Book Review / Whelk fritters and salt cod (but hold the boiled umbilical cord)
Food in England by Dorothy Hartley Little, Brown, pounds 22.50
Hartley reveals that, prior to this century, English cuisine equalled, or even surpassed, that of France. Scattered among her pages, Hartley includes - to take just a few examples - authoritative surveys of pig breeds, fungi, pastry shapes, seaweed, snails and types of bread. (She notes that the west country Sally Lunn bun, gold on top and white below, derives from the local pronunciation of "soleil-lune".) For all our insularity, we have always had a taste for the exotic. Soy sauce was le dernier cri in the 18th century, when sailors used to bring the condiment home as a souvenir of the fashionable Orient.
Hartley's concern for the welfare of the creatures we eat is wholly appropriate for a book about food in England. Though noting that hedgehog tastes like "very tender chicken", she italicises her demand, particularly applicable to motorists, that "No one should harm a hedgehog." It is, however, doubtful if many modern readers will follow her dictum that "intelligent women will refuse to buy rabbit, hare or any game that has been cut up so that the method of killing is disguised".
Similarly, it seems doubtful that there will be a host of enthusiasts for muggety pie (boiled calf's umbilical cord), roast swan ("moderately hot oven, two-three hours") or lamb's tail pie ("instruct the shepherd to keep the docked tails warm"). But I was tempted by whelk fritters and would be willing to sample steamed baby bracken. Salt cod with parsnips could happily appear on the menu in London's most fashionable eateries and the same goes for lamb chop cooked in paper. A "delightfully uncommon" ice-cream made with fresh brown breadcrumbs and covered in crystallised violets sounds wonderful.
The greatest appeal of Food in England, however, lies in its fabulous accumulation of recondite information. For all I know, it may be common knowledge that "tenterhooks" were devices for stretching washing when it was put out to dry, so obviating the need for ironing, but did you know that it was a Hogmanay custom in Glasgow to slip a red herring ("a super-salted bloater") into a friend's palm when shaking hands?
There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turningTV
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rihanna 'nude photos' claims emerge on 4Chan as hacking scandal continues
- 2 Frank Lampard equalises for Manchester City against Chelsea: how Twitter reacted
- 3 Kim Kardashian 'nude photos' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence scandal
- 4 Free U2 album: How the most generous giveaway in music history turned PR disaster
- 5 Britain First picture: Photographer 'horrified' after first Afghan policewoman killed by Taliban used for 'ban the burka' campaign
Downton Abbey series 5, episode 1, review: Revolution still seems far off
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written
Friends 20th anniversary: The highs and lows of the cast's careers since TV series ended in 2004
Downton Abbey series 5, episode 1, ITV, review: There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God