This small chunky book is a treat. It lists and describes just about all of those quirky and well-loved foodstuffs that we hold dear. Yes, we consider them to be English but a remarkable number of them have either foreign origins or foreign originators.
Gentleman’s Relish is a mine of information that will charm any foodie. Gentleman’s Relish, the celebrated fish paste, is the first item and it’s a smart one from any view-point. It’s a strong and salty concoction much enjoyed by the English upper classes. First devised by John Osborn in 1828 it has anchovies as its key ingredient. It’s synonymous with the sadly missed Savoury Course at dinner parties, where it would be presented to those guests (mostly the men) who still had a chink of space after the preceding seven or so courses. Those were the days.
I didn’t know exactly the origin of Mars bars. I knew it was unlikely to be Mars and it is, in fact, the USA. They didn’t find their way across the pond till the 1930s. The English contribution to chocolate heaven might be Bendicks Bittermints, which are often taken home by tourists who appreciate the packaging as much as the candy. It says ‘Mayfair’!
The Full English Breakfast and HP Sauce could very easily have been combined into a single article. Yes, it’s true that many now eat the Full Monty with tomato ketchup; the purist will stick to HP sauce and English mustard. There are regional variations, with white pudding being added in Ireland, black pudding being included in the North, but all with fried bread, which is delicious but probably a killer if you indulge more than once a year.
The histories of so many dishes are surprising. Eaton Mess, Angostura Bitters, Bombay (not Mumbai) Duck and Worcestershire (if you are English you’ll just call it Worcester – pronounced wooster – oo as in book) Sauce are all here, along with many others. Gentleman’s Relish – A Compendium of English Culinary Oddities is a most absorbing volume and a tasteful gift for any food lover. Delightful.
Gentleman’s Relish – A Compendium of English Culinary Oddities
Author: National Trust
Publisher by: Anova
Food history and guidebook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018