A journey through British food, from the acclaimed author of The Apple Orchard
In Britain, we have always had an awkward relationship with food. We’ve been told for so long that we are terrible cooks and yet when someone with a clipboard asks us what the best things are about being British, our traditional food and drink are more important than the monarchy and at least as significant as our landscape and national monuments in defining a collective notion of who we are.
Taking nine archetypically British dishes – Pie and Peas, A Cheese Sandwich, Fish and Chips, Spag Bol, Devonshire Cream Tea, Curry, The Full English, The Sunday Roast and a Crumble with Custard – and enjoying them in their most typical settings, Pete Brown examines just how fundamental food is to our sense of identity, perhaps even our sense of pride, and the ways in which we understand our place in the world.
Behind The Blurb
When my book The Apple Orchard was published in 2016, The Sunday Times called it ‘passionate and patriotic.’ This surprised me initially, as I don’t consider myself to be particularly patriotic. But then I realised that I am, if patriotism can be expressed in a way that’s not flag-waving and jingoistic, which of course it can – we just don’t see it very often in this country. If you don’t want to be seen as an overt nationalist, pride is expressed in a quiet way. But often, it goes too far, and modesty turns into self-criticism.
I first noticed this in beer. British beers fans rave about Belgian sours and American-influenced IPAs, but can be dismissive of traditional British cask ale – the irony being that the people who make these American IPAs were often inspired by the very cask ales British drinkers now denigrate. Beer aficionados around the world consider British brewing to be some of the best there is – so why do we take all our own influences from abroad these days rather than from our own traditions?
I then realised this was symptomatic of food and drink culture more widely. It’s not that we don’t make excellent food and drink, or can’t get hold of it, and it’s not as if there aren’t those who champion our home-grown cuisine. But more often than not, we point to how multicultural, how global, our food and drink scene is in the UK, and treat our traditional foods as an embarrassment.
So I wrote at the top of a page in my notebook, ‘Something patriotic about British food?’ and this book followed. Unlike the flag-wavers and Little-Englanders, it doesn’t try to argue that our food is the best in the world. It doesn’t denigrate foreign cuisines. It simply argues that traditional British food – at its best – should be treated with the same respect we withhold for more exotic cuisines.
It’s also my most personal book to date. As I discovered, when you start writing or talking about food, it unlocks some very deep and important memories. While my experience of traditional British food is strongly linked to a working class childhood in the north of England and my experience of social mobility from those origins, I hope it resonates with your experience too, and stirs powerful food memories of your own.