Silke are wholly committed to the idea of a rich, varied mix of cultures within our daily lives, particularly within the food we consume; there are few ways to better connect with people of a different culture or creed then with their food. Perhaps no greater example of this connection and sharing of cultural influences then taking a look at some of our own historic Traditional British Dishes, many of which use techniques or ingredients we’ve borrowed or learned from other cultures in conjunction with our own home-grown traditions. We’d like to take you through some of them.
Fish & Chips
Perhaps the most celebrated of all traditionally British meals is Fish & Chips; lightly fried battered fish- typically Cod, although options using Rock, Plaice, Skate and other varieties of white fish will sometimes be offered- alongside a side of thick cut chips.
The dish as we know it now is perhaps more recent then you’d think- though the concept was vaguely defined in the early 19th century (in conjunction with the industrial revolution making the transportation of food far easier), the first proper fish and chip shop didn’t open until 1860, operated in London by one Joseph Malin. The concept of battered fish itself, however, is theorised to have been introduced as far back as the Roman occupation of the country.
Plenty of us have likely heard of Devilled Eggs, but Devilled Kidneys might throw some of you through a loop. Coming to prominence during Victorian England, the dish consists primarily of Lamb’s Kidneys cooked in a spiced mixture- the process of “devilling”- and is sometimes served atop toast. The devilling mixture itself comprises of Worcestershire Sauce, Mustard, Butter, Cayenne Pepper, Black Pepper and Salt, occasionally being broken down with the help of Chicken Stock. Some variations also call for Curry Powder, but these aren’t quite as common. Initially, the dish was considered to be and served as a Breakfast dish, but in recent years it has become a supper time meal.
A dish likely unknown to most anyone not from the northernmost parts of the country; truth be told, even we at Silke hadn’t heard of it before doing research for these articles. A traditional dish in the Lancashire /Greater Manchester area and hugely popular in the surrounding towns and regions, Black Peas are made from the Purple Podded Pea, simply by soaking and then simmering them overnight to produce a Mushy Pea-like consistency. They’re a staple of fairgrounds and food trucks throughout the North of England, served traditionally with lashings of Malt Vinegar and Salt. They’re also a seasonal treat, being most readily available during the autumn months- between October and November specifically.
Often thought to be equally steeped in tradition is the Ploughman’s Lunch; a combination of bread, cheese, and pickle, sometimes served as a sandwich and nearly always with a beer on the side.
The truth of the matter, however, is that it’s actually a very recent invention; despite claims to the contrary (often from the bars and breweries of the time), the combination first came about as we know it in 1956, and rose to prominence throughout the 70s. There exists only one other mention of the name before that, which was in 1394 in Pierce The Ploughman’s Creed, although there it is simply described as Bread and Cheese.
Regardless, it remains something of a pub classic, with a number of variations- some calling specifically for Pickled Onion, some including sliced Apple.
We return to Cornwall for our second treat today; the Saffron Bun. A Saffron Bun is a sweet bun comprising of Flour, Butter, and Yeast, baked with Currents and flavoured using either Cinnamon or Nutmeg and, as the name indicates, Saffron, resulting in a bun that is very rich in flavour. There also exists a variant called the Saffron Loaf, which features the same recipe, only baked into a large loaf or cake instead of small, individual buns. They are also popular food items in Norway and Sweden (albeit usually featuring Raisins instead of Currents, and without either Nutmeg or Cinnamon), and are traditionally eaten during Advent, typically on Saint Lucy’s Day.
As we’ve previously discussed here on the Silke blog, Saffron is a luxuriously expensive spice– the single most expensive spice of all when sold in bulk per gramme- and the amount of Saffron required to colour Saffron Buns the bright yellow colour typically associated with them would be an uneconomic choice. As a result, most mass manufactured and locally produced Saffron buns will typically use Food Colouring to achieve the bright yellow shade, although this is nothing new; the practise of colouring Saffron Buns with a yellow food dye goes back to at least the First World War, when the cost of Saffron and the need for Rationing necessitated it.
The controversial Black Pudding is one of many types of blood sausage, consumed throughout most of Europe- although it is especially popular in Britain and Ireland. It’s generally made using pork fat, pork blood, and oatmeal, although occasionally beef suet and grits or barley groat may also be included to deepen the flavour and thicken the texture. It’s most common variation throughout central and eastern Europe is the Kaszanka sausage, which swaps out the pork fat for offal and the oats for Buckwheat Kasza- hence the sausage’s name.
There’s no one universal “traditional” dish that Black Pudding is served with, but the most popular dish it’s paired with is the ever reliable Full English Breakfast. Some Fish & Chip shops- particularly those in the northernmost parts of the country and throughout Scotland- will deep fry it in batter, offering it as an alternative to their fish selection, and there have been reports of places serving a Black Pudding Ice Cream. A novel concept, to be sure.
Liver & Onions
This is a near universal dish throughout most of the world, with each cuisine offering their own twist on the concept. In Catalan cuisine, it is fried with Olive Oil, and Garlic is added to the resulting mixture; two Italian variations, the fegato alla Veneziana and the fegato alla Romana, call for either dashes of Red or White wines respectively; and throughout Latin America and Portugal, Beef Liver & Onions is still a wildly popular dish often served with rice or tortillas. In Britain, however, it’s often Calf or Lamb liver that is used, paired most often with fried bacon and either boiled or mashed potatoes. Sometimes, the Onions are omitted entirely, leaving just the Liver and Bacon. Though definitely something of an acquired taste, it remains relatively popular to this day.
Chicken Tikka Masala
Perhaps one of the greatest examples of cultural adoption within our food history is that of the Chicken Tikka Masala, a dish that regularly ranks as one of the most popular in the country. The base element of the dish is the traditional Indian recipe Chicken Tikka, with a sauce comprising most commonly of Tomato Purée, Coconut Cream, and a variety of spices including Ginger and Garlic. The exact origins of the dish are unclear, though it has been attributed to the Shish Mahal Indian restaurant in Glasgow (created on the fly by chef and proprietor Ali Ahmed Aslam to sate a hungry Bus Driver who complained his initial order was “too dry”), as well as being said to have been created largely by accident.
The dish was then further improved upon in the Punjab and Uttar Pradesh regions of Pakistan and India. The most likely explanation, according to ethnic food historians Peter and Colleen Grove, is that it was either invented in England by a Bangladeshi chef, or was built upon the Shahi Chicken Masala recipe contained within the seminal 1961 cookbook Indian Cookery, penned by legendary Indian chef Mrs. Balbir Signh.
Particularly popular in the Northeastern parts of the country is Pease Pudding, a savoury concoction consisting primarily of legumes- split yellow peas being the most popular choice- boiled down in a mixture of water, salt, and a variety of spices based on region or preference. It’s mostly known for being served as a side alongside a bacon or ham joint, but other parts of England typically serve it with other dishes.
For example, down in the south of the country, it is served alongside Pork Faggots, and a variation the dish known as Peasemeal Brose is served alongside Fish & Chips in various parts of the Midlands in place of Mushy Peas- it is often said that Pease Pudding was the original side order that came with Fish & Chips, before being replaced by Mushy Peas due to the latter being slightly easier to make. A number of countries have either adapted the dish, such as Germany’s Erbspüree, or have dishes incredibly similar to the concept, from Greece’s Fava (which, despite the name, does not use Fava Beans) to Beijing cuisine’s Wandouhuang (豌豆黄).
Bubble & Squeak
Bubble & Squeak is a prime example of the English resolve to waste not and want not, and indeed rose to a particular prominence during World War II, when rationing of food became another part of life. There’s no real set recipe for Bubble & Squeak, as the very concept of the dish is that it is made of leftover vegetables primarily (typically of vegetables steamed and served with a Roast Dinner), but most common variations will always call for Potato and Cabbage, with Peas, Carrots, and maybe Brussels Sprouts as optional things to be included.
The vegetables are then chopped and pan fried together alongside mashed potatoes, until the resulting mixture is thoroughly cooked and browned off. It’s most often served with cold meat (also generally leftovers from a roast), Pickle, and Brown Sauce, although some variations actually call for the meat to be cooked into the mixture. It is also occasionally served as a part of a Full English breakfast.
The humble Cumberland Sausage is a traditional Pork Sausage that came out of the historic county of Cumberland- now known as Cumbria- and is known for two things; firstly, for traditionally being served as a long, curved single link, and secondly for it’s peppery flavour. The dominant flavour of the sausage is that of Black Pepper, although other herbs and spices are used to deepen the flavour.
It’s not known where the distinctive shape came from, but it is known that the sausage was far more heavily spiced during it’s initial inception; the influx of spices flowing through Whitehaven at the time are said to be the reason for this. In 2011, the Cumberland Sausage was officially granted Protective Geographical Indication status, under the name Traditional Cumberland Sausage (which, per the guidelines, must contain at least 80% meat, must include seasoning, and must be sold as a long coil rather then in links).
Sometimes said to be the precursor to the internationally known Cornish Pasty, the Bedfordshire Clanger mixes sweet and savoury in a rather direct way. Comprised of a suet dumpling crust not entirely dissimilar to that used for pasties, the filling is split into two portions at either end- one half is a savoury mixture traditionally consisting of meat, Potatoes, and other diced vegetables, and the other half is filled with either Jam, or sweetened fruit such as Apples- this end is typically scored to indicate which half it is. The outer pastry was not originally intended to be consumed during the early conception of the dish, serving simply as a means to protect the food inside from the grubby hands of the working men the pastry was made for. Buckinghamshire is known for producing entirely savoury equivalent of the Bedfordshire Clanger that also contains bacon, named the Buckinghamshire Bacon Badger.
Steak & Oyster
Also a little off the wall is the Steak & Oyster pie. Originating in Victorian England, the dish combines several cuts of Beef with Bluff Oysters, and will often be further flavoured using brewed alcoholic beverage of some form. Traditionally, it’s stout or ale- some modern recipes call for Guinness, specifically. The Yeats Room, the restaurant at the famous Ballymaloe House of Shanagarry, is famous for it’s Steak & Oyster pie; it remains a fixture of the Ballymaloe Cookery School to this very day. The dish is popular enough to have spread to parts of Australia and New Zealand, and it’s a regional delicacy in Norfolk, Virginia.
The Lincolnshire Sausage, by contrast, has a much earthier, fresher flavour imparted by the predominant use of Sage within the sausage. Parsley and Thyme are also often used as flavourings for a traditional Lincolnshire Sausage, adding to that flavour and enhancing it specifically. It’s also a Pork Sausage, although the traditional recipe calls for a slightly lower meat content then it’s Cumbria contemporary; 70% meat to 25% fat.
The meat is traditionally ground very coarsely in a Lincolnshire, too, meaning it has a much chunkier texture then sausages made with minced meat. In that sense, it’s a much more gritty, strongly flavoured sausage. The Lincolnshire was granted Protected Geographical Indicator status after 13 butchers within the county applied for it in 2006, with restrictions that indicate the sausage must be cooked with an exact ingredients list as outlined by said butchers to be sold under the name.
The very name Jellied Eels is enough to send some people running for the hills, but the importance of the dish can’t be denied; during times when the economic disparity between the classes was even more wildly divergent in many ways then it is now, the abundance of Eels found throughout the Thames (which lead to fishing nets cast as far up the river as London itself) lead to the emergence of a staple food among Britain’s poorest, as well as the rise of the Pie, Mash, and Eel shop.
The dish itself consists of chopped Eel, cooked in water and vinegar to create a rustic Fish Broth, then further spiced traditionally with Nutmeg and Lemon Juice before being allowed to cool. As the Eel is naturally gelatinous, proteins are released into the broth via cooking that allow it, when cooled, to solidify into a jelly-like form. Though nowhere near as popular today as it may once have been, it’s still a fascinating and integral part of our history, not solely within the realms of cuisine but within our general culture as a whole.
Parmo is both a great example of the most storied traditional British dishes, and one that adopts cooking traditions from other cultures at the same time. The story starts with Nicos Harris, a chef serving with the American army during World War II. He wound up wounded during a skirmish in France, but was brought to Britain to be treated for his wounds. Not long after, he relocated to Middlesborough, opening a restaurant known as The American Grill. Chicken Parmo was said to have been created at the restaurant around 1958, and in design could be seen as a spin on the traditional Austrian Schnitzel; it calls for Chicken (flattened, breaded and deep fried), which is then topped with a healthy serving of Béchamel Sauce and grated Cheese.
Variations exist that call for Pork in place of Chicken, and there even some variaties that are vegetarian. Speaking of variety, the Parmo actually has several named varieties that you will be able to find on a number of menus at any given restaurant. These include; Parmo Kiev (Chicken, Béchamel Sauce, Cheese, Garlic Butter, Mushrooms), Parmo Zeno (Chicken/Pork, Béchamel Sauce, Cheese, Onions), Parmo Hotshot (Chicken/Pork, Béchamel Sauce, Cheese, Pepperoni, Peppers, Garlic Butter, Chilli), and Parmo Italia (Chicken/Pork, Béchamel Sauce, Cheese, Garlic Butter, Ham, and an additional layer of Mozzarella Cheese). The dish also exists in a variety of forms across Britain as a whole- often referred to as Chicken Parm and heavily associated with typical “Pub Grub”, and has even spread as far afield as the United States in one form or another.
It might shock some of our viewers to learn that Banoffee Pie- and by extension a veritable smörgåsbord of Banoffee flavoured treats and desserts- is said to be a British creation in actuality. Credit for the dishes conception and creation is claimed by the owner and chef of the Hungry Monk Restaurant located in Jevington, East Sussex (Nigel Mackenzie and Ian Dowding, respectively). It grew out of attempts to amend an American-born recipe for Coffee Toffee Pie, with the aforementioned Toffee made by boiling Condensed Milk for several hours. They reported tried a number of fixes, including the addition of Apple or Mandarin Orange, but nothing seemed to stick; it wasn’t until Mackenzie suggested the addition of Banana that the duo seemed to be onto something. The name “Banoffi Pie” was put forward, and the dish became a smash hit with both local customers and travellers from further afield, leading to the pair to quip that they “couldn’t take it off the menu”.
Their recipe was first published in their 1974 cookbook “The Deeper Secrets Of The Hungry Monk”, and was later reprinted in 1997’s “In Heaven With The Hungry Monk”. The Pie is made using a filling consisting of Bananas, soft Cream, and Soft Toffee boiled from Condensed Milk (a variation on Dulce de leche), placed atop a base of either traditional Pie Pastry, or one made from crushed biscuits and butter. Some recipes also call for the addition of Chocolate or Coffee, and may also be topped with additional Banana slices and a drizzle of Caramel, or served alongside a scoop of Ice Cream. At least a part of the misconception that the dish is traditionally American may come from the fact that several supermarkets offering the Pie as a pre-made desert marketed it as such. This misunderstanding grew so large and so pervasive that Nigel Nackenzie himelf offered a £10,000 prize to anybody that could prove, beyond a shadow of doubt, and he and Ian Dowding were the original inventors of the dish back in the 70s. As of 2016- sadly after Nigel Mackenzie’s unfortunate passing in the Spring of 2015- that claim has yet to be successfully challenged.
A traditional casserole dish native to the Northeastern regions of the country, Panackelty consists of Meat and Root Vegetables which are chopped, mixed together, and left to cook slowly in an oven pot on a low heat. This version is perhaps the most well known variant, and is heavily associated with Sunderland specifically, but there are at least two other popular variations. The first is often known as the Humber variation, known as Pan Aggie. A Pan Aggie instead consists of layers of Bacon, Corned Beef, and Onions, topped with either sliced or mashed Potatoes- not entirely unlike the toppings of a Hotpot or Shepherds Pie respectively. The second, specific to the Northumberland region and known as a Pan Haggerty, instead comprises Potatoes, Onion, and Cheese that is typically baked in a baking dish. Rarely, this version of the dish is cooked in a frying pan, or in a large pan to be served similarly to a soup.
Hevva Cake, also known as Heavy Cake, is a traditional baked good originating in and around the Cornwall region. It’s a fairly simple treat in construction, made from a mixture of Lard, Butter, Flour, Sugar, Milk, and Raisins and scored along the top in a cris-cross pattern, for the express purpose of resembling a Fishing Net. The reason for this ties into the traditional name for the treat; back when the Cornish Pilchard trade was at it’s peak, the word “Hevva” was shouted by Huer’s (cliff top lookouts) to alert boats to the location of Pilchard Shoals. According to tradition, the Huer’s would bake the cakes upon return to their homes, which would be done by the time the boat crews return to dry land.
Chances are a good portion of you will only know the words “Potted Shrimp” thanks to the Rolling Stones, but there indeed more to those words then a Bluesy Rock track; they’re also applicable to a traditional British dish. The main component of the dish are a specific type of Shrimp- a form of Caridean Shrimp called the Crangon crangon (more commonly known as Brown Shrimp), which is cooked set in a pot along with a Nutmeg-flavoured Butter, although occasionally Cayenne Pepper is also included to deepen the flavour somewhat.
It is traditionally eaten alongside- or even on top of- Bread, and very rarely with sides or additional components like Pickled Cucumber. Despite being a dish native to the Lancashire area, perhaps the most famous thing about the dish is one of it’s connoisseurs; one Ian Fleming, author of the esteemed James Bond series of espionage novels. He would reputedly frequent the Scotts Restaurant on Mount Street, London, to eat the dish, and loved them so much that he passed his predilection for them onto his famous fictional creation.
Starting us off with something sweet, we have the Bakewell Tart. The Tart predominantly comprises of layers of Jam (traditionally Raspberry Jam, although sometimes Strawberry or Blackcurrent Jam may be used) and Frangipane- a soft filling made of eggs, sugar, butter, and ground almonds- sitting atop a thin layer of shortcrust pastry, and topped with crushed almonds for additional flavour. The Tart has something of an interesting history, as it has connections to (and could arguably be considered a more modern variant of) the Bakewell Pudding. The Bakewell Pudding features the same basic components- Frangipane and Jam, albeit Sieved Jam this time- but instead of being baked atop shortcrust pastry, it instead mainly comprises of flaky pastry, with the Jam layer placed on top of of the pudding and the Frangipane used as the filling.
The term Bakewell Pudding appears as far back as the 1800s, but although the exact origins of the dish are currently unclear, there is evidence that it may have existed as far back as the 15th century. The most commonly accepted story for the dishes origins, however, are accredited to a cook at the town of Bakewell’s Rutland Arms Inn in 1820. The story goes that the landlady of the Inn left instructions on how to prepare a Jam tart for said cook, and instead of stirring the egg and almond mixture into the pastry, they spread it on top of the jam; the result turned into something comparable to an Egg Custard when cooked, and the rest, as they say, is history.
A dish most popular, as you might expect, in and around the Liverpool area. The origins of the dish are a bit further afield, however; it is said to be an approximation of a stew favoured by Norwegian sailors, which was picked up by and became popular through workers at northern sea ports. There are theories that the dish may actually be of either Baltic or Low German origin in some capacity, however, although currently the evidence towards either theory is inconclusive. As with many of the dishes, variants on the dish are plentiful in abundance, but the traditional recipe calls for a mixture of meat (Mutton, Lamb neck, or Beef) and vegetables (Carrots, Onions, and Potatoes).
Regional variants include Lobbies, St. Helen’s take on the dish that uses Corned Beef as the meat, or the North Welsh take called Lobscaws, made using either braised or stewed steak, and with the only consistent vegetable being Potato. There is also a variant called Blind Scouse, which omits the meat entirely (but may still have a stock flavoured with a soup bone). The practise of calling Liverpudlian individuals “Scousers” is said to have come from the name of the dish.
Known under several somewhat macabre names; Shirt Sleeve Pudding, Dead Man’s Arm, and Dead Man’s Leg; the Jam Roly-poly is a fairly simple desert consisting of a flat-rolled Suet Pudding, which is then topped with a layer of Jam (traditionally Strawberry), and is finally rolled into a cylinder-like shape not entirely dissimilar to a Swiss Roll or Yule Log, before being steamed or baked in an oven. The gruesome alternate names for the desert are only partially down to it’s shape and the red colour of the Jam contained within; it partially comes from the fact, at least early on in the treats life, it was steamed- and even served, if you can believe it- in an old shirt sleeve.
As previously mentioned, the treat is an integral part of many British people’s nostalgia, and among some has a status comparable to that of Pie & Mash, Fish ‘n Chips, or Sunday Roast in terms of it’s raw “Britishness”; it’s often paired alongside Spotted Dick and Sticky Toffee Pudding to form a sort of holy trinity of classic British deserts. It’s intrinsic enough to the British experience to have been featured in one of Mrs Beetons cookbooks, specifically “Mrs Beetons Books of Household Management”, as well as being an integral plot element in Beatrix Potter’s “The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or The Roly-Poly Pudding”, first published in 1908.
Traditional British dish of faggots, mashed potato and peas with a rich onion gravyA traditional British dish with an incredibly awkward name in the modern age; Faggots. They are not entirely dissimilar to Meatballs, in both appearance and concept, although they are typically a bit bigger then many kinds of Meatball. Traditionally, a Faggot is made out of cut offs and offal derived from Pork- specifically, Pigs Heart, Pig’s Liver, and fatty Pork Belly or Bacon, all of which are minced together and hand-shaped into balls, with the aid of Caul (the omentum membrane from the pig’s abdomen), which is wrapped around the resulting ball of meat. Breadcrumbs may be added to the mixture to help it hold it’s shape during the cooking process, and various herbs for additional flavour. A variant known as Pig’s Fry also exists, which consists of the offal being minced with boiled Onions, further mixed with either Breadcrumbs or cold boiled Potatoes, seasoned with Pepper, Sage, and other Herbs, before all being mixed together and wrapped in Caul to form balls similar to a traditional Faggot. Though they are often baked (usually in a bed of Meat Gravy), sometimes Faggots are fried. Typically, Faggots will be served alongside Mashed Potatoes and Peas.
The origin of the Faggot can be traced back to the western regions of the country- the West Midlands and the western parts of Wiltshire specifically. Due to it’s use of offal and cut offs, it was a food created by the common folk, for the common folk. It’s popularity grew beyond the region as years went on, with a notable boom in South Wales during the 19th Century, thanks to an influx of agricultural workers that found work in the rapidly growing mining industry in that area. Further north in the Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, and Lancashire regions, they are known as “Ducks” or “Savoury Ducks”, with the first use of the term dating to the June 3rd 1843 edition of Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, specifically in reference to an especially gluttonous man who ate up to 20 of them. As with many foods of a similarly cheap and traditionally “working class” nature, they grew rapidly in popularity during World War II thanks to rationing, although in recent times that popularity had declined significantly. They can still be found in many Butchers, however, and there exists at least one brand of mass market Faggots that can be found in most supermarkets.
One can’t help but wonder if the fall in popularity of the dish in recent times can be attributed to the name; although the term Faggot has existed for hundreds of years, in many modern contexts it’s known for it’s double meaning; that of a highly negative and offensive term used to describe Homosexual Men (the term “fag”, a slang term referring to Cigarettes, faces a similar problem). Though the double meaning is attributed to American English, it is not entirely unknown over here, at least in part due to the large amount of pop culture we have imported from the Americas from the 60s onwards. Indeed, a radio advert produced by Somerfields in 2004 featured an American man turning down his wife’s dinner suggestion of Faggots, uttering “I’ve got nothing against faggots, I just don’t fancy them” to deliberately play upon the double meaning. This advert was actually found to have breached Advertising and Sponsoring Code regulations in the UK, and was very quickly pulled by Ofcom as a result.
The actual desert itself is fairly simple in construction, as it consists of only two main ingredients; a sweetened Custard and stewed, puréed Fruit, the latter of which is folded into the former. Traditionally, the fruit of choice was Gooseberries, but as time went on more and more fruits began to be incorporated into the traditional Fool recipe, from Blackcurrents to Apples, and Raspberries to Rhubarb. A number of modern recipes also swap out Custard for Whipped Cream, and may be further flavoured with a Flower Water, such as Rose Water. The most well known variant is the Norfolk Fool, which treats the fruit aspect of the desert more as an accompaniment then a main component, as it is added at the very end of the recipe.
As it stands, nobody is really sure why the desert is called a Fool, and the origin of the name is still hotly debated. One theory posited that it is derived from the French word Fouler, which means “to crush” or “to press”, and is used almost exclusively within the context of crushing Grapes for Wine. However, the Oxford English Dictionary debunks this claim as “baseless and inconsistent with the use of the word”, and it has since started to die down somewhat. Regardless, there is evidence that shows that the desert has been around an incredibly long time; Gooseberry Fool itself may have existed as far back as the 15th Century, and according to the second edition of the Oxford Dictionary, it was first mentioned as a desert in 1598. It first appeared as a recipe in a published cookbook in 1658, in The Compleat Cookbook.
The Sunday Roast is as British a tradition as commenting on the weather at a bus stop or chatting about the soap’s over a cup of tea and a cigarette. The origins of the modern roast dinner are hotly debated; one theory posits that it grew out of a tradition that arose during the industrial revolution, where families in Yorkshire would leave a cut of meat cooking in the oven before attending church, which would be ready to eat when they came back home at lunchtime. Others propose that it grew out of a tradition in Mediaeval times, where the village Serfs would be rewarded for their hard work during the course of the week with a spit roasted oxen.
Whichever of the two you believe, it’s unquestionable that the practice of a large, celebratory meal on Sundays was and is a common practice among the Christian and Catholic populations throughout Europe. The actual meal itself is fairly simple in construction; Roasted Meat, Roasted Potatoes, and a selection of vegetables, sometimes accompanied by a Yorkshire Pudding. The variations of the kind of meat and vegetable are near endless, with Beef, Chicken, Pork and Lamb being popular mainstays, and vegetables typically consisting of at least Carrots, Cauliflower, and Runner Beans. The dish is often further flavoured with the addition of some form of Gravy- typically a meat gravy complimenting the chosen meat or an onion one- or sauces like Cheese Sauce or Bread Sauce.
Full English Breakfast
Equally as recognisable and iconic is that of the Full English Breakfast. Proving that even when it comes to the first meal of the day we Brits don’t like to skimp on things, the Full English is typically made up of Bacon, Sausages, Eggs, and sides such as Baked Beans, Fried Mushrooms, or Peeled Tomatoes. As with the roast, variations on the dish are as plentiful and wild as you’d expect. For starters, every region of Britain has their own take on the meal; a Full Scottish will typically also include Tattie Scones, Lorne Sausage, even a bit of Haggis, and in some places will be preceded with Porridge as a starter; Wales has perhaps the most varied take on the dish, reflecting it’s coastal heritage by including cockles and laverbread (a delicacy consisting of fried seaweed mixed with oatmeal) in addition to the typical Bacon, Eggs and Mushroom; even Ireland has their own variation, including either Black Pudding or White Pudding- sometimes both- Soda Bread, and Liver.
These are all very broad definitions however, and intricacies will vary from place to place and cafe to cafe. The divergences run deeper then that, however, and go into the subtleties; do you fry everything, or grill/oven bake all the elements bar the Egg (and any sides that require frying)? Do you have the bacon soft, or crispy? Do you stick to the core elements of your regions variation, or do you mix and match? For a traditional dish, the Full Breakfast largely avoids a universal tradition, and in a way, that’s what makes it so special.
Rice Pudding as a concept exists in various forms throughout a great many different cultures, each one largely evolving independent of the other; we’re going to be looking at solely the British variant. The basic makeup of Rice Pudding is a mixture comprising of Rice, Milk, Cream, Sugar, and additional flavouring in the form of either Vanilla, Nutmeg, Cinnamon, or any combination of the three. A popular addition to the finished pudding is a form of Jam, typically Strawberry or Raspberry. A specific form of Rice exists primarily for use in Rice Pudding, and is known simply as Pudding Rice. It’s very similar to Arborio Rice, with a short and rounded grain; at a push however, almost any short-grain Rice variant, such as Risotto Rice, can be used. Rice Pudding can also be cooked in two entirely different ways; in a Saucepan, or in an Oven.
The Saucepan method involves very gently simmering the Milk and Rice together until it’s tender, carefully adding the Sugar once it is tedder, and finishing off by adding the Cream into the mixture; the resulting pudding will have a very creamy and smooth consistency, and can either be left to cool and served at room temperature, or reheated and served hot. Flavouring is then added to the completed dish.
Conversely, the Oven method involved spreading the Rice into a baking dish, then pouring the Milk, Cream, and Sugar on top. The resulting mixture is baked in the Oven on a very low heat over a few hours, allowing for both a thicker, creamy consistency and a slight crust atop that develops over the cooking process.
Another variant popular throughout the northern regions substitutes Butter in place of Cream, adds a small pinch of Salt, and must be left to stand at least an hour before being cooked. This version of Rice Pudding will generally set much more firmly then any other during the cooking process, to the point that it is often slice and served almost like a cake.
As covered during our coverage of Bread & Butter Pudding, Rice Pudding developed from an offshoot of the traditional British dish Whitepot, which used Rice in place of Buttered Bread, and dates at least as far back as the Tudor age. The earliest recipe documented was written down in 1615, credited to the famous poet and writer Gervase Markham, author of The English Huswife, Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to Be in a Complete Woman.
Originating around the Cornwall and Devon area (where it is still produced almost exclusively), Hog’s Pudding is a variant of Sausage that comprises Pork- both meat and fat- Suet, Bread, and either Oatmeal or Pearl Barley, all formed into the shape of a large-sized sausage. One of the most “British” of the traditional British dishes, this sausage is then additionally flavoured with the addition of Black Pepper, Cumin, Basil, and Garlic. Also known as “Groats Pudding”, this take on the delicacy is somewhat comparable to the more well known White Pudding, but as a result of the additional flavouring is far spicier then White Pudding. There does exist a second variant, however, that contains a larger Offal content- particularly Lung and Liver- that can be considered a West Country take on Haggis more then a sausage.
Perhaps as classic a British dish as you could hope to find; it is, after all, named for Queen Victoria herself, due to her preference for a slice or two with afternoon tea. In essence, the Victoria Sponge is a very basic treat; it comprises two thick Sponges with a layer of Raspberry Jam and whipped Double Cream (although occasionally, Strawberry jam and / or Vanilla Cream may be used) spread between them, which is then dusted with Icing Sugar- no actual icing is used for the cake whatsoever. There exist two methods to making the Sponge portion; the original, “classic” method involves creaming Caster Sugar using Butter (or any other kind of fat), mixing well with a beaten Egg, and finally folding Flour and a raising agent into the resulting mixture.
The modern method is much more simple, owing it’s existence to the modern Electric Mixer or Food Processor, and simply involves placing all the ingredients together and mixing them as one- although be wary that many modern ingredients call for an additional raising agent, and may ask for a butter alternative such as Margarine or Olive Spread in place of actual butter. This basic cake mixture is so comparatively simple and basic that it is not only favoured by people who might not have much time to spare, or taught to children as a basic food to cook; it’s actually gone on to form the basis of several popular cakes and puddings, from Cupcakes to Eve’s Pudding; even many Chocolate Cake recipes use this basic batter as a foundation. The Victoria Sponge itself is so popular, that a number of other treats have spun off or spring boarded off from that basic mixture of soft Sponge, Raspberry and Cream.
First up today, we have a real great British classic; Beef Wellington. The dish consists of a Beef fillet steak coated in pâté (specifically pâté de foie gras, in most instances), which is then wrapped in puff pastry before being baked in an oven. Some recipes will Occasionally call for a Crêpe to be wrapped around the coated beef before the puff pastry, under the pretence that it will stop the beef from drying out during the cooking process.
The resulting meal will often be sliced after cooking, served alongside a selection of vegetables- potatoes are typically always included. There even exist variations on the dish that call for Sausage meat, Salmon, and even Mushroom instead of Beef as the main component of the pastry. In spite of the name of the dish, it appears to have no real historical connection to the famous 1st Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wesley. It’s been noted and observed many times before that meat-based pastries were a well established and much beloved cornerstone of English cuisine long before Arthur Wesley’s time.
It has also been theorised that, due to the dishes similarity to the french dish Filet de Bœuf en Croûte, the name could simply be a re-branding of an existing dish- an especially patriotic one, at that. The name itself didn’t appear in texts until around 1939, with the first instance being that years New York Food Guide having a listing for “Tenderloin of Beef Wellington”.
This dish that came about within the British American Colonies, and as a result has evolved consecutively in both Britain and America since that point. They owe their existence largely to having to make do with what one had; unable to make tradition Suet Puddings due to a lack of proper ingredients or cooking facilities, British soldiers stationed in the colonies would instead cover the fillings normally reserved for puddings with unflavoured biscuits or dumplings.
The British variant of the dish hasn’t evolved all that much beyond it’s basic iteration, albeit with a variety that tops it off with Scones taking precedence over the Biscuit or rough Pie Crust variants. This is in great contrast to a number of American varieties, that instead greatly resemble a deep dish Pie, with both bottom and top crusts. Unlike the US, though, Britain tends to produce both sweet and savoury variations on the cobbler, with Apple and Peach being popular sweet fillings, and certain varieties calling for Beef or even a Casserole-like filling (often paired with Herb or Cheese flavoured Scones).