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The British Cookbook

By February 19, 2023Book Reviews, British

What an amazing treasure trove of British culinary history, lore, and recipes is The British Cookbook.

I received The British Cookbook over the holidays, and have thoroughly enjoyed an initial slow read through its contents — always the prelude to winnowing down and bookmarking the recipes I want to try in my kitchen. With The British Cookbook, it will take a few years at least to sample even a small percentage of the 550 recipes in this authoritative tome from Phaidon, by culinary historian Ben Mervis, editor of Fare Magazine.  

I’m always interested in how cookery books are structured, particularly those that focus on regional cuisine. Mervis has successfully merged a classic presentation of courses, with a breakdown of key ingredients, ensuring that his chapters are not overlong. Thus, fish and shellfish get their own chapter, as does poultry; pork, beef, and lamb; game and game birds; and eggs and dairy. Within each chapter, dishes from England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are all highlighted, as are the traditions associated with them.  

I rejoiced to see a separate chapter on savory pies and pasties, which is a current obsession, as are sauces, confections, and preserves.  

Mervis has put Britain’s rich culinary history at the heart of this wonderful book, charting the multiple foreign influences on British cuisine from the Roman introduction of alliums, and garum, which ultimately becomes Worcestershire Sauce to the Crusaders who brought back spices, ginger, and cinnamon from the east, and the delightful introductions of African, Caribbean, and of course, Indian food to Britain’s rich culinary landscape. These are all highlighted in The British Cookbook with excellent examples of dishes such as Chicken Tikka Masala, which I think of as Britain’s national dish, Kheer, a rice pudding from Pakistan, and Salt Beef.

Though I’ve been a fan of British cuisine for almost three decades, there was much in The British Cookbook that was new to me, and I plan to dedicate one reread of the book solely for the marvelous names of dishes such as Bawd Bree (a rich rabbit-based stew using all the animal!), Flummery (a Welsh pudding of oatmeal and buttermilk), and Tweed Kettle (salmon hash from the River Tweed).  

I will limber up with Mervis’s version of Coronation Chicken… which could come in handy at the beginning of May!

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