British cooking has had an awful reputation, that’s a fact. But, if you look at British food from all angles, in our homes, restaurants and on TV cookery shows, you’d see a picture that contrasts starkly with our bad reputation. Today, British cooking is world class, not always but mostly. So, how did we get our reputation for bad cooking? It’s all too easy to blame it on the French, so let’s try that first.
In 1066, England was conquered by French Norsemen, the Normans. For hundreds of years we were under the rule of a French speaking elite class, and that meant we were a nation divided by language. Those in authority spoke French while the common people spoke English. It wasn’t just a linguistic divide; it affected ever aspect of our culture. In food, the rulers ate beef (boeuf in French,) while the commoners raised oxen in the fields. This didn’t last forever but its legacy has. Even now, if we want to make something sound grander, we use a French word to describe it. Think of the words ‘cookery’ and ‘cuisine.’ Cookery sounds ordinary, cuisine sounds more refined. None of this directly affected the actual merit of British cooking, but it shows where the prejudice arose.