In our effort to revive interest in British food we, as our Manifesto indicates, are beleaguered but not defensive, and therefore will share with our readers on an ongoing basis some typically entrenched views of British food.
John Egerton “adopted what he called ‘the unwritten law of compensation, simplistically overstated,’ in which bad places make good books, good music, good art, and good food. ‘The more messed-up a place is, the more inventive and freewheeling its creative voices,’ he said. ‘richly varied forms of artistic expression seem to burst forth from violent or repressive or otherwise dysfunctional societies.’”
-John T. Edge, The Potlikker Papers (New York 2017)
“Go into a Dublin pub lounge, overcrowded, noisy, smoky, dark, airless, and the grinning faces indicate that whatever the personal troubles and afflictions of the company, they aren’t bothered by the foul atmosphere. Add to this that the Irish as a nation notoriously have no passion for ablution or for maintaining high standards of hygiene in their immediate surroundings. Add again that human beings have surprising powers of adapting to unfavourable circumstances and accommodating their needs to what is available. The conclusion must be that the sufferings of Dubliners during the classical period of the city’s slums, when they had never known any other way of existing, may have been magnified by the fastidious. Victorian photographers picture for us the smiling happy faces of three-quarters starved ragged barefoot slum children. The smiles are to all appearances unforced.”
-John O’Donovan, Life by the Liffey: A Kaleidoscope of Dubliners (Dublin 1986) 25
“The hot-blooded mugging of perfectly innocent fish by water boiling with venom typifies the contempt for food and indifference to suffering which is English cooking at its worst.”
“Boiled meats have played a vicious role in institutional cookery throughout recorded history. School, workhouse and prison have been run on the principle that boiled meats are part of the disciplinary process, and until recently the army regarded them as the foundation of good military training.”
-Victor Gordon, The English Cookbook (London 1985) 97, 163
“When the British arrived in India, it didn’t have an alcohol tradition, so they brought Scotch and beer. Beer wipes out the spices and destroys the flavors. The British thought that was great.”
-Rajat Parr quoted by Eric Asimov, “The Best Pairing for Indian Food? It’s Not Beer,” The New York Times (13 September 2016)
“At its best, English food is wonderful: it is more often the cooking which is at fault. My book does not aim to turn you from good English food, but rather to offer you a cook’s tour of supplementary dishes…. ”
-Lesley Branch, Round the World in Eighty Dishes (London 1956) 8
“The first New Englanders brought to this land a dismal culinary heritage. They found on arrival that they must apply the rules, if any, of English cooking to the odd provender on which the Indians managed to live. Some of the Pilgrim Fathers starved to death but none of them so far as I am aware perished of dyspepsia, wherein lies the substance of a miracle.
Yankee subjugation of an excessively inhospitable wilderness was an accomplishment no more valorous and resourceful than the creation by early New Englanders of more than savory foods out of less than palatable materials.
Britishers who have been reared in the midst of plenty for fifty generations persist, even now, in the ritualistic murder of foodstuffs. New Englanders who inhabit a grudging and infertile land have confronted from the first staples which in their native state were insipid or worse and have transformed them into some of the fairest adornments of the American table.”
-Frederic F. Van de Water, “In the Name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress,” from Imogene Wolcott, The New England Yankee Cookbook (New York 1939)
Comment at https://askthpast.com on a ketchup “to keep twenty years” from the bestselling book of the eighteenth century:
“It will last 20 years because it sounds absolutely disgusting… no one will eat it!”
“In Scotland today, as perhaps the world over, there is of good home cooking less and less. The old women say there is neither the variety there used to be, nor respect for quality.”
F. Marian McNeill, The Scots Kitchen (orig. publ. Edinburgh 1929; St. Albans, Herts 1976)
“Time was, when you talked about Britain’s global reach, you were referring to colonies, not cuisine. Though the empire ranged far and wide, you would never know it from the chip butties (a French fry sandwich) [sic] and mushy peas on plates back home; we Americans took particular joy in poking fun at that.”
Melissa Clark, “In Inventive Cooking, British Show the Way,” The New York Times (5 September 2014)
“In the Victorian age, a craze for all things curry overtook England. Curry houses were fashionable…. This infatuation with a cuisine so different from the standard roast and pudding fare may seem surprising--until you consider the warming effect of a steaming bowl of spicy curry on a cheerless soul in dismal London.”
-Stephanie Butler, “A Spot of Curry: Anglo-Indian Cuisine,” www.history.com/news/hungry-history/a-spot-of-curry-anglo-indian-cuisine (accessed 11 May 2014)
“Memories are like mulligatawny soup in a cheap restaurant. It is best not to stir them.”
-P. G. Wodehouse
There is “no such thing as English cuisine. Even the good old Yorkshire pudding comes from Burgundy.”
-Fanny Cradock, quoted in James Pembroke, Growing Up in Restaurants (London 2013) 276
“I am making my crème Anglais, it’s French, how can you do wrong?”
-Contestant on the FoodTV program “Chopped,” 1 October 2013 (she won)
“Mushrooms: If wild, always peel them.”
-Elizabeth Craig, The Art of Irish Cooking (London 1969) 58
“[Elizabeth] David and [Jane] Grigson helped Britons ‘fix’ a cuisine that had gone horribly wrong because of war and the accompanying hardships.”
-Mark Bittman, “A Time Before Tabbouleh.” The New York Times Magazine , 3 February 2013
“Charleston was one of America’s ten largest cities before the Civil War…. And slaves who had first worked on Caribbean plantations brought a cuisine more vividly and intricately flavored than the English cooking that much of America had inherited.”
Jeffrey Steingarten, “Fresh Prince,” Vogue (July 2012) 116
“The R rule, for those who don’t know, states that you should eat raw oysters only in months that have an R in their names--September to April…. Many people believe this rule of thumb was to protect people ; that oysters were unsafe to eat from May to August.”
Rowan Jacobsen, The Geography of Oysters (New York 2007) 256
Editor’s note: Jacobsen himself knows better, as we explain in the practical .
“[S]o much of our food has stemmed from England at its dullest…”
Ronald Johnson, The American Table (Weston CT 2000, 43)
“Da broads, da booze, da cars… dat don’t mean dick.”
Attributed to Edward “Fast Eddie” Vrdolyak, University of Chicago Law School graduate, Chicago alderman and felon.
“My three favorite Irish foods are all Guinness.”
-attributed to Peter O’Toole
“No horse or dog or any animal or cat will ever be turned away.”
-Spokesman of the ISPCA on sheltering unwanted animals during hard economic times, 29 March 2010
“The Puritans of Massachusetts created one of the more austere food ways of the Western world. For three centuries, New England families gave thanks to their Calvinist God for cold baked beans and stale brown bread, while lobsters abounded in the waters of Massachusetts Bay and succulent gamebirds orbited slowly overhead. Rarely does history supply so strong a proof of the power of faith.”
David Hackett Fischer, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America (New York 1989) 135-36
Another reason not to like
Newcastle Brown Ale.
Talk about lack of national pride.
“‘There is no English cuisine,’ says the returned holidaymaker after a fortnight on the continent, and may even be so rash as to add, “There never has been and there never will be.’”
- Rupert Croft-Cooke, English Cooking: A New Approach (London 1960)
“I would not advise an epicure in diet to visit Quebec.”
Jeremy Cockloft, Cursory Observations Made in Quebec, Province of Lower Canada, in the Year 1811 (Hamilton, Bermuda n.d.)
“Inevitably, 300 years of British rule left an indelible mark on most aspects of Jamaican life…. Considering the long period of colonization, however, very few English dishes have remained.”
-Norma Benghiat, Traditional Jamaican Cookery (Reading, England 1985)
“Though The New System of Domestic Cookery sounds more like a textbook than a cookbook, it is full of recipes we cannot possibly recommend that you try, such as walnut ketchup, China Chilo, and gravy to make mutton eat like venison.”
Powells.com/rarebooks/rareNotes1205.html , on Mrs. Rundell’s classic English cookbook.
“I do not like a chicken larded: I think the taste of bacon coarsens that of the chicken.”
-Robin McDouall, Clubland Cooking (London 1974) 103
“It is commonly said, even by the English themselves, that English cooking is the worst in the world. It is supposed to be not merely incompetent, but also imitative…. Now that simply is not true, and I even read quite recently in a book by a French writer, the remark: ‘the best English cooking is, of course, simply French cooking.”
-George Orwell, “In Defence of English Food,” London Evening Standard , (15 December 1945)
“I like the stuffing cooked separately. It is easier to control the cooking of the turkey and easier to serve it.”
- Jacques Pepin, Jacques Pepin Celebrates (New York 2001) 157
“Culinary historians… generally blame our Puritan forefathers for the bland British conservatism that informed mainstream American food.... What’s more, these folks, with their stodgy British recipes, had to face the fact that barley, wheat and rye--staples back home--failed to flourish in the harsh New England soil. It was left to the wives to show ingenuity by substituting cornmeal or Indian corn for more familiar grains as a means of adapting cherished Old World recipes.”
- Molly O’Neil, “Salem’s Lot: Where hearty porridges warm the spirits,” The New York Times Magazine (31 October 1999)
“For three centuries, New England families gave thanks to their Calvinist God for cold baked beans and stale brown bread, while lobsters abounded in the waters of Massachusetts Bay and succulent gamebirds orbited slowly overhead.”
- David Hackett Fischer, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America (New York 1989) 135-36
“It is the greatest fault of all devilry that it knows no bounds. A moderate devil is almost a contradiction in terms; and yet it is quite certain that if a devil is not moderate he destroys the palate, and ought to have no place in cookery, the business of which is to tickle, not annihilate, the sense of taste.”
- E. S. Dallas, Kettner’s Book of the Table (London 1877)
"Now a salad is simplicity itself, and here is a marvel - it is the crowning grace of a French dinner, while, on the other hand, it is little understood and villanously treated at English tables."
- E.S. Dallas, Kettner's Book of the Table , 1877.
“There is no shrimp in Country Captain.”
-Robert Stehling, chef and owner at Hominy Grill in Charleston, South Carolina, quoted by Sam Sifton in “THE CHEAT; Master Class,” The New York Times Magazine (25 January 2009)
"What do the fucking British know about food? Or wine? Not a fucking thing! You need a Rhone."
-Wine salesman at Sparrow Wine & Liquor in Hoboken, NJ upon being informed that the British like to serve Burgundy with beef, 24 April 2010.
"I haven't had a fricassee for years, I seem to remember being served horrible chicken fricassee at Pimlico dinner parties (mass quantities of cheap drink and bad food) in the seventies. Great plies of chicken chunks in wallpaper paste. I think I'll try the Editor's Ancestral version with the anchovy option. If it brings back bad memories I'll know who to blame."
-R.A.C. Brooks, 17 February 2010
"The great cookery writer Elizabeth David understood that a good recipe offered a happy medium between to vague and too descriptive. Like her heroine Eliza Acton, David was illuminating and concise, never omitting any tiny detail that makes all the difference.”
-Clarissa Hyman, “The art of recipe writing,” Financial Times (17 October 2009)
"The hoteliers and restauranteurs [in Britain] are... behind the times. Dismayed that they can no longer get away with serving, uncriticised, the dreariest food in Europe, they turn upon the public in the furious indignation engendered by the knowledge that they are in the wrong."
-Elizabeth David, "A Taste of England," Petit Propos Culinaires 66 (December 2001)
"I remember eating long ago at a Lyons Corner House in London... and the food was more tired and overcooked than any I had seen before. I wondered if it was safe to eat."
-Edward Behr, "English Food: A Modest Beginning," the Art of Food no. 61 (10 July 2002)
“Many very indifferent cooks pique themselves on never doing any thing by rule, and the consequences of their throwing together at random (or ‘by guess’ as they call it) the ingredients which ought to be proportioned with exceeding exactness is repeated failure in all they attempt to do. Long experience, and a very correct eye may, it is true, enable a person to disperse with weights and measures without hazarding the success of their operations; but it is an experiment which the learner would do better to avoid.”
-Eliza Acton, Modern Cookery for Private Families (London 1845)
“Wherever you look, you will see some machine-made article triumphing over the old-fashioned article that still tastes of something other than sawdust.”
-George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier (1937 )
“Do you agree with me that most national brands of sausage are a bland, pink disgrace?”
-Jane Grigson, English Food (1974)
"Hoping to incite 'serious contemplation of a robust culinary tradition,' British Food in America, a new online mag 'dedicated to the discussion and revival of British foodways ,' launches. News [sic]items will appear 'forthnightly [sic].' Cheerio, old chap."
Photo: Canned food from explorer Ernest Schackleton's 1907-09 Nimrod expedition in Antarctica, part of Britian's 'robust culinary tradition.' Credit: Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune."
-Elina Shatkin, Daily Dish, Los Angeles Times , 16 October 2009
Thanks for making our point (see our Manifesto , section 5).
"Double Crown makes “a promise of ‘British-Indo-Asian’ fusion that sounds more like a threat, given that it’s a two-hyphen fusion and that one of the words bumping up against one of the hyphens is ‘British.’”
-Frank Bruni, “The Empire Strikes Back,” The New York Times , 26 November 2008
“Those who make extravagant claims for English cooking are those who do it the most disservice. English cooking, even at its best, is manifestly not the best in the world. But although it lacks variety and subtlety and is very erratic, we can boast, in common with most other countries, of a handful of fine national dishes....”
-Elizabeth David, “A Taste of England,” Petits Propos Culinaire , 66 (December 2001) 12 [Probably written during 1964]