A Baker’s Dozen of British Cookbooks for the Christmas Season – Book #7

Today you have Jane Grigson again, this time in full force behind the idea that British food is good and worthy of respect. History plays a larger role in this book than in Good Things, making it a delightful read as well as a valuable resource for study. It is one of several books worth looking at in order to examine where a number of American culinary  “classics,” techniques, and habits originated. Of course, a thorough study requires delving into manuscript and published cookbooks dating as far back as the ancient world, as well as archaeological reports.

And, be as it may, book #7 is another sparkler by Ms. Grigson:

1974

7. English Food, by Jane Grigson (1974): This is the same Jane Grigson mentioned previously in this series, so here I shall focus strictly on the book and not so much on biography.

The cover of my paperback copy of this book features a photograph of a steamed pudding, quintessentially English, a very inviting thing for the reader, especially one not living in England. A search of the Internet revealed that some young bloggers have taken on the task of cooking their way through the book, attesting, I think, to the interest in English food, and hopefully a resurgence of popularity for Ms. Grigson’s work. Ms. Grigson began to revise the book for the second time, the first having been in 1979, but she died in 1990 before she could finalize the last chapter, “Stuffings, Sauces and Preserves.” Her daughter Sophie, whom you’ve “met,” says that second-hand copies of her mother’s book tend not be readily available: “Dog-eared and much loved, they stay on readers’ shelves until they fall to pieces and have to be replaced with a new copy.”

English Food actually looks at the food of the entire British Isles, though a few recipes with foreign provenance sneak in here and there. Again, paraphrasing Florence White, Jane Grigson insists that in spite of the commercialization of food production, ” … the English cook has a wonderful inheritance if she [sic] cares to make use of it.” So, yes, in English Food, you’ll find chapters devoted soups, cheese and egg dishes, vegetables, fish, meats, puddings, tea fare, and the aforementioned stuffings, etc. You’ll also discover little tid-bits of information, such as the fact that Antonin Carême, a French chef who cooked for the Prince Regent (later George IV), claimed that a recipe for “Skuets” (veal sweetbreads) was English. Ever the sleuth, Ms. Grigson found confirmation of this in E. Smith’s The Compleat Housewife (1753 and 1773 editions). Note that we do not know for sure that E. was Eliza. Take note, too, that the recipe also appears in the 1758 edition. In 1742, E. Smith’s cookbook was the first English cookbook to be published in America, by printer William Parks, who hailed from Shropshire and settled in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Be prepared to spend hours, if not days, pouring over this rich and inspiring book, which confirms that much of what is called Southern/American food these days is actually British in origin with a soupçon of French and other influences.

Some examples of American foods/dishes with British antecedents follow – the list having been compiled by comparing the iconic Edna Lewis’s A Taste of Country Cooking  and Nathalie Dupree’s Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking with Ms. Grigson’s English Food and a few of the previous books in this series This is merely a taste of a few of the similarities; a much more in-depth look is forthcoming. Note – very important: I think it’s incorrect to go around talking about culinary appropriation, when the recipes never really belonged to any one person or even group of people. Even today, in cookbook publishing, the ingredients of a recipe are not copyrighted, nor are the techniques. The title, yes, in some cases, and the wording of the methodology, yes. The following dishes have roots stretching back decades and centuries. And thus their origins are impossible to determine exactly.

Bacon
Fruitcake
Gingerbread
Pound Cake
Salt Pork
Bread Pudding with Custard Sauce
Biscuits/Scones/Crumpets
Pickles
Eggs Scrambled with Fish
Oyster Stuffing
Sponge cake
Fruit Jellies
Guineafowl
Apple Pie
Steak and Kidney Pie
Smothered Rabbit/Chicken
Salmon (Fish) Cakes
Roast Beef
Preserves
Popovers/Yorkshire Pudding
Herb Stuffing
Oyster Soup or Stew
Pear Compote
Sausages
Whipped/Mashed Potatoes
Quinces Stewed/Confit
Mincemeat Pie
Horseradish Sauce
Chicken/Beef with Dumplings
Custard/Tyler Pie
Buttered Squash

 

Millers cabin Smithfield crop

Check out all of the books in this series:

1. Florence White’s Good Things in England

2. Dorothy Hartley’s Food in England

3. Adrian Bailey’s The Cooking of the British Isles

4. Elizabeth David’s Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen

5. Jane Grigson’s Good Things

6. Katie Stewart’s The Times Cookery Book

7. Jane Grigson’s English Food

8. Laura Mason’s The National Trust Farmhouse Cookbook

9. Sarah Edington’s The National Trust Complete Traditional Recipe Book

10. Brian Yarvin’s The Ploughman’s Lunch and the Miser’s Feast

11. Mary-Anne Boermans’s Great British Bakes: Forgotten Treasures for Modern Bakers 

12. Heston Blumenthal’s Historic Heston

13. Mary Gwynn’s The WI Cookbook

© 2015 C. Bertelsen

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