The people we now call Celts who originated from central Europe, began
settling in England around 700 B.C. and gradually spread across the country
over the next 300-400 years. Very significantly, they introduced the iron
plough which made it possible to cultivate the rich heavier valley and
lowland soils. They are also ascribed to having introduced the cabbage to
England although some attribute this to the Romans.
Culinary practises remained pretty stable until the arrival of the
conquering Romans. By 43AD they were well entrenched in England and stayed
for 400 years. This was a significant time in English cooking history as
during this long period, they introduced many new vegetables such as
carrots, endive, globe artichokes, cucumber, marrow, asparagus, parsnip,
turnip and celery and animals such as pheasants, peacocks, guinea fowl and
according to some, fallow deer. Many herbs and seasonings were also made
popular by the Romans including pepper and ginger, cinnamon parsley,
chervil, coriander, dill, fennel, mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, garlic, leeks
and onions all of which are still widely used in today’s cuisine. They also
imported items such as dates, almonds, olives, wine, and olive oil and
introduced cheese making techniques.
Farming practices also changed during their occupation, with the Romans
being the first to use enclosed areas as game parks for deer. Also, their
extensive road building enabled foods to be more easily transported not only
within the country but further a field, and London soon became an
important trading city filled with imports of exotic foods. Having said all
this, the lives of country folk changed very little.
During the 9th century Danish and Norwegian Vikings were invading England
and many stayed and set up home. They brought with them techniques for
smoking and drying fish - even today some of the best kippers (salted smoked
herrings) are said to be found in the North East of England. Evidence shows
a variety of fish and shellfish such as salmon, eel, pike, roach oysters,
mussels and cockles formed part of many peoples diets as did chicken,
duck and geese. Wild deer and hares were also eaten (there were no rabbits
in England until after the Norman Conquest) although the poor would only use
small amounts of meat, more as a flavouring and as one would expect, nothing
was wasted including the blood of animals which is clearly illustrated in
the making of black pudding and jugged hare. At this time, most meals would
have consisted of some sort of stew or pottage cooked in a cauldron over an
open fire. Bread remained a staple.
The 11th Century heralded the arrival of the Normans, bringing French
influences (and rabbits) to the cuisine. Also at this time Knights returning from the
Crusades in the Middle East further encouraged the use of spices, more
particularly in the cuisine of nobles and ownership and use of spices such as ginger,
cinnamon, cloves, mace and pepper were considered a sign of wealth.
By the late 16th century, more new foods were introduced to the cuisine due
to the increase in trade and the discovery of new lands including sugar,
coffee, chocolate and potatoes. By this time, English cuisine had developed
into a more sophisticated affair with, meat pies, sweets and puddings being
consumed. It was also at this time that forks were introduced from Italy. By
now, methods of cooking included griddling and spit roasting.
The growth of the British Empire brought further new dimensions to the cuisine which
have become an intrinsic part of English cooking. One good example is
Kedgeree, a rice dish from India which although traditionally a
breakfast dish, can be (and often is) eaten as a light lunch or
supper. In 1809 Dean Mohamet opened the first 'Indian' restaurant in London
and as early as 1850 curry was well entrenched into the cuisine of some.
Also by this time Sandwiches were also widely eaten. The Earl of Sandwich
(d. 1792) was such a gambler that he didn’t want to leave the gambling
tables in order to eat a proper meal so he devised this method presumably so
he could gamble with one hand and eat with the other. It was also
around this time when the fish and chips industry boomed.
Service à la Russe was introduced into England around 1850 from Russia via
France, leading eventually to the three course meal of today. Prior to this
all the dishes being served were placed on the table at the same time and
diners helped themselves to whatever took their fancy.
Current Day English Cuisine
Before moving to today’s cuisine, it should be noted that food rationing was
introduced in January 1940. It lasted through the Second World War and was
extended to 1954. Foods rationed included meat, fats, cheese, butter, milk
and eggs. Bread, potatoes and vegetables were never rationed. Although this
led to an improvement in people's health, it’s also likely to have
contributed to English cooking’s bad reputation in the not too distant past,
of being uninspiring and tasteless. It just took a while to re-adjust.
Today however, English cooking is a gem of a cuisine. It has retained the
core of its early culinary history but constantly added to it. Roasts,
savoury and sweet pies, stews and a diverse selection of truly delectable (best in the world)
puddings/desserts are still popular, but so is Chinese and Indian food. All
major cities and most towns have at least 1 Indian restaurant or take-away
(many have several) and the eating of curry has become an
institution. Italian Pasta or pizza is probably cooked and eaten by the
majority of people frequently, albeit often with eccentric English twists,
and oriental flavourings and methods of cooking have been incorporated into
everyday cooking by many.
The great English breakfast (any combination of fried bacon, eggs, sausages,
tomatoes, bread, black pudding, baked beans, grilled kidneys and kedgeree)
whilst not eaten by most people every day, is still loved as is Afternoon
Tea which consists of
cakes, biscuits, scones, sandwiches and, of course TEA. The Sunday Roast,
which can be beef with Yorkshire pudding, lamb, pork or chicken generally served
with roast potatoes and at least 2 vegetables) is also still a tradition
which most uphold at least once a month.
A truly eclectic cuisine....YES, being an English site we make no excuse for