BBC Food blog

« Previous | Main | Next »

Why are historic flavours flooding back into British recipes?

Post categories:

Sejal Sukhadwala Sejal Sukhadwala | 11:03 UK time, Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Food history is in vogue. Chocolatiers have been serving up a slice of nostalgia with flavours like millionaire’s shortbread, teacake and jaffa cakes, and popping candy has been popping up on menus all around the country. Some chefs are looking even further back to Britain’s food heritage. 

At The Gilbert Scott, Marcus Wareing’s list of dishes pays tribute to early eighteenth century writers John Nott, Mrs Beeton, Florence White and Agnes B Marshall. Then there’s Heston Blumenthal’s collaboration with the Tudor food historians at Hampton Court Palace, which had a profound affect on his much-lauded London venue, Dinner – the most obvious being meat fruit (circa 1500). As we’re now seeing the trend widening outside of London, just why are historical recipes making a return?

Food historian Marc Meltonville recreates life in Henry VIII's kitchens at Hampton Court

Food historian Marc Meltonville recreates life in Henry VIII's kitchens at Hampton Court

The Minnis in Birchington, Kent, is using archaic cooking methods. Chef Jason Freedman’s menu is based around produce that has been cured, dried, smoked, pickled, preserved and brined in-house. Here you’ll find corned beef with dripping, homemade piccalilli and pickled onions. Take a closer look and you’ll even witness ancient food preservation methods brought to Britain two thousand years ago by Roman invaders. For Jason, chefs “need to look at the past to get a glimpse of the future. Studying the old techniques allows you to open your mind to the products available nowadays, and with the use of modern technology, you can create so many new variants of old historic dishes.”

Indeed cooks throughout the centuries have been using techniques and presentation skills that wouldn’t look out of place in today’s ‘molecular gastronomy’ kitchens. For instance, Agnes B Marshall was making parmesan ice cream and using liquid nitrogen for making frozen desserts as far back as the nineteenth century.

Home cooks are becoming curious too. Penguin’s recent Great Food series, which showcases food and cookery writing from the last 400 years, makes legends like M.F.K. Fisher, Alexis Soyer and Eliza Acton accessible to a younger generation.

This current interest in food and drink history is largely due to the renaissance of British cuisine in recent years. We’ve had a love affair with numerous foreign cuisines over the decades – even declaring chicken tikka masala as our national dish at one stage – and for too long we have considered French cuisine to be the root of serious gastronomy. Looking to history is a way of rediscovering, and becoming proud of, our own culinary identity.

Add to that the celebratory spirit of the recent royal wedding, as well as next year’s London Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and it’s no wonder that we’re flying the flag for kedgeree, Bakewell tart and Eccles cakes.

Would you like to see recipes like Sussex pond pudding resurrected on restaurant menus? Which nostalgic flavours, dishes or cooking techniques would you like to bring back?

Sejal Sukhadwala is a food journalist and restaurant reviewer.


  • Comment number 1.

    Many may consider French cuisine to be the root of serious gastronomy but we should still remember the lady, Caterina de Medici, who reformed the art of antique French cooking with her Tuscan kitchen brigade and would then influence the French court of her husband Henri. She and she alone would be responsible in the rebirth of medieval traditional cooking to modern French cooking. An Italian. Brava!

    I myself crave new spiced flavours from the far east and love the heat that chillies, ginger, lemon grass give to food but so dislike that abomination chicken tikka masala as gloop on a plate.

    I am always looking forward and my palate is not embracing nostalgia. Those flavours belong in the past for me.

  • Comment number 2.

    I am glad that you have have decided to take the challenge for meals on wheels, I watched with emthusiasm on Tuesday the 13th. We are a hot plated service that deliver to the elderly and infirm and we have been up and running for 12 years. We wish you all success in your campaign.
    Well done hairy bikers

  • Comment number 3.

    I love traditional British recipes. We're having a shepherds pie tonight. But I also love 'newer' dishes. We're having chicken tikka masala at the weekend. This represents, generally, how we eat as a nation. The cultural diveristy of our island's population sharing cuisines.

  • Comment number 4.

    Traditional British food deserves to be held in high regard for it was based on simple processes bringing out the flavours of high quality ingredients.
    If we throw in a touch of rebellion against the Government's Health Police who would have us eat a substance resembling uniformly coloured pink plastic...
    well marbled Aberddeen Angus beef will support my case...
    no complex sauces involving ingredients prepared days before to disguise poor need for pseudo laboratory vacuum packing or sous vide equipment...just simple processes to bring out its innate high quality.

  • Comment number 5.

    I love using old English dishes for festivals - particularly Christmas and Easter. When you are using long-held traditions it makes sense to have old recipes alongside.

  • Comment number 6.

    It must be a backlash..You don't need to cook immature unripe Mediterranean fruit and Vegetables to be a good cook and prepare interesting flavoursome food.
    If the UK market were to swing back to provide once more the excellent food we can grow ourselves the trade in E. David type imports would die out and we would probably be the healthier for eating really fresh ripe produce.


More from this blog...

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.