Foriegn Food


In this week’s class we looked at foreign influences on British food.  My aim was to show that today’s British food is a result of our wider history.

If you deconstruct “traditional British” foods the foreign influence becomes evident.  Today a mug of builders’ tea seems a very British thing but neither the tea nor the sugar is originally from Britain.  Similarly ginger cake can hardly be considered foreign although McVitie’s recognise its origins by labelling their version “Jamaican Ginger Cake”.  These examples illustrate how we have incorporated foreign ingredients and adapted food traditions from abroad.

In the class we touched, briefly, on the history of the East India Company and the spice trade.  The East India Company was incredibly influential in establishing the British Empire.  It also had an impact on British Food.  To find out more about the history of the East India Company listen to this episode of In Our Time.

If you want to go further back in history and understand about what happened before Britain was British then I would recommend the book A Taste of History.   This will tell you how the Romans introduced plums, cabbages, onions and much more, that citrus fruits were first imported during the late 13th century and tomatoes during the 16th century.

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A Rationing Hero


Lord Woolton. Photo from the E. Chambré Hardman Archive.

It is Remembrance Day and I want to honour all the men and women that kept the British population well fed during the Second World War.

First among many was Lord Woolton (1883-1964) who was the Minister of Food between April 1940 and November 1943.  He helped to make rationing a success and must be one of the few politicians to have given his name to a pie, the Woolton Pie.

He is a food hero because he helped to apply the new scientific knowledge of nutrition to rationing, organised a system that worked and helped people to make the most of the ingredients that were available.  The radio broadcasts, cookery demonstrations and leaflets produced during the War were particularly important.   You can listen to a 1942 broadcast, the Buggins Family on the Kitchen Front on the BBC’s website.

Born in Salford, Frederick Marquis (he didn’t become Lord Woolton until 1939) was educated at the Manchester Grammar School and later the University of Manchester.  He began his working life as a teacher then, in 1909, he took a job in Liverpool as the warden at the Liverpool University Settlement, a social welfare project. He stayed in Liverpool and went to work for Lewis’s, a big department store, becoming director in 1928 and chairman in 1936.  By the time the Second World War broke out he had already been involved in a number of government committees.

Important lessons had been learnt from the First World War, when rationing was introduced but it had been too little and too late.  By the time the Second World War broke out the government was much better prepared.

There were shortages during the War, the diet may have been dull and queuing common but people were fed.  That in itself was an achievement.  The fact that rationing helped improve the diet of so many people is downright impressive.

During the War Lord Woolton stayed out of party politics.  His strong Unitarian Christian beliefs drew him towards social reform and a welfare sate but as businessman he was anxious about too much government intervention in the economy.  After the War he joined the Conservatives and was the party chairman for many years.

ATeashop Revolutionary


Joseph Lyons. Image from http://www.kzwp.com.

Joseph Lyons (1847-1917) was a caterer who created a chain of well-loved teashops.

Born in London he was educated at the Borough Jewish school in the East End.  He had worked in various roles before being approached by some distance relatives to run a tea pavilion at the Newcastle Jubilee Exhibition in 1887.  The Gluckstein brothers and their business partner Barnett Salmon had noticed that the refreshments on offer at this type of big exhibition were poor.  They thought that they could do better and invited Joseph Lyons to front the business.

Catering at exhibitions proved so successful that a public company was founded, J. Lyons & Co, and, in 1894, the first Lyon’s teashop opened at 213 Piccadilly, London. By 1914 there were 180 Lyons teashops in city centres across England, more than any other company.

The teashops popularity was due to the fact that they served simple food in clean surroundings at affordable prices.  Joseph Lyon’s sense of showmanship also contributed to their success.  The teashops were beautifully decorated (red wallpaper, gas chandeliers and a fair amount of gold paint) and the waitresses (who became known as “nippies”) wore smart uniforms.

In 1909 the first of the larger Lyon’s Corner Houses appeared.  These were fancier establishments designed in an Art Deco style and included mini-food halls as well as several types of restaurant.

The last Lyons teashop closed in 1981.