The British Character : Has It Changed? #3 (Absence Of The Gift For Cooking)

Then there’s cooking. 

The general view these days (put about by J. Oliver and others) seems to be that the British used to be good at cooking, but have somehow forgotten how to do it. See, for instance, this shocking story from the Daily Mail

Going back a little further (to 1966), the Duke of Edinburgh famously landed himself in the soup by expressing the view that ‘British women can’t cook’ (surely he didn’t mean his wife?).

Further back still in the ‘fifties, here is Elizabeth David describing some typical English dishes –

“There was flour and water soup seasoned solely with pepper; bread and gristle rissoles; dehydrated onions and carrots; corned beef toad in the hole. I need not go on.”

Delicious.  But perhaps things were better in the 1930s?  Not according to Pont.

(I bet she couldn’t boil an egg either)


It’s possible that the point here is to illustrate how difficult the class of people who would have dressed for dinner found it to do their own cooking when they couldn’t get the staff.  

However, it appears from this last cartoon that even those who could afford a cook would have appreciated one of Mr. Oliver’s excellent cook books as a Christmas present.  


2 thoughts on “The British Character : Has It Changed? #3 (Absence Of The Gift For Cooking)

  1. What fun. Personally, I blame Mrs Beeton who I think did more for the destruction of British cookery than anyone else. I have some facsimile recipe books from pre-victorian times and the recipes are quite extraordinary, perhaps not suitable to modern tastes, but definitely interesting and titillating to the palate. I think you may have inspired me.

    I would never use any of Mrs Beeton’s recipes because they’re ghastly but I find her notes on how to handle the servants invaluable.

  2. I don’t know a great deal about Mrs Beeton, so I’m interested to hear your views.

    I’d guess that standards of nutrition (which isn’t quite the same thing as cookery) started to go downhill for the majority with the industrial revolution and the move into cities, and that if you’re looking for a golden age of English food you’d have to go back to the 18th century (provided the harvest didn’t fail.)

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