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I am looking for a good book on British cuisine, and I have a specific type of book in mind. I tried looking on Amazon, but I couldn't determine whether a given book offers what I want.

  • I am looking for a book which is more of a good read than a recipe collection. I actually intend to curl up in an armchair and read it through.
  • It should describe different traditional dishes, something about their background, maybe things like where it is from, is it prepared for certain occasions, maybe some historical anecdotes, or typical pairings.
  • If there are traditional genera of dishes which require their own technique, I'd like to see that technique explained somewhere. For example, I have a book on French cuisine, and it contains very detailed directions on making pastetes, independently of any recipes.
  • A general chapter on food history in Britain could also be nice, if not too long.
  • It should also provide the recipes for the dishes - maybe not a big collection, just for sampling whatever is described in the text. But please, it should be a book with good recipes, not one where the author described the cooking tradition and then just slapped the first recipe they came across without even testing if it can be made.
  • It should cover baking as well as cooking. I've always wondered what scones taste like.
  • It should contain a good share of food porn.

All in all, I guess it is maybe best described as a collection of Smitten Kitchen articles, only the text shouldn't be about the author's personal experience with the food, but about the tradtions surrounding it.

If you know of such a book, I am looking forward to your recommendations.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I have "The Cookery of England" by Elisabeth Ayrton, and it seems to meet most of your conditions. The introduction is a brief history of traditional English food, there are historical anecdotes interspersed in the text, and yes, it has a recipe for scones, and also for cheese scones, but there is little food porn - sadly, the only picture is on the cover.

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Though of course English food is only part of British food... –  ElendilTheTall May 27 '11 at 10:53
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Thank you, this is exactly the type of book I was looking for. It is great. It covers everything from everyday stuff to unbelievably quirky (Yorkshire christmas pie: stuff a turkey with a goose stuffed with fowl stuffed with partridge stuffed with pigeon. Put them into a raised pastry, fill the gaps with hare, put 2 kg butter on top. Cover, bake). She describes ancient royal feasts and gives the original recipes. Too bad she published before cheap color printing. I love this book! –  rumtscho Jun 23 '11 at 13:22
    
Excellent, I'm glad that you like the book. –  Richard Jun 23 '11 at 19:00
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That's a very specific request! Not to mention the fact that Britain has had thousands of years to develop its food culture, so it's not a subject easily suited to a single book.

However, if you go to Amazon.co.uk, navigate to Books > Food > Reference & Gastronomy and search within that for 'British', you get a fairly good selection. I think you might need to get a few to cover everything you want.

Oh, and scones are nice, especially with cream and jam - there are lots of recipes online, why not try making them? They're just butter, sugar, flour, milk and raisins - nothing you can't find in Germany! We even use the metric system for recipe measurements these days.

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The archetypal English chef was Philip Harben, the first ever TV chef. He wrote a lot of books - see the bibliography on his wikipedia entry -

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Harben

He's been dead forty years, but some of the books are still in print ...

A very reliable booklet of English baking recipes is the Be-Ro Recipe Book, which is only easily available to UK residents. You might find a copy on eBay, but most of it is on the Be-Ro website

http://www.be-ro.com/index.asp

You can't curl up in a chair with that, but if you want reliable and simple English baking recipes that work, Be-Ro recipes are unbeatable. That's your scones, biscuits and rock cakes sorted ...

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I like The River Cottage Meat Book. Obviously it's oriented around large hunks of meat, but, then again, so is most of British food. It has good pictures, and is nicely intimate.

And scones are basically rich biscuits. They tend to have a bit more fat, and they have sugar added, as biscuits typically do not. If you can make a biscuit, you can make a scone.

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Delia Smith has a series of three books called Delia's How to Cook. It is aimed at teaching the basics of cooking to anyone, but is very very British in its recipes and techniques. It's a modern book, so there's no problem using the recipes there.

I'm not sure how much history she gives with regards to the dishes, though she does mention some of it occasionally.

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