The online magazine
dedicated to the
discussion & revival
of British foodways.

NO.52
SPRING2017

We Did Not Get Here First

“I like Italian food and English beer…. ”

-‘Isabelle,’ in the Classic Stage Company production (2017) of The Liar by Corneille (original version first performed 1644)

  

“Food redolent of the soil and the sea retains something valuable that is lost in freezing, canning and processing generally-what has been called ‘the subtle elements of freshness.’ So, however sophisticated and internationally-minded we become in the affairs of the kitchen, let us be careful to preserve those regional dishes that have been handed down by rule-of-thumb for countless generations.”

-F. Marion McNeill, “Preface” to Margaret Stout, Cookery For Northern Wives (Lerwick 1965) xi

  

“’Native food for native folk’ should be heard more often, especially when it is remembered that as a rule it is cheapest and generally best.”

-Margaret Stout, Cookery For Northern Wives (Lerwick 1925) xv    

 

 

“Cheese makes a lousy accompaniment for wine. A decent cheese will mask the taste of any wine.” (emphasis in original)

-Roxy Beaujolais, Home From the Inn Contented (London 1995) 119

 

“Some cookery books insist on giving cooking times for meat: I find this absurd and misleading.”

-Nicolas Freeling, The Cook Book (Jaffrey, NH 1970) 210

 

“And don’t underestimate bay leaves. The bay tree thrives strangely in a cold climate and offers spice-like, almost tropical indigeneity yet generations of northern cooks have relegated its leaves to ritual half-life in the bouquet garni. It deserves better treatment; bay is one of the great flavourings.”

“Britain has a greater diversity of smoked fish than any other country and, in a modest way these provide an island counterpart to the charcuterie of France.”

-Victor Gordon, The English Cookbook (London 1985) 92, 37

 

It “is a fact adequately demonstrated… that except in a relatively small number of cases homosexuality is not a fixed category but a tendency which runs through the whole population of every country…. It is impossible to say that so many human beings are homosexual, so many heterosexual, so many bi-sexual, or to pigeon-hole men according to these fluid classifications. Of course, there are those to whom these broad terms must be used but they can never be final or mutually exclusive. The great friendships of the world have given it almost as much inspiration as the great loves and though the passion in them may be buried obscurely, unrealized and not physically expressed, it must exist. Only Caliban can claim immunity from all feeling for his own kind and if there could exist a man wholly, in every fibre and thought, in every moment and mood, one hundred per cent heterosexual he would be no better than an animal. If another could be integrally and to the same degree homosexual he would be insane. Fortunately there is no black or white in nature and it is only cowards and morons who are afraid to face this fact.”

-Rupert Croft-Cooke, The Verdict of You All (London 1955) 152

 

“Only an insensitive cook would repeat a recipe without attempting to improve it.”

-Richard J. Hooker, The Book of Chowder (Boston 1978) 11

 

“English food is often most unjustly reviled, but only by those who have never sampled its masterpieces.”

-Leslie Blanch, Round the World in Eighty Dishes (London 1956) 32

 

“Extremely fresh fish has a fragrance that sometimes reminds me of cucumbers.”

-Jasper White, Fifty Chowders (Boston 2000) 29

 

“I dare affirm that Cookery in England, when well done, is superior to that of any country in the world.”

-Louis Eustache Ude, The French Cook (London 1813) xxii

 

“Only an insensitive cook would repeat a recipe without attempting to improve it.”

-Richard J. Hooker, The Book of Chowder (Boston 1978) 11

 

“What would Theodora do?”

-Donal Skehane on his desire to cook like Theodora FitzGibbon, The Pleasures of the Table (Dublin 2014) xvii

 

“The rising tide has lifted all yachts but not all boats.”

-Mark Shields, “PBS Newshour” (31 October 2014)

 

“A couple of flitches of bacon are worth fifty thousand Methodist sermons and religious tracts. They are great softeners of temper and promoters of domestic harmony.”

-William Cobbett

 

“A prohibitionist is the sort of man one wouldn’t care to drink with--even if he drank.”

-H. L. Mencken

 

“‘Man’, said Mr. Peregrine Touchwood, ‘is a cooking animal.’”

-Christian Isobel Johnstone writing as ‘Meg Dods,’ The Cook and Housewife’s Manual (Edinburgh 1829)

 

“Most people’s hearts sink at the mention of cottage pie. It can be delicious and it is pretentious for a cookery writer to infer that remains do not exist and should be thrown away…. You can make an even better cottage pie by using raw chopped steak instead of cold meat--but that does not help with the problem of finishing up remains.”

-Robin McDouall, Robin McDouall’s Cookery Book (London 1963) 139-40
Editor’s note: Cottage pie is shepherds’ pie made with beef instead of lamb.

 

“The only way to find out more was to read more; the only way to make sense of it all was to write it down, and then to try to check, prove, or modify.”

-Annette Hope, A Caledonian Feast (Edinburgh 1987)

 

“Britain is a pie society.”

-Tom Bridge, Pie Society (Lancaster, England 2010) back flyleaf

 

“I have often heard the French laugh at our habit of eating redcurrant jelly with lamb, quite forgetting their own similar combinations of pork with prunes or duck with orange. I suppose it is a sign of insecurity, of the closed mind.”

-Jane Grigson, English Food (London 1979) 152

 

In Curiosities of London Life; or, Phases Physiological and Social of the Great Metropolis , Charles Manby Smith writes in 1853 of savory pie’s “present universal estimation among all civilized eaters.”

 

“I strongly advise any of my readers who write to England for their stores, not to forget to ask for a little bottle of American “ Tabasco ” or quintessence of cayenne, sold by Messrs. Jackson and Co., Piccadilly, priced half a crown: each bottle is furnished with a patent stopper to enable you to shake out a drop at a time; two drops in each basin of soup is generally found enough, and the flavour is very good, quite superseding chill-vinegar for this purpose.”

-Colonel Arthur Robert Kenney-Herbert writing as ‘Wyvern,’ Culinary Jottings for Madras (Calcutta 1891)

 

“But you must know that English cooking-- good English cooking, not the cooking one gets in second-class hotels or in restaurants--is much appreciated by gourmets on the continent, and I believe I am correct in saying that a special expedition was made to London in the early eighteen hundreds, and a report sent back to France of the wonders of the English puddings. ‘We have nothing like that in France,’ they wrote. ‘It is worth making a journey to London just to taste the varieties and excellencies of the English puddings.’”

-Agatha Christie, The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (London 1960) 52

 

“The Elizabeth David whom I knew slightly towards the end of her life was a great hater--she was embittered, misanthropic, self-pitying, pretty graceless. Having once been paid a blurting, though well-meant, compliment by a friend of mine, she turned to me and sneered: ‘What a remarkably stupid young woman--I suppose you know a lot of people like that.’”

-Jonathan Meade, Incest and Morris Dancing (London 2002) 59

 

“As soon as you heard his voice you had to stop and listen.”

-John Waters on Vincent Price

 

A voice of sanity: “[I]t is quite unnecessary to peel mushrooms.”

-Richard Boston, Beer and Skittles (London 1976) 120

 

“He struck me as one of those warped birds who have never recovered from an unhappy childhood and a miserable school life.”

-P. G. Wodehouse on George Orwell, whom he liked.

 

“I like stews, where you throw in all the ingredients and then walk away and watch ‘Game of Thrones.’”

-Elizabeth Gilbert, quoted in Emma Allen, “The Reincarnation,” The New Yorker (23 July 2012)

 

“Madeira must have been invented to drink with it, cheese straws to be eaten with it, and gold plates to serve it on.”

-Compton Mackenzie on turtle soup in Pat Davis (ed.), Oysters and Champagne (London 1955)

 

“I like to eat my meat in good company, Sir.”
“So do I, and the best company for meat is bread. A sandwich is better company than a fool.”

-Anon., quoted in Mrs. C. F. Leyel & Miss Olga Hartley, The Gentle Art of Cookery (London 1970; orig. publ. 1925) 356

 

“I was thirty-four years old when I discovered I’d been using the wrong part of the lemon my whole life. Lemon juice is fine to brighten a drink or a piece of fish with a shot of acidity, but everything that is floral and piquant about lemons is found in the zest--the grated peel, which contains the aromatic oil.

Virtually any dish that calls for lemon juice can be made better by adding lemon juice and zest.”

- Rowan Jacobsen, The Geography of Oysters (New York 2007) 235-36

 

“Short cooking time is the secret for keeping oysters tender and flavourful. Over-cooking toughens an oyster. Don’t wait for the edges to curl.”

“As to what to drink with oysters--well, if it’s a meal of oysters, then stout.”

-Henry Smith, The Master Book of Fish (London 194?, 135)

 

“Theodora FitzGibbon, though not so well known as Elizabeth David, is surely one of the best writers on food we have.”

-Ronald Johnson, The American Table (Weston CT 2000, 43)

 

“From a library of 200 cook books, this is the book I normally check first when I get an inkle. Ronald Johnson is a God Damned Joy.”

-‘jhacking’ reviews The American Table at www.amazon.com (22 June 1999)

 

“The English, as befits their culinary expertise and raw materials, specialized in suet pastry dumplings, from whence grew their acknowledged skill as pastry and cake makers.”

-Elizabeth Luard, the Old World Kitchen (New York 1987) 166

 

“It had to happen, the return to cooking. People don’t just throw away an entire food culture after centuries.”

-Darina Allen, quoted in Julia Moskin, “Teaching the Irish (and Others) to Love
Irish Food,” The New York Times, 31 March 2010

 

“North American cookery continued to develop under strong English influence throughout the eighteenth century.”

-C. Anne Wilson, The Book of Marmalade (Totnes, Devon 1985) 117

 

“And although New England isn’t of any great size she can claim more dishes to her credit than any other region in the United States.”

-Clementine Paddleford, the great American Cookbook (orig. New York 1960; 2011 Rizzoli reissue)

 

“If friends come into the kitchen and offer their help and company to the cook, they tend to increase her dismay and panic. They get in the way. They don’t understand what she expects them to do. They stand with their backs to the cutlery drawer, or lean against the oven. They don’t know where the spoons, the sugar, the garlic are. Their embarrassed ineptitude worries her every bit as much as the eventual outcome of her challenging and problematical dish.”

-Caroline Blackwood & Anna Haycraft, Darling You Shouldn’t Have Gone To So Much Trouble (London 1980)

 

“John Bull embodied a contradiction, deploring the overspicing that masked the natural flavors of meat, but admitting to a penchant for the strong spices and exotic flavors of India.”

-Marc Lafrance and Yvon Desloges, “Clubs, Cafes and Taverns: John Bull in Canada, 1760-1820,” in A Taste of History: The Origins of Quebec’s Gastronomy (Quebec 1989)

 

“Certain guesses o’ yours are sure to leave-back the pig tails without touching them. When the guesses leave, stuff the damn pig tail in your mouth and feel sorry for them!”

Austin Clarke discussing the inclusion of salted pigtails in pea soup, from Pig Tails ‘n Breadfruit (New York 1999) 172

 

“Just like your grandparents, the rum spirit gets even more character and complexity with age. Except unlike your grandparents, the rum is aged in charred oak barrels.”

From the Coruba rum website . Coruba itself was established in 1889 as “Companies Rum Basil.”

 

“I hate cloves in most things and think they ruin bread sauce.”

-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.... ”

-George Orwell, “In Defence of English Food,” London Evening Standard , (15 December 1945)

Geece

“One of the most surprising items on the modern Thanksgiving menu is lasagna --and it isn’t just on the tables of Italian Americans. Recent immigrants from Eritrea, Bosnia, Trinidad and India all mentioned that lasagna was a favorite part of their Thanksgiving meal.... In recent decades, lasagna has become so integrated into the landscape of American food that newcomers perceive it as American--and therefore as suitable for Thanksgiving as turkey and cranberry sauce.”

-Kathleen Curtin & Sandra L. Oliver, Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and history from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie (New York 2005) 58

 

“Go back a century or two to Eliza Acton and Hannah Glasse and you are reading the writings of two Elizabeth Davids of an earlier age. Full of seasonal herbs, warmed with spices and alcohol, they express a sensual but practical appreciation of food and how to prepare it. Go back further still and it is the same story.”

-Jenny Baker (1996)

 

“I am always surprised to hear British cooking maligned by Americans; so many of our best dishes, especially in the South, are absolutely English.”

-John Martin Taylor (1992)

 

“I like lost causes.”

-Jane Garmey, quoted in The New York Times “Design” supplement (8 April 2010), on having written two cookbooks about British food.

 

"Freshwater crayfish, which are common in all our waters, are surprisingly largely ignored in this country.”

-MacDonald Hastings and Carole Walsh, Wheeler’s Fish Cookery Book (London 1974)

 

“We don’t have a signature dish.”

-Maurice Fells, author of The Bristol Year , on Bristolian food: Interview by Sophie Woodcock on “Bristolian bridge cake to return", BBC Bristol, 21 April 2009

 

[Our] responsiveness to the food of other nations can be traced back for three centuries and more. For better or worse, it marks English food apart from the cooking of any other country in Europe. When the combinations and adoptions are made by a master, the results are splendid but success in such matters is not as easy as we seem to think it is.... In lesser hands it can turn to pretentiousness or a desperate novelty that makes one long for a boiled egg and toast.

-Jane Grigson, The Observer Guide to British Cookery (London 1984) 16

 

“If I had to show a foreigner one English city and one only, to give him a balanced idea of English architecture, I should take him… to Bristol, which has developed in all directions, and where nearly everything has happened.”

-Sir John Summerson, quoted in Andrew Foyle, Pevsner Architecture Guides: Bristol (London 2004)

 

"With such an honourable history, it is time to revive the basic English brown and white fricassees."

-Gilly Lehmann, "Olios and Fricassees," in Eileen White (ed.), The English Kitchen 75 (Totnes, Devon 2007)

 

“I... have a problem with the English fanaticism of Mediterranean food. I love Mediterranean food in the Mediterranean, but this isn’t the Mediterranean. We have short seasons, so when they come to an end, rather than lamenting that fact, we should look forward to them coming around again, next year. I think we’re in denial of what we’ve got, which is all good.”

-Fergus Henderson interviewed by Soraya Kishtwari for “Real Food Pioneer,” The Times (London)

 

“It’s my favorite restaurant in the world.”

-Anthony Bourdain on Fergus Henderson’s restaurant, St. John, in Clerkenwell, London (1984)

 

“Elizabeth David’s message had contributed towards a rejection of England’s own culture, the Anglo-Saxon one, in a way which few Europeans would contemplate in relation to their own.”

-Lisa Chaney, Elizabeth David (London 1998) xxiv

 

“A wise traveler never despises his own country.”

-William Hazlitt

 

“Hix brings us the decade’s second defining culinary feature, the one that will have the longest legacy: the rediscovery of British food. Partly this was about reworking forgotten recipes, as Hix demonstrates so charmingly at his eponymous restaurant in London’s Soho.

-Jasper Gerard, “The restaurant highlights of the Noughties,” The Telegraph (11 December 2009)

 

“The pleasures of the table in this happy nation may be put in the same rank as the ordinary, everyone is accustomed to good eating. They consist chiefly of a variety of good puddings, Golden Pippens, which is an excellent kind of apple, delicious green oysters and roast beef, which is the favourite dish as well at the king’s table as at a tradesman’s… and this may be said to be (as it were) the emblem of the prosperity and plenty of the English.”

-M. Muralt, Letters Describing the Characters and Customs of the English and French Nations (London 1726)

 

“The English have always been sturdy individualists with a loathing for rigid rules, and their cooks have never worried about adding a bit of this and that to any recipe. In both printed and handwritten recipe books there has been a long tradition of footnotes indicating that the reader may do as she pleases when judging texture or colour, or adding flavouring or garnishing.”

-Mary Norwak, English Puddings (1981)

 

“By 1928 I had struck a rich line of research. We had the finest cookery in the world, but it had nearly been lost by neglect; a whole lifetime would not be sufficient for one person to rediscover it.”

-Florence White, author of Good Things in England , quoted by Colin Spencer

 

“Dry the beef in paper towels: it will not brown if it is damp.”

-Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck and Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (New York 2009; orig. publ. 1961)

 

“There was a time when the British were renowned for their good living, for splendid native dishes and for their uninhibited enjoyment of fine food and drink.”

-Alexander Glen, “Forward” to Lizzie Boyd (ed.), British Food (Woodstock, NY 1979)

 

"I am not out to change the world with my food. I am not out to reinvent the wheel. I'm only here to make people happy. And whatever it takes to do that is my goal. I also believe that just because something is one hundred years old or twenty-three years old doesn't mean it isn't good any more."

-Frank Brigsten, quoted in L. E. Elie, "Ode to Pecan Pie," Oxford American No. 65 (Summer 2009)