Eating quality, fresh, seasonal and regionally distinct produce from your area is always a pleasure but discovering the heritage and the diverse range of food that Britain produces is all part of the experience. To excite your appetite, Food from Britain, the market development consultancy for British food and drink producers, has selected the best 25 British food facts to highlight the delights and extensive history of British foods in the run up to British Food Fortnight, a two-week event running from 23 September – 8 October. This year marks the second year FFB has sponsored the event, as part of its Defra funded campaign to boost awareness of British food and drink.
1 – In 1793 James Birch’s shop on the corner of Vicarage Road in Eccles, Yorkshire began selling small, flat, raisin-filled cakes called Eccles cakes, which is still today one of the most popular cakes eaten in the north of England.
2 – During the 2nd World War, Lord Woolton, Minister of food for Britain, declared that fish & chips were the only takeaway food that was not to be rationed.
3 – There are around 700 varieties of cheese made in the UK.
4 – In 2005, 600 food critics writing for Restaurant magazine voted 14 British restaurants among the 50 best restaurants in the world.
5 – Cornish Yarg came from a recipe found in a book in a farmer’s attic – his name was Mr Gray (Yarg spelt backwards!)
6 – Britain currently has 36 EU Protected Food Name Products, beating Austria and Belgium.
7 – The most eaten ‘convenience’ food in the world was invented by an English aristocrat with a passion for gambling, the Earl of Sandwich. To ensure he didn’t have to stop playing and to keep his hands clean for the cards, the Earl of Sandwich asked for meat to be put between two slices of bread.
8 – King James I of England and VI of Scotland imported 10,000 Mulberry trees to start a silk industry. Unfortunately, he ordered the wrong variety and the silk worms wouldn’t eat the leaves. The mulberry tree ‘berries’, however, made excellent British jam.
9 – Beatrix Potter used the fortune she earned from writing illustrated books to save the Herdwick Sheep from extinction. Today, a descendent of her shepherd sells Herdwick meat at Borough Market in London.
10 – The delicious Colchester oysters were one of the main reasons for the Romans invading Britain in 43AD.
11 – Some British cheeses have a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin). West Country Farmhouse Cheddar can only be produced in the West Country (Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Cornwall) and Stilton can only be produced in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire.
12 – According to a Food from Britain survey, almost two-thirds of consumers (65%) now buy local British food and drink intentionally.
13 – Crowdie, a soft, fresh milk cheese, was made in Scotland for centuries. The first farm to flavor it with garlic only did so after their cows had escaped from their field, wandered into woods and ate wild garlic. The flavor that went into the milk was so good that garlic crowdie quickly became a favorite item.
14 – During the spring, visitors can trace the routes of the Roman Army through the south of England by following the white blossom on tall, wild cherry trees. The soldiers brought cherries from Italy and spat the pips out as they marched.
15 – The top prize for strawberry eating goes to the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Club – 27 tons of them are eaten (along with more than 1,500 gallons of cream) during the championship.
16 – The second most popular cheese in Britain is Mozzarella – most of which is made in the UK and cheese producers in Britain also make versions of Camembert and Brie.
17 – Ice cream was so popular in London in the 19th century that massive ‘ice wells’ were dug in the city. Ice was imported from America, and later from Norway to fill them.
18 – More than 163 million cups of tea are drunk every day in Britain.
19 – Mint sauce became the ‘essential’ accompaniment to roast lamb in Britain thanks to Queen Elizabeth I. To stop her subjects eating lamb and mutton (and help the wool industry), she decreed that the meat could only be served with bitter herbs. Enterprising cooks discovered that mint made the meat taste better, not worse.
20 – It is not only Stilton cheese that is important to the people of the Heart of England. In 1734, the Mayor of Nottingham was bowled over with a 100 lb. cheese during a riot after stall-holders at an annual street market had increased cheese prices by more than a third.
21 – The world’s first chocolate bar was made in Bristol in the late 1720s by Joseph Fry. His company was eventually taken over by Cadbury, another British, family owned firm.
22 – The world’s largest apple was grown in Kent in 1997 weighing 3.68 lbs.
23 – Cornish Pasty was traditionally a packed lunch for tin miners, often containing meat and vegetables at one end and a sweet filling at the other. The crimped or plaited crust was a very important part of the pasty – but was never intended to be eaten. Arsenic is often a by-product of mining and would naturally be present in the miner’s fingers when they ate their pasties. Consequently, the crust was used to hold the pasty until the contents has been eaten, and then thrown away.
24 – Horseradish is the perfect partner for roast beef. To grow a plant you must buy a thong (that was what English gardeners called the sliver of root you need to start growing).
25 – One of France’s top wine experts, Philipe Faure-Brac, serves English sparkling wine at his Paris bistro. He starts by offering a ‘blind’ tasting to get over any preconceptions from his predominantly French clientele. Then, as they are complementing the quality he tells them the origins of the wines.