Timmy elsewhere

At the ASI.

English industrial food might have tasted terrible but there’s intriguing evidence that it wasn’t unhealthy.

14 thoughts on “Timmy elsewhere”

  1. I dunno. There seem to have been thriving vegetable, fish and meat markets in towns and cities for a very long time. They’ve just pulled down Northampton’s old fresh fish market and replaced it with the country’s crappiest bus station, for instance. We’re not particularly near the sea.

    I am reminded of a quotation of a simple proletarian in Mayhew’s London Labour And The London Poor, who opines that he’s not sure where the sea is, but it must be near Billingsgate, because that’s where fish come from. And also by the rest of that book and its study of the numerous costermongers plying their trade.

    Seems to me that the notoriously bad English diet by 1975 was due to the legacy of two great wars and rationing.

  2. People ate lots of green vegetables, but they were so over-cooked most of the nutrients were boiled out of them.

    So a potentially healthy diet but not in actuality.

  3. The thing about Victorian vegetables being over-boiled is a bit of a myth. I’ve just finished reading a book (“Consider the Fork”, by Bee Wilson) which mentions this: the recipes give what seem to be very long cooking times, but a Victorian “boil” was what we’d call “simmer”, and they used the smallest possible pan, so the rate of heat transfer was much less than you’d get with today’s techniques. A bit of experiment later, Wilson finds that cooking with period utensils in a period style gets you what we today would call nicely cooked veg.

  4. It was quite specifically commented on when the young men enlisted following Kitcheners appeal for volunteers just how much weight and strength they gained after a relatively short time on the basic but nutritious army food. That at least suggests that for some sections at least the diet at home was pretty much the tea, bread, and jam of notoriety. This is a bit post industrial revolution, true.

  5. Pellinor

    Interesting comment about the Victorians however I believe most people are thinking of the mid-C20th when they recall the overboiled veg.

    I’m sure Victorian cuisine was actually pretty good for the middle classes & above. The rot seem to set in after WW2. Clearly rationing & the whale meat & dried eggs destroyed the taste buds of a generation. Hence things didn’t really start improving until the 1990s.

  6. bloke (not) in spain

    Do you want to explain what you mean by “traditional English food”?
    Trad Eng’s a bit of an interest of mine & there’s recipes everything as good as you’ll find in France. There’s even evidence a lot of French haute cuisine is actually Brit. Lot of Brit chefs went to Paris, around the time of the Great Exhibition, adopted French names & served Brit nosh to the frogs under false pretenses. Not unconnected with the UK being economically better placed than France.& thus able to sustain the sort of expense necessary to provide the ingredients.
    As for “industrial food”, there’s a joke we ex-pats share about the enormous variety of dishes served in the houses of rural folk in the boonies of Andalucia. Pig, chips & salad – salad, chips & pig – chips, pig & salad. Maybe substitute chicken for pig at weekends. It’s not they don’t have availability of choice. There’s an Andalus I know grows some cracking veggies. I always get given stacks when I visit. But they don’t eat them. They prefer the bottled stuff bought from the store.
    Thing about poor people is they tend towards limited diets. Try catering to Africans. Some of them only seem to recognise half a dozen items as possible food. The poorer you are the less risk you take in experimenting. You’re interested in sustenance not cuisine. So if that’s what you’re used to, that’s what you prefer.

  7. @BNIS

    France was every bit as rich as the UK back in the mid C19th. And also had an Empire from which to import interesting cuisines & ingredients.

    Wasn’t it the case that a French chef was de rigueur for the smarter hosts and hostesses of Victorian society ?

  8. What you get given as a child is what you prefer as an adult. Most westerners couldn’t face fried insects for example, even though they don’t taste of much, they’re mostly just a substrate for the grease, not unlike a McDonald’s french fry. Just look at the popularity of salted butter for example. The salt was added during the war as a preservative, but lots of people grew up with it and now prefer it.

  9. Paul Krugman’s piece is entirely based on the fact that he didn’t particularly care for the food he found in England in the 1980’s, but he rather likes current English cuisine. To which I say, so what? This about as interesting and illuminating as the fact that my granny used to like tomatoes but now doesn’t care for them so much.

    What’s wrong with mushy peas? Nothing. They’re tasty and nutritious. What’s odd about that? And I have no idea what’s meant by “gross overcooking” of fresh vegetables. You can’t “overcook” vegetables because there are no rules about cooking – it’s all a matter of taste. Certainly many people in Britain now prefer shorter cooking times than was usual fifty years ago, but that tells us nothing more than that tastes have changed. Again I say, so what?

    Those of us who were around in the 1980’s ate the food we liked then, and now we eat the food we like now.

  10. bloke (not) in spain

    Having just suffered an English pub lunch at this stock-broker belt village’s “popular gastro-pub” (packed to the doors) the English still know SFA about food. Or service.

  11. There is still a lack of respect for and knowledge of good food in this country. What BniS says is bang on, packed gastro-pub, but formulaic food that is an ignorant imitation of the real thing.

    I recently ordered the sardines at a pub, knew I’d made a mistake, but did it anyway. Came with salad and dressing, toasted on one side fancy “rustic” bread cut into slices, a little side pot of some sort of spiced mayonnaise and another pot of some herby oil, but the sardines were old and it was thus shit (that was the mistake i knew i was making, place not busy enough to keep fresh sardines).
    The simplicity of genuine Mediterranean sardines – fresh fish, simply grilled with some bread, had been entirely lost. It was too complicated and sunk from the start because the sardines were not fresh. It spoke of a lack of knowledge of what is “grilled sardines”, by both the kitchen and customers (that’s us).

    As for service, we are surpassed only by the ozzies in our blatant “i’m not really a waiter” attitude.
    And you rarely get a proper espresso on this island – very small, very strong, very small cup (warmed), with a very small spoon.

    Good British cooking is a tale of home cooking, where we cook our roasts (with gravy), boiled spuds at their very best (which is very good) and gravy – there’s also lamb chops (with gravy), pork chops (with gravy), boiling bacon (with parsley/mustard sauce), bacon and eggs, fish and chips (from the chippy), roast chicken (with gravy),shepherd’s pie, other pies etc, roast spuds, puddings galore and a nice cup of tea.

    There is a good British cuisine, but its found in the home, we don’t do restaurants, and usually ape badly foreign restaurant cooking. Our vegetables are not so good, but our spuds are champion, and we truly do plumb the depths with salads. We’re not as bad as we sometimes like to think, but collectively and individually we do not know as much or respect eating and food as much as some of the continentals.

  12. bloke (not) in spain

    Mr Bonk. My sympathies as a fellow sufferer.
    For us: My companion – supermarket scampi (whatever TF that is. Mystery crustacean armoured in impenetrable batter?) Self- two ounces of beef between a couple of slices of Hovis, billed as steak sandwich. Accompanying salads largely the inevitable rocket. (Is there no other lettuce?). Oven chips. Mayonnaise from the jar.
    Before the overpriced drinks. £10 the plate.
    Couple weeks ago, estaminet in Belgium (pretty close equivalent to a Brit ‘pub does food’) Generous portion freshly cooked prawns with extensive, crisp, varied salad, crusty, fresh baked bread, frites sizzling from the oil, mayonnaise of the house. Little more than half the price.

    Actually, I don’t blame the gastro-pub. if you’re clientele are that pig-ignorant good luck to you. Keep raking it in.

  13. I second IanB and Pellinor. Victorian (upper middle-class cuisine at least) was pretty adventurous. The cuisine suffered from rationing and took several decades to recover.

    During which time further, and probably irreparable damage was done to the global (not just British) palate by the quest for yield above all else.Tasty but lower-yield breeds died out in favour of bland (lean) fast-fattening varieties.

    Beef herds are approaching nonexistence in the UK, with most “beef” in supermarkets now being young bull castoff from dairy – the sort of stuff that should be veal or hamburgers. And it’s wet hung because that’s cheaper (yes, the pennies that warehouse space in the countryside costs are pennies the consumer wants to save), and further increases yield because it doesn’t dry out.

    The result is most consumers today have never actually tasted proper beef. They have been conned into believing that the cheap, plump, red steak must be better value than that shrivelled brown thing with lardy lines running through it that costs twice as much.

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