English food has often been unfairly maligned internationally. While not as famous as French or Italian cuisine, there is a depth and variety in traditional English cooking that is astonishing and fascinating, as well as tempting. English food is often hearty and warming, and this country has produced some of the most distinctive and tasty dishes in the world. Here for your delectation are ten of the best English specialities that are definitely worth trying.
Toad in the Hole
Don’t worry, this dish does not contain any amphibian! Toad in the hole is a famous dish made from sausages cooked in a savoury batter. The recipe dates back to the early 18th century when it was made from leftover meat. But while the dish has humble beginnings, it was rumoured to be a favourite of Queen Victoria, and remains a popular royal dish, as Pippa Middleton, the sister of the Duchess of Cambridge is rumoured to be a fan.
This English dish comes from London’s East End and is made of eels which are first boiled in a spice stock and then left to cool into a jelly. The unusual delicacy, eaten cold, was popular among poor Londoners largely because eels were so readily available in the River Thames, and were a plentiful source of protein and nutrition. The first record of an eel, ham, and mash shop dates back to the early 18th century, while the oldest surviving shop in Walthamstow was established in 1902.
Ask any English person of a certain age and they’ll tell you this yummy dessert evokes school dinner memories! It was a regular feature of family diets in England for many decades. The name derives from the fact that the suet pastry is first rolled out, covered in strawberry jam, and then rolled up again before steaming or baking. The pudding is also sometimes known as ‘coat sleeve pudding’ because at one time it was both steamed and served in a shirtsleeve.
There are lots of foods in England named after their locality of origin and the Bedfordshire Clangar is one that deserves more attention. Originating in the south east county of Bedfordshire, the clanger is an elongated, suet dumpling, resembling a pasty, but with a twist. At one end is a savoury filling but the other end is sweet. Usually the savoury end is filled with pork and vegetables, while the soft end is sugary or filled with sweetened berries. Traditionally, the top of the clanger is scored or marked.
Historically, women made the Bedfordshire Clanger for their husbands to take as a midday meal into their agricultural work. As with many English pastry-dishes, the crust was not designed to be consumed, but was intended to protect the fillings from the workers ‘ soiled hands.
The Fortnum and Mason department store in London claims to be the creator of the Scotch egg, back in 1738 but the history of this distinctive food isn’t clear, and some evidence suggests that they could have been heavily influenced by the Mughlai soup, Nargisi kofta, which is popular in India. At any rate, the first written evidence of this dish, made from a whole boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat and breadcrumbs dates from 1809. Originally served hot, with gravy, these days it is enjoyed cold and is a regular feature on English picnics.
This dish came from a Cornwall village, and can be traced back to the 16th century. Legend has it that a local trawlerman braved the stormy seas off the Cornish coast to save the villagers, who relied on a diet of fish, from starvation. The fish that he caught were baked in one enormous pie for all of the villagers to share, and the heads poking out of the pastry were there to remind the starving villagers there was fish in the pie. This traditional dish is still made today and there is a theory that the natural oils secreted by the fish heads during cooking add considerably to the distinctive taste.
Black pudding is a sausage made largely from blood and long served as part of a typical English breakfast. Because of its ingredients, which feature blood, oatmeal, and lard congealed pigs, the dish is a major source of protein and a firm favourite with many English people. The origins of the dish are widely debated and there is a theory that the dish came from Scotland, though butchers in the Lancashire town of Bury dispute this, claiming that it was sold there as far back as 1810. These days it is served widely with breakfasts throughout the north of England.
The names of some English foods can be misleading but in this case, the name is an accurate indicator of origins. This most famous of English desserts was first served at Eton College in the 1930s, reputedly as the result of a happy accident. It features strawberries, broken up meringue and cream, and soon became popular among pupils at the private school, where it was traditionally served as an annual treat at the cricket match between Eton and rival school Harrow.
Shepherds Pie/Cottage Pie
A hearty English dish that comes in two main varieties, with the difference depending on which meat is used. In Shepherd’s Pie, the preferred meat is lamb whilst in Cottage Pie it is beef. And to confuse non-English food lovers even more, neither of these dishes are pies! In fact, this dish consists of minced meat with vegetables, in a rich sauce, topped with mashed potatoes.
Pease pudding, which is sometimes known as pease porridge, is a savoury dish, not a dessert. It is made from boiled peas, usually split yellow peas, to which spices are added and is often served alongside a joint of bacon or ham. Popular throughout the North East of England, it is eaten elsewhere in England, and has become a firm favourite of food lovers in Newfoundland, Canada.