought both books :wink: .

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I agree with pretty much everything above - and let's not forget Coleman's mustard (or English Mustard in general), Bacon Sarnies with HP Sauce and Pasties.

Let's also not forget that there are many people out there (myself included) who LOVE Marmite.

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I found it to be valuble, but very frustrating, in particular the lack of detailed references . . .

How far can a book go when it is intended for the intelligent general reader, not written as a doctoral dissertation? It has a 13-page index (in fine print), fifteen pages of notes, a ten-page glossary, and a five-page "select bibliography".

Strong opinions? Indeed. I don't agree with all of them, but there's not one which didn't challenge me to think about the subject in a new light. In other words, I like the quality of his mind, and that's the principal thing I demand of an author.

I should declare the fact that he's a valued personal friend. Fortunately I'm not an influential critic whose integrity would thus be open to attack. :biggrin:

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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A post above mentioned mushy peas. Let me just say that I love them with mint and topped with seared scallops. mmmmmm

Also, Twinings tea that you buy in England. Blackcurrant juice. Hobknobs. Ok, these are not recipes or dishes, like haggis or bangers and mash, but I love them all the same.

I also loved the wonderful selection of European butters Sainsbury's had. I had never really been exposed to unsalted butter before, that is, butter that good, sweet, rich, and creamy that was heaven slathered on a piece of bread in the morning.

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For recipes, White and Hartley, already mentioned, are primary sources

Primary sources? Hmmmm. Hartley is certainly very engaging, but not particularly accurate (it's been a few years, so I can't produce chapter and verse, but I do remember her explanation of raised pies being wildly off-base). And if memory serves she has a propensity for inventing terms and presenting them as quaint old traditions. I enjoy her, but I don't really trust her.

I notice no one has mentioned C. Anne Wilson on this subject - has she gone out of style?

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Sussex Pond Pudding. Just excellent really.

Ha! you beat me to it. Do you make it with or without the lemon?

Both, but mostly without (butter, brown sugar, lemon zest as replacement) as the lemons scare the guests and it is difficult to make the individual portion puddings using a whole lemon. :wink:

Lemon zest? Oh dear. I hadn't considered the problem of individual-sized puds, and I suppose I see the point, but still - seems a sad substitute for the opulent juiciness of the whole lemon harmonizing with the butter and sugar. Individual SP pud - sheesh. Not for me, thanks. Make a whole one and share it around, or don't bother.

(I was curious, though, about the version with no lemon at all, because I'd never even imagined such a thing until I stumbled across it in an early 19th-c recipe. I can see why, since lemons would have been so much less common/available, but it didn't seem right for both versions to carry the same name, given how completely different they are.)

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Who are your favorite British chefs, past or present? (Besides His Fatness, of course. :biggrin: )

Soba

Sophie Grigson and Simon Hopkinson. I'll buy any cookbooks they come out with, even if it means paying Amazon's usurious shipping charges.

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The cheeses in this country, I think, can stand up against almost anywhere.

I was driving through Cornwall with my wife, and we stopped at a small village shop. Inside, they had several unfamiliar looking cheeses. I asked where they were from, and he said a local dairy with a very small distribution. How small, I asked? Just a few places around here, really, he replied. There's never enough to send up to London...

He gave me a taster of a semi-soft blue goat's cheese, and I almost fainted. It had all the depth of flavour of a Roquefort, and yet not quite as obnoxious, but with the texture of a gentle chevre. This was just another small dairy that had been making cheese - probably raw-milk - for as long as anyone could remember, and never enough to send out the region.

This xmas, I was at Borough, and Neil's Yard had a Stilton that was beyond belief. This wasn't the rough-edged brash Stilton I'd had before, but an artisinal product of incredible refinement and intelligence.

Edited by MobyP (log)

"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

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"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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For recipes, White and Hartley, already mentioned, are primary sources

Primary sources? Hmmmm. Hartley is certainly very engaging, but not particularly accurate (it's been a few years, so I can't produce chapter and verse, but I do remember her explanation of raised pies being wildly off-base). And if memory serves she has a propensity for inventing terms and presenting them as quaint old traditions. I enjoy her, but I don't really trust her.

She is certainly primary inasmuch as she was one of the first food writers of her generation to call attention once more to England's largely neglected and corrupted native cuisine. Explorers don't usually draw the definitive maps.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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I found it to be valuble, but very frustrating, in particular the lack of detailed references . . .

How far can a book go when it is intended for the intelligent general reader, not written as a doctoral dissertation? It has a 13-page index (in fine print), fifteen pages of notes, a ten-page glossary, and a five-page "select bibliography".

Strong opinions? Indeed. I don't agree with all of them, but there's not one which didn't challenge me to think about the subject in a new light. In other words, I like the quality of his mind, and that's the principal thing I demand of an author.

I should declare the fact that he's a valued personal friend. Fortunately I'm not an influential critic whose integrity would thus be open to attack. :biggrin:

John - my comments were honest critic and not ment to be an attack on your friend, so sorry for any discomfort. I use the book for information on occasion, but find the lack (and there is a lack) deeply frustrating. This may not matter for most readers.

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