good things of england: oh happy days!

Good Things in England
There is a particular joy of celebrating a glorious spring day with the purchase of a new (and soon to be treasured) cookery book. Yesterday, the daffodils outside my front door were jostling for position like footballers inside the penalty box as a grey wind sent them skittering in the early morning gloom. A day later and the sun is shining. The daffs are beaming beatifically and my mood is definitely sunny. I have finally got my hands on Florence White's Good Things of England. It's enough to bring a smile to any lover of food and history. 

Florence White was interested in retaining all of that culinary knowledge (both foods and techniques) that was in danger of being lost as a result of new fashions and technology. Sound familiar?

Florence was part of a group of people that realised that searching out and recording English folk culture, whether music or storytelling or food was not about a conservative desire to live in the past, conserved in aspic or even set in stone, but a way of saving this knowledge for the future and our next generations. Miss White wrote that 'we had the finest cookery in the world, but it had been nearly lost by neglect'. I think she may have been over egging the pudding a little, but "Good Things in England," published in 1932, became one of the best sources of English recipes, and an influence on many writers from Jane Grigson to Nigel Slater.

The recipes are largely culled from a call to BBC listeners, asking them for old family recipes. These are not the sort of recipes that previously featured in earlier recipe books, since most would not have been considered "grand" enough; the "museum pieces" of English cookery as White calls them. These are mostly hard-working recipes handed down the generations, many part of an oral tradition (and observation) and rarely published. Many of these recipes have a regional flavour and reflect these idiosyncrasies and variation. They are tried and tested and are all things that are considered to be "good things", part of living history, that is still alive (if not well).


White writes that the people who sent in these recipes "have written of good things they remember eating in days gone by, and of good things made in their own homes today from recipes that have been in their families for over a century. There are so many and so varied that the present volume is merely a small instalment of our kitchen and stillroom riches. England does not know her wealth."

It is unlikely that I will ever need six pages of Parkin recipes, Yorkshire versus Lancashire. But who knows? It may even be that at some point I will need to learn to dress a swan (which frankly I thought was illegal!) although I am unlikely to ever want to cook a rook pie (although knowing about it may come in useful, in some way, if I ever decide to write say a horror-fairy tale for Children. I'm just saying it might help!)

And if my joy wasn't complete enough, I have now found out what an
Epping Sausage is . . . happy days indeed!

1 comment:

Indie.Tea said...

Most of the techniques are unknown to me too...but dressing a swan just sounds illegal!