English food at its best is hearty, simple, delicious fare, developed to feed the colonial empire, which in its time influenced the rest of the world. The foods and cooking of England are steeped in history and heritage yet the modern face of British food presents a dynamic and thriving cuisine, now followed intensely around the globe.
A Brief History
Since ancient times English food has been influenced by foreign invaders. First came the Vikings, followed in by the Romans, and even the French. All of them brought their own influence to the English table, a melting pot of ingredients and foods. The impact of the Franco-Normans is clearly reflected in the common use of their spices: saffron, mace, nutmeg, pepper, ginger and sugar. Medieval English cookery abounds with recipes containing this exotic fare, and these ingredients are still found in the English food of today in traditional recipes such as Plum Pudding (Christmas Pudding), Christmas Cake, and Hot Cross Buns.
The British Empire
The British Empire’s colony in East Asia brought tea to England, and in return, the English took it to India, another one of their colonial outposts. From the English relationship with India came the obsession with curry, spicy sauces and condiments which now are such an intrinsic part of English cuisine.
Immense damage was inflicted on English cookery throughout two world wars; the war effort used up all available goods and services, leaving little for private consumption.
During the Second World War, food rationing of the most essential ingredients – meat, sugar, butter and eggs – continued until early into the 1950’s. It is from these years that England gained a reputation for poor cooking and became a gastronomic joke worldwide.
Though it has taken many years to overcome, the joke which once was English food is now all but forgotten. England has regained its reputation for some of the finest foods, best chefs, and renowned restaurants. England now leads where once they struggled to be taken seriously.
Several notable 'upsets' in the food world, namely Foot and Mouth Disease, the Horse Meat Scandal, and a deep monetary recession in the early part of the 21st century created a change in English food. What emerged was a massive resurgence of traditional English foods, recipes and cooking, using wherever possible locally produced, seasonal foods.
So rich and diverse is English food that England boasts no less than three national dishes. Roast Beef and Yorkshire Puddings, Fish and Chips, and – their controversial third – Chicken Tikka Masala. Some say this is the new national dish, one that has evolved from the extensive ethnic migration into the country from India and Pakistan. It is most certainly an English favorite.
British puddings are renowned, often steamed or baked as in Spotted Dick and served with custard, they are the perfect dish on a wet, winters' day. But, puddings are not always sweet. Steak and Kidney Pudding and Yorkshire Pudding are most certainly savories.
Pies and Pasties are another English favorite, again sweet and savory. Pork Pies, Steak Pies, Cornish pasties were all created for ease of carrying and eating when farm workers were in the field. No pasty, however, is complete without a dollop of English pickled onions or chutney.