Britain’s Historical Food Culture

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd September 2014
Credit to Great Food Club As part of British Food Fortnight we're taking a look at the history of British food, happening Sunday 21st September until Monday 6th October 2014 will you be cooking anything typically British to celebrate? In the past, Britain’s culinary reputation has not been particularly positive, with the prevalent view that the nation favours stodgy, bland dishes that are simplistic by design. The national dishes being the full English or fish and chips, they perhaps lack the finesse and complexity of some other European cuisine. However, in recent years there has been a trend to rediscover historical recipes with chefs like Heston Blumenthal leading the pack, suggesting that Britain’s culinary past is not quite as lacking as some might assume. But does this mean Britain’s food culture might have been stronger back then than it is now? British-food-Fortnight logoThe current trend to celebrate the nation’s food heritage has seen chefs looking to reinvent traditional British classics. Heston Blumenthal’s Roman, Tudor, Medieval and Victorian feasts brought particular attention to this when he starred in a Channel 4 series that combined his innovative gastronomy with the traditional British dishes. It saw Blumenthal explore the history of turtle soup, for example, a Victorian dish which was then a delicacy much the same as we now view caviar. In the Victorian and pre-Victorian era, the meals of the wealthy were a symbol of status with feasts that boasted excess income. His approach, shying away from the traditional turtle that had once been on the menu for Queen Victoria’s jubilee dinner, was to make a mock turtle soup, much like those who could not afford the real thing did at the time. The menu at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal reflects a similarly historic and patriotic approach, with dishes listed next to their dates of origin, ranging from the 1390s to the 1890s. The meat fruit starter, available since Dinner by Heston Blumenthal opened in 2011, has been a particular favourite of customers, with its roots in the 15th century. Meat fruit In the Tudor period, to make up for the lack of entertainment on offer, meal times would often involve some theatrics or spectacles and in the case of the deceptive meat fruit, it was designed to provide an element of surprise. This seems to perfectly fit Blumenthal’s experimental style, whose version of the delicacy disguised chicken liver mousse as a textured mandarin orange. Everything on the menu at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal comes with details of the original recipe it is based on, allowing patrons a more experiential meal, much like the historical dinners to which he pays tribute. Similarly, Marcus Wareing’s The Gilbert Scott menu is also known for its focus on “British tradition and great British produce”, with regions of the nation listed next to many of the dishes on offer. Herdwick mutton, Lake District rib of beef and Dorset crab all illustrate a deep interest in Britain’s own produce, drawing on the heritage to create high quality dishes. Marcus Wareing Chef The menu at The Gilbert Scott aptly complements the historic nature of the building, with dishes inspired by a number of pioneering cooks of the past such as Florence White, Isabelle Beeton, Agnes Marshall and John Nott. Additionally, Minnis Bar & Restaurant in Kent recently announced that as part of its special autumn pies menu, it will feature two historic recipes – one Medieval, umble pie with deer offal, and one classic Victorian pie. The appeal of the historic menus transcends the food to more experiential aspects, with the dishes providing the added benefit of offering a broader understanding of British history. To refresh the dishes, they are often infused with more modern imports that have international roots. Many chefs today who explore historical food culture keenly use seasonal produce sourced from the British Isles, but combine those ingredients with flavours and techniques from all over the world. An example of this is Dinner by Heston Blumenthal’s Brown Bread Ice Cream dessert, which celebrates British food history (dating back to 1830) while still incorporating ice cream, an Italian import that arrived in the early 20th century. The aged pages of historical recipe books might hold the secrets to a more quintessentially British dish, but it is the balance of more recent international imports that has helped to elevate the quality of food.fish and chips With 158 Michelin-starred restaurants now in the UK (according to the 2014 guide) for a diverse range of restaurants, it’s hard to dispute that Britain’s culinary reputation is stronger now than it’s ever been. However, reviving historical dishes from the past has, in recent years, served as great inspiration for the creative, innovative menus at restaurants like Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and The Gilbert Scott. By Jessica Eve Kennedy Let us know if you are celebrating British Food Fortnight by commenting below or tweeting us @canteentweets.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd September 2014

Britain’s Historical Food Culture