Great Britain has never been critically acclaimed for its cuisine – particularly when measured up against its neighbour, France. However, there is a rich tradition of different dishes which can trace their nomenclature and lineage back to various historic and cultural roots.
Over the years these dishes have been taken and gentrified by some of the best restaurants across the British Isles. For example, while fish and chips have long since been considered a meal for the working classes, served in newspapers and eaten sat on a bench or on the walk home from the pub, these days fish and chips have been elevated to gastronomic restaurant level – with a price tag to match. No longer are fish and chips the reserve of the working class, but a real favourite for a much wider demographic.
Britain can however boast a rich cultural heritage in a number of different dishes, and many more of those dishes are being taken up and nurtured as bastions of English cuisine. We’ve chosen some of our favourites in this article, and tried to give some history and context around the names (if there is some).
Pigs in blankets
Rather than the image of little pigs tucked up safely in bed for the night, pigs in blankets are actually small chipolata type sausages wrapped up in bacon and roasted in the oven. Traditionally they are served alongside the Turkey at Christmas time.
Also known as ‘kilted soldiers’ in Scotland, there is no specific history relating to the pigs in blanket, other than the fact that they were first introduced to the UK palate in the 1950s, and then made more popular by the first queen of TV cooking, Delia Smith.
However, due to their popularity many people are happy to seek them out outside of the Christmas season. Pubs such as the King and Queen in East Malling feature them on their regular Sunday roast lunch menu. So if the festive season is too far away for you to indulge this particular pork treat, we suggest you jump into a taxi and head over the East Malling where you can order them as an extra side dish at the King and Queen pub.
Toad in the Hole
Although it was not originally called Toad in the Hole, the foundation for this dish dates back to the early 18th century when cheap off cuts of meat were baked in batter. Today, this popular dish is a real favourite, cooked with sausages that rise in line with the batter when in the oven and look like little toads poking their heads out of their burrows looking for their prey.
As well as being the source of much mirth, spotted dick is an extremely popular old fashioned steam sponge pudding that contains suet and dried fruit – it is the dried fruit that gives the pudding the spotty appearance. The word ‘dick’ comes from the dialectal terms the were used to describe puddings, and is derived from the word ‘dough’.
Like so many traditional British dishes, jellied eels were founded on providing a cheap nutritious meal to those living in poverty.
Eels were once commonly found in the Thames which is why they are so intricately linked to the East End of London. They were caught, cut into small chunks and cooked in lemon juice and nutmeg, before being placed into a gelatinous stock which was cooled to a jelly like substance.
There is no refinement when it comes to Eton Mess, which is exactly as it should be. It consists of a delicious mix of sweet, crunchy, slightly chewy meringue, berries and whipped cream. To create a million mouthfuls of delight.
Eton Mess was first served at the annual cricket match at Eton school. When served at its rival’s school – Harrow, it is referred to as Harrow Mess. Whichever school your loyalties lie, Eton Mess has become a staple dessert in pubs and restaurants the length and breadth of the UK.
Bubble and Squeak
Bubble & Squeak has a long and varied history, with its first ever mention being over 250 years in the Oxford English dictionary. Originally the dish is said to consist of beef and cabbage fried together, and it is the sounds that they make during cooking that have given the dish its distinctive name.
The more modern approach to Bubble and Squeak tends to be a dish made up of the remains from a roast dinner, eten on a Sunday evening. This could be the remains of the potatoes, cabbage and other vegetables, off cuts of meat, all fried together until it gains a crispy fried crust, then often served with a slab of cheddar cheese and a dollop of pickle.
Black pudding is a type of blood sausage that has evolved over the years as blood from beef and pork has been used in different types of cooking across the United Kingdom. Blood has long since been known to be a source of exceptional nutritional value, and being a natural derivative of butchery its use as an ingredient has encouraged a creative use. Different regions of the UK have their own variations of the black pudding, from the Black Country to the highlands of Scotland.
Its most infamous feature these days is as one of the more traditional ingredients in a traditional English cooked breakfast. You either love them, or hate them.
In modern parlance, mince pies are confusing. Many have bitten into them expecting a mouthful of flavoursome beef or lamb, only to enjoy instead the sweet, nutty, citrussy taste of dried fruits and candied peel.
In fact, mince pies are probably one of the most traditional of dishes in the UK, dating back to the crusades in the 13th century, when traders returned with middle eastern spices and fruits. Over the centuries, meat was indeed included in various variations of the mince pie, but today it is best known as for its sweet and aromatic addition to Christmas parties across the UK.