Some of these are favourites, but some I've never even eaten. I've chosen ones that give an idea of the range of traditional English cooking, and also ones not common in North America, or that illustrate differences in naming.


Chestnut and Apple Soup

1lb chestnuts. 3.5 pints beef stock, 1 stick celery, 2 large apples.,2oz butter

½ cup milk or cream

Boil the chestnuts for 10 mins. Then skin, then cook in stock with celery for about 20 mins. Simmer apple slices in butter with a sprinkle of pepper. Blend, season to taste, and serve with a milk mixed in or cream swirled on top.

Smoked Haddock soup.

(Smoked haddock is yellow or brownish yellow, and quite common.)

½ lb smoked haddock, ¾ lb white fish cut into chunks

2 oz butter 1 large onion 1 tblsp flour 1 pint milk ½ cup cream

lemon juice, seasoning, chopped parsley

Cook onion gently in butter, then add flour. Cook gently for a couple of minutes, then add a cup of water, and the milk. Add fish and simmer for 10 mins. Remove any bones and blend. Reheat gently, add cream,a little lemon juice, and season to taste. Serve garnished with parsley.


Oxtail soup. (A classic hearty soup, which has a strong flavor not everyone likes.)

1 large ox tail cut in chunks by the butcher. 3 stalks celery, chopped

1 onion, whole, 1 carrot, sliced, 1 small turnip in chunks, 2 oz butter

I tsp. Peppercorns, Bay leaf, and thyme preferably in a sprig

4 pints water ½ cup port wine (optional), seasoning

Make ahead so as to be able to remove the fat.

Saute the oxtail and vegetables in butter until brown. Add water, peppercorns and herbs, and boil until the meat leaves the bones. About 4 hours. Strain the liquid, cool in fridge, and take off the fat. Add only the meat to the defatted stock and reheat gently. Add seasoning to taste, and wine if desired.

Other soups: Palestine soups (made with Jerusalem artichokes.) Oyster soup. Hare soup.


There is a richness of English cheeses still in common use, and there were many more in the past. Each area had its own cheese with its own local characteristics. In addition, of course, a local cheese varied according the time of year because milk from pastured cows changes throughout the year. (So does butter.)

The classic English cheeses are all “hard” cheeses – no Brie or Port Salut. But also no very hard cheeses such as Pamigiano. Some of the most famous English cheeses are: Cheddar (usually white); Cheshire (usually white and slightly crumbly); Double Gloucester (“red” – ie pale orange – and smooth); Leicestershire (usually red and firm); Stilton (best known as blue, but available locally as white, with a lovely delicate flavor.); Derby (usually with sage mixed in, and thus green. Sage Derby); Lancashire (white and crumbly); Wensleydale (white, mild, and crumbly); red Windsor (blended with red wine.) Wensleydale is wonderful with dessert – with fruit or with apple pie. (“Pie without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze.”)

Lancashire and Cheshire toast very well, with a different, less rubbery texture to harder cheeses like Cheddar. Cheddar is good for cooking.

Welsh Rabbit or Rarebit

First a classic recipe, but I also give my family’s version.

4oz firm cheese (I find red cheddar in North America has a strange flavor which is different to any English cheese, so if you can’t find English cheese, I recommend using old white cheddar.) 3 tbsp milk, seasoning Mustard, English if possible.

Two slices of thick toast, using good bread of course. You can use French or Italian bread though it’s not quite authentic.

Melt cheese in milk in a heavy pan, stirring over gentle heat. When it’s a thick consistency, season to taste. Re-heat to just below boiling. Put toast in a suitable dish and pour sauce over it. Put under boiler until it bubbles and browns. Serve immediately, preferably with English beer. (This is probably what the toasted cheese dishes are for found frequently among Regency antiques. It seems to have been a very popular supper dish then.)

The Dunn family Welsh Rarebit

Toast a slice of bread on one side only.

2 oz  firm, flavorful cheese (being from Lancashire, that is preferred.) ¼ cup grated onion (or to taste. I like onion.) ½ cup fresh breadcrumbs.

(This can all be done in the food processor. Slice cheese, chop onions, and tear bread into chunks, then whirl a bit.) Add milk until there’s a soft paste, and salt and pepper to taste. If you don’t care to taste at this stage, be moderate with the salt, but generous with the freshly ground pepper. It’s good to let it stand an hour or so at this point, and then you might have to add a little more milk, especially if the bread was a bit stale.

Spread the paste thickly on the untoasted side of the bread and put under a low broiler. You want it to cook through. When it’s brown and bubbly on top, eat. It can be cut into squares or fingers.


We know, of course, that tomatoes and potatoes were not known in medieval England, but the range is extensive. In the past, vegetables were sold by a greengrocer, and there are still many greengrocers in England. Traditionally, a lot of fresh food has been bought at markets in the towns, and these markets are only one or two days a week so that the vendors can travel to different ones with their goods. A market would sell many other things as well, and might be the main shopping spot for everyone. There were/are also barrow boys, who’d go through the streets selling produce, generally “crying their wares.”

Looking at a Georgian cookery book, we see mention of spinach, carrots, parsnips, turnips, broccoli, asparagus, French beans, artichokes, cauliflowers, lettuce

In a study of Anglo-Saxon foods, we find leek, onions, parsnip, radish, many types of beans, peas, lettuce, cress, watercress, mustard,  cabbage, beet, spinach, celery, fennel, dulse (seaweed)

Beans were a staple in the middle ages, but being seen as a food of the poor, they became out of favor later except as green beans.

Peas, as is the case nearly everywhere, are only available fresh for a few weeks of the year, and were considered a great treat. Most were dried.

Carrots are mentioned, but apparently orange carrots weren’t produced until the 17th century. Earlier, carrots were red, purple, or black.

Pease pudding. “Pease pudding hot, pease pudding cold, pease pudding in the pot, five days old.”

A staple of poorer people in the north.

1 lb dried peas, split or whole. Soak overnight with a tsp of baking soda. (When I was young, a pack of dried peas came with a tablet of soda in it, ready.)1 tbsp butter

1 egg seasoning

Drain the peas, cover with water, and simmer for an hour or two, until tender. Drain (the liquid can be used for soup if you like) and puree peas with the egg and butter in a blender or food processor. It should still have a bit of texture to it, so go lightly, particularly with a food processor. Put into a basin and steam for about an hour. (If you’re not familiar with steaming techniques, consult a cookery book. Steaming is very common in English cookery because until the 19th century most cooking for ordinary people was done in a pot over the fire, rather than in an oven.)

Creamed mushrooms

¼ lb mushrooms, chopped ½ cup chopped onions 2 tbsp butter 2 tbsp flour

½ pint milk seasoning, including

Cook the mushrooms gently in a little water for a few minutes. Set aside.

Cook onions gently in butter, then add flour and cook stirring for a few minutes.

Add milk, stirring until sauce thickens. Add mushrooms and season with salt, pepper, and a little cayenne. Nutmeg is also a traditional addition.

This can be a side dish, but it is also served on toast as a supper or High Tea dish. (High Tea not being afternoon tea of cakes, but an evening meal for those who had their main meal at midday.)

Buttered Parsnips (“Kind words butter no parsnips.”)

Parsnips aren’t common in North America, but they are easily grown.

1 lb parsnips, topped, tailed, and thinly peeled. Cut down the middle into quarters, and if the middle is woody, cut it out. Slice about 1/2” thick, and boil until just tender. Drain, and add ¼ cup butter, then cook a bit more over a very low heat. They shouldn’t brown or go to mush. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Carrots and turnips.

No need for a recipe, since these are simply boiled together, but this is a common combination, best served well chopped after cooking with generous amounts of butter and pepper.


Nowhere in England is more than 60 miles from the sea, and there are many rivers, too. Fish is varied and common, and traditionally sold by a fishmonger. Eels were a medieval staple, but other freshwater fish eaten were pike, carp, salmon, trout, and tench. Sea fish include cod, turbot, sole, mullet, mackerel, and herring.

Smoked fish include  kippers, smoked haddock, salmon, trout, and eel. Red herrings were the indomitably preserved fish of the middle ages, salted then smoked to a reddish leather. They would be well soaked then used as a flavoring to a vegetable or grain dish. Bloaters are lightly salted and smoked whole herring that can only last a couple of days. They were usually eaten at the coast or carried rapidly to a nearby town.

Kippers are split open then salted and smoked. Again, they cannot be kept for very long.

Shellfish were preserved by potting in butter, and my hometown of Morecambe has always been famous for its potted shrimp. Note, however, that the shrimp in English waters are small – what North Americans call cocktail shrimp. Larger versions are prawns Until recently, oysters were plentiful and considered a poor man’s dish. Other local shellfish are cockles, mussels -- “Calling cockles, and mussels, alive alive-o.” – and winkles, which were picked out of their tiny shells with a pin, leading to the verb to winkle (something out of a tight spot, or information out of a reluctant person.)

Recipes such as baked carp, fried eel, jellied eel, eel pie, pan-fried herring, poached turbot,

Kedgeree – a variation on an Indian dish, so not in use before the 18th century, but common after that for breakfast.

1 lb smoked haddock,  oil, 1 large chopped onion

6 oz long grain rice, 1 tsp curry powder

3 hard boiled eggs, chopped.

Simmer haddock for about 10 minutes. Take out the fish and get rid of any skin or bones then flake.

Brown onion lightly in the oil, stir in rice. When it becomes transparent,  add the curry powder and 1 pint of the haddock water. Cook until rice is tender and fluid absorbed. Mix in the flaked fish and a knob of butter. Serve with chopped eggs on top and sprinkled with parsley. Can be served with chutney, especially Indian-style mango chutney.


English staple meats from farms have always been from cows, sheep, and pigs. Especially pigs, which were easy for peasants to raise. Veal wasn’t common. Venison was once common, but with all wild animals, watch the forest and gaming laws. In poultry -- chickens, duck, and goose. (A green goose is a young goose eaten in the spring.) These were luxury dishes, however.

Because pig meat was plentiful, it is the most preserved, especially as bacon and ham. York ham is considered the finest. Black pudding is made from pig’s blood, pig fat, and grain – usually oatmeal or barley. It really is delicious, and in the past lumps of fat were a mark of quality, which probably indicates that our ancestors needed that energy. There are also faggots, though I have to wonder whether the name has gone out of use these days. They are large meat balls made of leftover pig bits with onion and sage.

Head cheese is made from a boiled pig’s head, cooked with plenty of onions and herbs, and some pigs trotters for the gelatin. The meat is separated and put in a bowl, then the stock is reduced. It’s poured over the meat and will set to a jelly. The head cheese is sliced and eaten with salad.

Trotters are also enjoyed by some pickled into a jelly like state. Cow feet are also eaten the same way, and called cow heels. (Some of you might remember a mention of this in Secrets of the Night, where Brand says he’s never met a foot he wanted to eat. “Now, nibbled maybe.....”)

Lamb was also a delicacy enjoyed only in spring, though mutton was common throughout most of the year. Roast lamb is traditionally served with mint sauce, which is made by chopping a handful of fresh mint leaves, then steeping them in boiling water until cool enough to put a finger in. (Note. Like real tea, the water must be boiling. “Pot to kettle, not kettle to pot.”) Add about ¼ cup of sugar and ½ of vinegar. I like malt vinegar, but any vinegar can be used, and each will give its own tang to the sauce. Quantities should be adjusted so there’s no excess liquid.

Lamb’s head was a delicacy. Basically it was split, the brains taken out and cooked separately into a sauce, then the rest cooked until the meat flaked off. The meat was served with the brain sauce. Lamb sweetbreads are also a delicacy (the pancreas) as are lamb kidneys and lamb liver. No liver can compare to lamb.

The English also like tongue, and the commonest is from cows because it is so much bigger. It’s mostly boiled and used like a deli meat. Tripe is the stomach, and is either pickled or cooked in tripe and onions.

In wild game, we have rabbits (introduced after the Conquest and “farmed” through valuable rabbit warrens), venison, hare, wood pigeon, duck, snipe, woodcock, pheasant, partridge, widgeon, quail. Game needs to be hung, so don’t have people bringing it home and having it for dinner. Apparently, however, it can be eaten if cooked right after killing. 2-3 days for small animals, about 10 for venison.

When I was young game was still often hung in the butchers’ windows intact – head, fur, feathers etc. The purchaser could pay extra for the butcher to prepare it, or take it home and do it themselves.


The pie is perhaps England’s greatest culinary glory, and that includes meat pies. Meat pies of various sorts were “fast foods” sold by street merchants called piemen. They were also ideal working-people lunches, because the pastry would be quite strong, the contents not too liquid so no spills, and a solid pie is comfortable eaten in the hands. The most solid pie is the hardcrust pie such as the classic pork pie. This crust is made with hot water, which makes it  hard or harder as a graham cracker. The meat inside would have the firmness of a meatloaf, and the only “liquid” would be the jelly made from the bones. Thus, it’s durable and easy to eat.

Typical fillings for ordinary pies would be minced pork, minced beef, steak and kidney, rabbit, or mutton. All meat, with just onions and other seasonings, was preferred, but if money was scarce a lot of vegetables would be used, particularly potatoes. Incidentally, another variation is the cheese and onion pie, or the bacon and egg pie.

The Cornish pasty is a special pie made of a circle of dough, folded in half. Sometimes it is a half circle. Sometimes the opposite sides are brought up to the middle. The filling always does include vegetables, mostly finely chopped carrots, turnips, potatoes, and lots of onion. In England these days pies are often made of flaky pastry, which ruins the purpose, since they can’t be easily eaten by hand any more. The Cornish pasties along with others had to go down a mine with the working man, and be able to stand up to some knocking around.

Lancashire Hotpot (a way of using cheaper cuts of mutton, and you may well have trouble getting these specific cuts, but your characters wouldn’t.)

2lb best end of neck mutton chops. (“Best end of neck” is the precise term. Nearby is the  Scrag end of neck”. Since mutton is hard to find, you could use lamb.)

1 lb onions, finely chopped, 2 lbs potatoes, diced

Layer the three ingredients in a heavy casserole dish, adding salt and pepper to each layer. Fill half way with water or stock, cover, and put in microwave until boiling. Then put in a 275 oven for 2 or three hours. If you don’t have a microwave, put into a hot oven until boiling, then reduce temperature.

Shepherd’s or Cottage pie. (Technically, shepherd’s pie is made with mutton, cottage pie with beef, but the distinction has never been held to much.)

No real need for a recipe here. Saute finely chopped onions, then add lean or extra-lean ground meat, stirring well to break it up. When browned, add a small amount of water, and thicken with flour, seasoning to taste. It should be generously seasoned, and can have herbs, particularly parsley and thyme added. Put into a casserole dish that will allow a good helping of meat to the potato topping, then put well mashed potatoes on top. Mark the top with a fork and dot with butter, then bake in the oven for an hour or so.

There are also meat puddings, made with suet dough. Suet puddings, savory and sweet,  were popular because they can be made with only a pot over the fire, and few people had ovens in the past.

Meat pudding

Basically cook a stew of stewing steak and onions as you normally would, and let it cool.

For the pastry,

8 oz flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 4 oz chopped suet. (Most suet available here is powdered, which will do. But get the minced variety if you can.), ¼ tsp salt

Mix all these together, then add icy cold water slowly until you have a thick paste. Don’t let it get too wet.

Roll out on a floured board to about ¼ inch thick, then line a well buttered basin of whatever size fits the quantity of meat. It should be cup shaped, and about twice as high as it’s wide. A “pudding basin”.

Leave plenty of space at the top of the meat, wet the edges of the pastry, and roll out a lid. Seal the edges well. Steam.

Steaming is an art of its own, and I can’t go into details here. You could also experiment with older style cooking and wrap it in cloth and suspend in a pot of soup.

Plain roast meat was the preferred dish if one could afford good meat.


Pudding, of course, is the English name for any cooked dessert course, and it is another area at which they excel by virtue of lots of eggs, rich cream, and fresh fruits in season. Hearty food, and nutritious if one is working off the calories. One point is that despite their fondness for puddings the English tooth is a little less sweet than the North American, and there’s often a blending of tart with the sweet.


A fool is fresh fruit in cream. The fruit is lightly stewed, crushed, sweetened a little, then stirred into whipped cream. This is not ideal for sweet fruit. Gooseberry or rhubarb are ideal.

Fruit Crumble

Crumble puts an unmoistened mixture on top of fruit and lets the juices set it.

Prepare fruit of your choice as if for pie, but without any additional flour. Sweeten lightly if necessary. Put in a baking bowl with water about half as deep as the fruit. It’s best made in a deep dish allowing for a serving of thick fruit topped with thick crumble.

Mix together equal amounts of flour, sugar, and butter, rubbing the butter in, or blending in a food processor. Put on top of the fruit, pressing down lightly.

Bake for about ½ hour at 350. It can cook longer, but don’t let the top burn.

Serve with custard or fresh cream.

Apple pie. No recipe, but English apple pie doesn’t use added thickening. Just the sliced fruit and a little water with a moderate amount of sugar. Again, the filling will retain some of the tartness of cooking apples, which are a special pie apple that is quite sour. Without sour apples, you can’t make a real English apple pie.

Summer pudding

This is an unusual dish, I think, and a good one to try when soft fruits are bountiful.

1lb of berries, especially soft juicy ones like raspberry and blackberry. (Blackberry grows wild all over England.)

Sprinkle with ½ cup of sugar and let stand a few hours or overnight. Simmer gently for a few minutes, which should result in a lot of juice.

Get some good white bread. Bread with texture and flavor. Cut off the crusts and slice quite thinly. About ¼ inch. Line a pudding basin or similar deep bowl, cutting the bread so it lines it completely. Put in a couple of inches of fruit, then cover it with pieces of bread, then more fruit, then bread, until full. You may only have two layers of fruit, which is fine. Top with a two layers of bread and then a plate or other solid object just slightly smaller than the bowl. Put a weight on top, perhaps a can, and put in the fridge for a day or more.

To serve, loosen it with a thin knife, then turn out onto a plate. It should be solid and richly colored by the juice. Serve with thick cream.


The English are also famous for cakes, and even now a trip to a cake shop, with rows and rows of cakes available is quite an experience. Again, fresh whipped cream plays a large part.The classic cake is a sponge cake split in half, with strawberry jam spread generously on the bottom half then covered by whipped cream. The top is replaced and can be dusted with icing sugar.

Fruit Bread

1 lb dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, and currants.) ¼ lb brown sugar

Steep overnight in cold tea just to cover.

Add 2 beaten eggs, 1 ½ cups flour, 2 tsp baking powder, and some spices. Ideally English mixed spice, which is a particular, and complex blend, but if that’s not available, a bit of allspice, mace or nutmeg, and cinnamon. Go light on the cinnamon. Bake, perferably in a loaf tin, for 2 hours at 350. Serve sliced with butter.


Here’s an unusual one that might make an interesting change in these days of flatbreads and wraps.

Scottish oatcakes are a crisp cracker, and very tasty, but these are Lancashire oatcakes, and something very different.

½ oatmeal. This is oatmeal, not rolled oats. It’s like a coarse flour. If you can’t buy it, spin some porridge oats in the food processor intil they’re a coarse flour. Add ½ tsp salt.

1 tsp dried yeast, added to ½ cup lukewarm water until liquid.

Add yeast to oatmeal, then enough lukewarm water to make a thick cream, about the same as pancake batter.

Cook like pancakes on a griddle or in a thick pan. Cook only on one side, and take out when cooked through. Ideally, it should be hung to cool over a rod or string, and it will be leathery.

They can be crisped up and used like tortillas, but where I came from they were eaten soft. Warmed, they were spread with butter, rolled, and eaten. They were also sometimes used to line the plate before a traditional English breakfast of bacon and eggs, then eaten afterward, soaked with the delicious remains.

Muffins. No recipe, but please note that English muffins are what is sold over here as English muffins. Not the cupcake variety.

Teacakes are bread buns with sultana raisins in, are are usually eaten split, toasted, and with lots of butter.

Crumpets are a yeasted thick pancake with lots of big holes to hold the butter.

Pancakes are almost exclusively thin crepe like pancakes served on Shrove Tuesday “pancake Tuesday” and eaten rolled up after sprinkling with lemon juice and sugar.

Biscuits , which is the English word for cookies. American biscuits are scones. There are many types of biscuits in England but they are usually crisp, not soft. Shrewsbury biscuits are a favorite of mine.

A last recipe that is sheer indulgence.

Lemon curd

You need a double boiler or a basin you can put over a pan of boiling water.

Two large lemons

3 oz butter -- unsalted is much better than salted.

½ lb sugar

3 large eggs, the fresher the better.

Finely grate the zest off the lemons and put into your bowl.

Squeeze and strain lemon juice and add.

Add butter, chopped into small lumps, and sugar.

Put over the boiling water until sugar is dissolved. Stir now and then.

Beat the eggs, and ideally, put them through a strainer. Add slowly to the mixture, stirring all the time. Continue to stir until it is thick. Don’t let it boil or it will curdle.

Put in clean pots, cover, and store in the fridge. Use as a spread on bread and it won’t last long enough to worry about spoiling! It's also a delicious filling for tarts. Blind bake the tarts, add the curd, then bake just a little longer to set it.

Gingerbread. (This is a sticky cake, not the hard sort you’d make gingerbread men from.)

8oz butter

8 oz sugar

8oz treacle (molasses)

2 beaten eggs

2 tablespoonfuls of ground ginger

(optional. Crystallized ginger chopped small.)

12 oz flour.

3 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp baking soda

½ pint milk

Grease a square cake tin and line with wax or parchment paper.

Melt butter, add sugar and treacle.

Shift together flour and spices, then add the melted ingredients and beaten eggs.

Warm milk to blood heat and add soda. Stir and add to the rest.

Pour into baking tin.

Bake at 300 degrees for about an hour and a half. Check after an hour.

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