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English Cuisine and Recipes

History and information about English Cooking, English Food and English Recipes


Cooking by Country - February 2005



Go to:-  English Featured Ingredient   |  English Speciality Dish   |  Cooking by Country Main Page


See also:    English Recipes  |  Food Rationing in World War II  |  Yorkshire Pudding Day



England is situated in northern Europe and has boundaries with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west (these three countries are known as the Great Britain and with Northern Ireland are collectively called The United Kingdom).


England has a coastline of 3,246 km along the Irish, Celtic and North Seas and the English Channel and a relatively diverse terrain for such a small land mass from rolling plains which stretch from the central area (east of Wales) to her southern extremities excellent for the growing of crops and grazing of livestock. to a mountainous region in northern and western parts to marsh and barren moors in the east and south. Once heavily forested woodland now only makes up about 8% of the land area. Her many streams and rivers and a temperate climate has always afforded a wide range of foods to be available for consumption.


Ancient times and influences on English cooking

As may be expected, the first-known inhabitants of England were small bands of hunter-gatherers, but it was when immigrants from mainland Europe arrived around 4000 BC  that the first scattered farming practises and new types of livestock were introduced. They mainly settled in areas where the soil was light and more easily managed where they grew staples of wheat and barley, especially for the making of bread and kept livestock such as sheep, cattle, and pigs, supplementing the hunter-gatherer diet.


Around 2500 B.C. more immigrants known as The Beaker People began to settle in England and it is these peoples who are thought to have introduced a more pastoral pattern of settlements as well as the first alcohol in the form of Mead.

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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 being biased.

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