28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
This is a cookery book, a history, a romance, a guide to self-sufficiency,a handbook of wild food and elegy for rural life. All these things are blended together with poetry and wit, and enlivened by stunning drawings by the author. If you have an interest in the history of everyday life, or in proper food, you cannot be without this book.
"Food in England" was written in the middle of the 20th century. If you are middle-aged, it is the world of your childhood - yet it is now so vanished it is difficult to imagine. Fortunately Dorothy Hartley's prose is so vivid and intense she can bring that world to life for us. In fact, Hartley did for English food what Elizabeth David did for the Mediterranean; sadly, the British public wasn't listening, and we are the poorer for it.
Most of her experience is in the North, in rural areas, so she describes the last of a way of life which had lasted, with few changes, for a thousand years - yet which is still, of course, clearly remembered by thousands of elderly people. I can only add, if one of those elderly people is YOUR granny, talk to her now before it is too late. It is a way of life where electricity, gas, and even mains drainage are not to be taken for granted, where food is seasonal not because we are trendy but because we have no choice.
There are many recipes, but they assume a foundation knowledge of cookery and are given in anecdotal rather than instruction style. Here you will find how to make your own haggis, to cure a ham, bake an Epiphany tart, mix the contents of a wassail bowl and roast an "six-legged goose". But there is also a huge amount of social history; some explicit, such as a chapter on the Industrial Revolution subtitled "Starvation and Plenty" - some embedded in the writing about food and cooking. There are the secrets of preserving food for long sea voyages, how to tell when peas are ready to harvest, and directions for the correct construction of a privy, all beautifully illustrated. It is a book you'll return to time and again over the years, either to look up something obscure in the excellent index, or to browse through for sheer pleasure.
If you want more recipes and background, in an easy-to-use format, go to Cookery of England (Penguin Cookery Library).
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 29 March 2011
Amazing book: A readable cookbook that is hard to put down, and tells you about a way of life that has long gone, as well as recipes.
This weekend we killed off the old hens as they had stopped laying. So we went looking for things to do with tough old birds...... and a whole weekend of fun ensued! Not only simply reading about boiling cauldrons over a fire as the peats cool overnight, [cockaleekie soup, pot roast fowl] but on to what time of year to buy chickens at market, having completely forgotten that they are historically, like eggs, a seasonal food!
And then we discovered exploded fowl. What a wonderful name. What a very very very tender flavourful roast bird. What fun.
A treasure trove of cookery, social history, and fascination. A cookery book to read in bed, in the bath, and curled up in front of the fire. I don't keep it with the cookery books but with the small set of much loved old friends to graze in odd moments. [I'm now on my 3rd copy, one having been "loaned" away, and one fallen apart from over use].
If you haven't got this book - buy it!
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 22 January 2006
I can't better the Amazon synopsis and I agree with all of the other reviews but would add a couple of comments. As a good read about the best of home and country life this book is hard to beat. Re-enactors should especially note that this book was written when gas and electric stoves were still newish technology - the author had direct knowledge of cooking on solid fuel stoves and has also included a really useful section explaining cooking on open fires of wood/coal/peat etc. NB - have you bought a cauldron for camp cooking? You can cook much more than stews in it. Look at the description of how a road-mender(I think?) cooked an entire meal in a pail. This is described as witnessed at first hand - its an eye-opener!
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on 5 July 1999
Crammed with good advice on how to put up vegetables, butcher a pig, cure your own ham, and stuff a sheeps stomach in order to make haggis, this book is an aladdin's cave of often forgotten traditional English dishes and cooking methods, all awaiting rediscovery by the home cook and cooking professional. A strong argument in favor of English cookery as an unique and interesting cuisine, and a refutation to those who glibly dismiss its virtues.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 19 February 2012
I adore this book - it's a summary (albeit a very detailed one) of how food was created, prepared and eaten in pre-industrial Britain by one of the last serious food historians actually to have lived and run a kitchen in this world. It's not a realistic recipe collection (though you certainly can cook from it if you have a robust basic knowledge of European cooking) but is a rich account of just how central food (and, thus, survival) was to the minutiae of life before WW1. She writes with tremendous humour, and the illustrations are very evocative and lively - she has also experienced life in a wide range of different pre-industrial British societies: Yorkshire mountain farming, mining town, Welsh border cattle pastures, convent school, &c, &c, &c.
A rich and valuable resource to understand where British cooking and culture has come from, and a fine social history of the people who formed Britain as it is today.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 6 June 2000
As a medieval re-enactor involved in producing an annual banquet for the society I belong to, I am always on the look out for historical recipes, books etc. Having picked this book out I found I could not put it down. The vivid descriptions of various types of kitchens made you feel that you were actually there, you could feel the warmth around you. It is a book I will always return to not only for the varied recipes, but everthing else as well. It will have pride of place on my kitchen bookshelves. I thoroughly agree with Delia Smith's comments on the front cover, it is a definite must for any cook.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 5 October 2009
This wonderful and absorbing book was spoilt because the paper back edition uses cheap blotty paper and small, smudged illustrations.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 30 June 2007
This is THE book you would want if catastrophe struck, or you were stranded away from civilization, it covers everything from butchering your own meat, to the methods of cooking in a cauldron over an open fire, absolutely everything you could ever want to know about cooking with folklore and stories thrown in with one of the most comprehensive collections of Real British recipes, this book is a must for anyone interested in cooking.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 12 October 2014
I got this because I was led to it as a source for making Harvey's Sauce (which is actually available for free on the internet). I am sorry but this book is confusing and doesn't seem to me much to do with food. A description of a boiler to melt snow on a 19C arctic expedition. The difference between a Beltane Fire and a Bonfire (not much).
Ms Hartley was obviously very learned and has written a history book which will appeal to scholars of Olde England but it does not really aid me with cookery which is my hobby. A description of how a 17C range cooker worked is scarcely going to help me with my Sunday roast. How to kill a pig may be interesting (and I have seen it done and even participated in Spain and Portugal) but it is illegal in the UK outside of an abattoir.
So this is really a memoir of times past and useful as such but do not think it will give you any particular guide to cooking. Try the River Cottage Cookbook if you want to know how to grow and cook your own food.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 26 November 2012
Have you ever wondered where old saying's come from, for instance, "Hook or by Crook" or how chimneys were cleaned of soot,using a Holly Bush and a horse or bullock, No, well I had the first but, not living in the country,didn't even know a thing about the second one. I know the answer's to both questions now, and both show up our ingenuity and our place in the history of this Island, that we the English call home.
I am at this present time about a third of the way through this book, and the detail of How and Why we cook the way we do, is explored in great detail with both humour and care, making this a treasure trove of food and facts, if you get the chance ,Enjoy it is as enjoyable as all the meals it holds and describes.
Why English and not British, do not worry dear readers from the other three countries who are part of the British isles, there is a reason why in the book showing how you are covered and described and how by ancestry you are so much a part of this book.