British Cuisine Guide

June 12, 2019 | By Dave Mattingly

Shop, Find Traditional Recipes, Read About History and Culture

The history of British Food is linked to the rich and diverse histories of three different countries: England, Scotland and Wales. British culinary history can be traced directly to the traditions of civilizations that occupied the land throughout history, as well as colonies of the British Empire. In ancient times, the Romans, whose occupation of Great Britain began in 43 AD, introduced cherries, cabbage, peas and wine to the region and built roads which allowed for transportation of produce throughout the land. The Saxons first occupied Britain in 441 and were known to be great farmers who cultivated large varieties of herbs, which were used for flavor and to add substance to traditional meals such as stews. The Vikings introduced smoking and drying fish to the region. The Norman invasion introduced exotic spices and promoted the drinking of wine. Normans also provided the words for foods such as mutton (mouton) and beef (boeuf).

The importing of foods from abroad left a lasting imprint on the history of British Foods. During the Middle Ages, some foods were sourced from as far away as Asia and were strictly reserved for the rich. In Tudor times during the 16th century, tea from the Far East, coffee and cocoa from South America and curry-based spices from India all found its way to British shores. Potato crops from America began to be grown. Turkeys were introduced from America and served at the wealthiest tables. Imported sugar from the Caribbean was also reserved for royalty and the wealthy. It is said that Queen Elizabeth I loved sugar so much that by the time she was sixty five years old, all her teeth had turned black. After the Protestant Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries, the focus shifted to plain yet hearty foods in Great Britain.

Since the 1700s, the British have been the largest consumers of tea in the world. Introduced from China, tea was at first reserved for royals and the wealthy. Initially, tea was highly taxed, but by 1784, these taxes were repealed allowing the masses to experience what many believed was not only a pick-me-up but an elixir that helped treat colds. Traditionally, the British had only two meals during the day, and dinner was the largest meal served in the afternoon. Yet, as times changed, dinner began to be served later and later in the evening, so "tea" would be served in the afternoon as a snack in between meals. Duchess Anna Maria of Bedford is credited with the creation of "afternoon tea" in the 1840s. Her habit of ordering tea with the accompaniment of a small meal of foods such as cakes, tarts, biscuits, and breads on summer afternoons caught on quickly amongst the upper classes and created the long standing British tradition. Because it was eaten at a high table rather than a low tea table, it became known as “high tea”.

Two World Wars inexorably changed the course of British Food's history. Rationing began during World War II and continued several years after, so that many citizens were never exposed to previously common household ingredients. For instance, olive oil was only available at the chemist shop, not the grocery store. It was during these times that British Food gained a poor reputation. Today, British Food is influenced by cuisines from around the world including Indian, French, Italian, American, Chinese, Thai and Spanish.

English Food
The Sunday roast originated in the 1700s in England. On Sundays, families would put roasts in the oven before leaving for church, and the roast would be ready to eat upon their return. The traditional continued as the Sunday roast would consist of a roast of beef, pork, lamb or chicken that would be served with Yorkshire Pudding (a pastry eaten with meat and gravy), vegetables, gravy and stuffing. Sweet and savory pies and pasties are another English favorite. Cornish pasties, a hearty meal of meat and vegetables baked in a pastry crust, were created as an easy to hold and eat lunch dish for Cornish miners who could not leave the underground to eat their meals. Farmers in South West England are known for their clotted cream, produced as a way to reduce waste from their milk. The region is now a tourist attraction for their production of this thick and rich cream. A poplar working class meal for workers throughout Great Britain, Fish and Chips, originated in the 1800s. Fish and Chips are deep-fried battered fish and french fries. Fish and Chips is a meal not usually cooked at home but rather is purchased at a Fish and Chip shop ("chippy") and is a popular take-out food today. Ploughman's lunch is yet another traditional meal from England that became popular in the 1960s and is usually served in British pubs. A typical Ploughman's lunch is cheese, pickled onions, chutney and bread, usually served with a pint of beer. India's influence on British Food is on display with the dish Chicken Tikka Masala, (chicken marinated in yogurt and spices) which is gaining support as a new national dish British dish.

Scottish Food
Scotland is known for the high quality of their beef, lamb, potatoes, seafood and their many different kinds of whiskey. Haggis is considered Scotland's national dish. Haggis is sheep's stomach stuffed with offal (sheep's heart, lever and lungs) onion, oatmeal, suet and other spices. Scotland is also famous for the Shortbread biscuit cookie, a traditional holiday dessert made of flour, sugar and butter.

Welsh Food
Welsh Food has been influenced by other British Foods throughout history. The Welsh are known for their use of beef and lamb in their cooking. Cawl is Wales' national dish, which is a rich stew or soup typically made from bacon, lamb or beef, cabbage and leeks.

British Cheese
Cheese has been made in Great Britain since pre-Roman times. Peasant farmers and monasteries of medieval Great Britain were some of the first cheesemakers. Some of the earliest versions of cheese produced in Great Britain were precursors for today's Cheshire and Lancashire cheeses. Originating in the 16th century, British Farmhouse Cheddars are renowned throughout the world for their intense flavors and aromas, their handmade craftsmanship and intricate aging processes. One of the oldest British Cheeses is Cheshire, a rich cow's milk cheese, originating in the 12th century. Second in popularity to Cheddar Cheese, is Stilton cheese, a cow's milk cheese injected with Penicillium roqueforti to encourage mould growth. Stilton is a pungent crumbly cheese with blue-green veins. From the rich, buttery and nutty notes of Gloucester, to the bright orange Red Leicester and the white buttery Welsh Caerphilly, British cheese is offered in traditional regional as well as modern creamery style cheeses made by small producers throughout Great Britain. Many British Cheeses have received PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status in the European Union which protects cheesemaking traditions and quality. These cheeses must be produced using certain methods and ingredients in a designated geographic area in Great Britain.

British Desserts
The British are known for their pies and puddings that may be made with fresh fruit and accompanied by custard, and cakes. Common desserts include Apple Crumble, Spotted Dick (steamed suet pudding with dried fruit), Trifle (sponge cake layered with custard, jam or fruit), Hasty Pudding (simple steamed pudding), English Crumpets (muffins served with tea) and Plum Pudding (a boiled pudding resembled a cake made from dried fruit).

igourmet sells British cheeses like Farmhouse Cheddar, Stilton, Red Leicester, Double Gloucester and Cheshire. We also carry numerous specialties foods like Black Treacle, Bath Olivers, Chutney, Clotted Cream, Shortbread, Lemon Curd, and many others. Furthermore, our British Gift Baskets are incomparable.