Are we losing our love of classic British dishes?

Some classic British dishes may be moving from our cookbooks to the history books, as Brits no longer recognise them, according to new research. More than a quarter of Brits have never eaten toad in the hole, with nearly one in five thinking it’s made up for fictional purposes, the research reveals. And some nursery puds may be on the way out, with 18 percent believing the old school dinner favourite spotted dick is imaginary.

Eton mess may not be our favourite summer pud for long, with 13 percent believing it’s not actually a dish. If you enjoy bangers and mash or a scotch egg, look away now as 11 percent don’t believe they’re real. And black pudding suffers a similar fate, with 10 percent thinking it’s a fictional ingredient. What’s going on?

Click or tap for a recipe for spotted dick, a dish so-called because the currants look like spots and ‘dick’ is likely to be derived from the word ‘dough’

Our tastes have changed

Over a third of the 2000 respondents to the survey from Mortar Research, commissioned by Aldi, hadn’t tried black pudding, a British food traditionally found in a Full English breakfast. Black pudding is a blend of onions, pork fat, oatmeal, flavourings, and blood (usually from a pig). It “stems from frugality and the desire of a butcher to use up every part of the animal,” says food historian Seren Charrington-Hollins, but some people might be put off by the blood it contains, she adds. Other types of offal may suffer from the same fate. “If you told people in the 1970s they weren’t regularly going to be eating tripe and chips in 2021, a lot of them probably wouldn’t have believed you, as it was one of those staples,” she says.

Many traditional recipes have changed over time. Toad in the hole was “originally a small piece of beef in batter,” says Charrington-Hollins, whereas now we know it as sausage in batter – a change that has made it more convenient to make. Perhaps it would have fallen out of favour completely without the change.

The original recipe for Christmas mince pies can be traced to the 13th century, when European crusaders imported Middle Eastern recipes. The traditional pie was made from minced mutton as well as dried fruits and spices. Over the centuries, the meat changed to lamb, veal, tongue, tripe and minced beef, before it was removed in the late Victorian era, when the pies became much sweeter. We’re still evolving ‘mince’ pies, for instance by topping them with icing.

28 percent of Brits have never eaten toad in the hole. Click or tap for a recipe

Classic dishes created to use leftovers

Some of the dishes and ingredients respondents didn’t recognise were developed in order to use every scrap of food. 30 percent of the people questioned hadn’t tried bubble and squeak – a dish that has been eaten in Britain since at least the 18th century, and that was popular partly because it used up “all those bits of food, perhaps out of necessity,” according to Charrington-Hollins. Similarly, 33 percent of respondents hadn’t tried Eton mess, which is a great way to use up a glut of strawberries.

Some traditional frugal ingredients may have lost their popularity too. Only 46 percent of people asked could identify pease pudding, an English classic accompaniment to meat, made with yellow split peas, water and spices, often cooked with bacon or ham.

Some classic dishes, including bubble and squeak, were created to use up leftovers

Is there a decline in regional eating?

Historically, people would have been more likely to eat what was available close by. Some dishes established themselves in their region, for instance stargazy pie (a pie made of baked pilchards, eggs and potatoes, covered with a pastry crust) in Cornwall – which was only recognised by 23 percent of those questioned.

But it seems some dishes are still well known among those who live where they were invented: the Scottish dish neeps and tatties was recognised by just under half of those questioned, rising to four-fifths of people in Scotland and dropping to just a quarter in London.

Welsh rarebit, a hot cheese-based sauce spread on toast, had not been eaten by many of the respondents. Click or tap for a recipe

Have we forgotten how to cook?

Many dishes, such as pies and puddings, are available in the shops ready made, giving more people a chance to try them. This might help explain the popularity of some traditional treats that are sold like this, such as the Bakewell tart, which was first created in 1820 and was voted Britain’s favourite baked treat in 2015.

For those who are unconfident about cooking, food historian Charrington-Hollins encourages us to discover “how quick and easy some of these recipes are to prepare”, naming toad in the hole, semolina pudding and rice pudding as examples of simple classic British dishes.

Well-loved classics

Cornish pasties are still well loved, with 90 percent of people in the UK saying they are familiar with them. Pasties are believed to have been the portable meals of Cornish miners. The thick crust edge may have been developed so the miners could hold onto the pasties with dirty and then discard the crust.

Our love for British food may be strong, but “we need to embrace these [lesser-known] traditional British recipes before we lose them,” says Charrington-Hollins, adding “if you don’t pass recipes down, they get lost, but at the same time if recipes don’t adapt and change, they also die out.”

Cornish pasties remain popular. Click or tap for a recipe

This article was first published on 29 September 2021.