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Best of British: British Food Fortnight

It’s British Food Fortnight (19th Sept - 4th Oct) and time to celebrate the wonders of British food, from the Cumberland sausage to the English muffin. In recent years, British food has seen something of a renaissance. With London acting as an open door to fusion flavours and innovative chefs like Ottolenghi putting down roots in our capital city, few would dare call British food bland in 2020.

While we’re a small island, our food packs a big punch. The Great British Bake Off has given traditional favourites like crumpets, hot cross buns and even Wagon Wheels a new lease of life. Our local restaurants and farmers markets have started shouting about our high-quality fresh produce like Welsh lamb, Cornish cheese, and the ever-popular Jersey potato. Even British wine is growing in popularity – among the British, at any rate.

As the leaves start to fall, and Autumn arrives, British food – pies, mashed potato, roast dinners – is just what most people want on their table. But if we turn back time, British food wasn’t quite so tasty! No, we don’t mean the suet puddings or Spotted Dick your grandparents might have eaten – we mean WAY back. Back before things like chocolate (yes, there was such a time) had even been invented, us Brits were eating the weirdest of things!

So, without further ado, here are five British dishes we’re definitely glad got cancelled!

1. Battalia Pie
"Battalia Pie" I hear you say – I like pie. Well, we like pie too but THIS pie has taken things too far. The battalia pie of the 17th or 18th century was ostensibly a game pie but bears little resemblance to something you’d find in your local butchers. It was typically filled with offal (internal organs) and flavoured with lemon and spices.

One recipe we found includes twenty cockscombs (the crest of a rooster), veal sweetbreads (neck), bone marrow and – as if it wasn’t bizarre enough – a pint of oysters. 

On second thoughts, maybe we should skip straight to dessert?

2. Iced Cream (with spinach)

Yes, you read us right. The Victorians were chowing down on spinach ice cream (and it doesn’t even sound healthy). Mrs Marshall, the Mary Berry of the 19th Century, was dubbed the “Queen of Ices” for her creativity with frozen desserts. While we don’t want to criticise someone with such a cool title, this one is a firm ‘no’ from us. Not even the suggestion of acquiring Popeye-levels of biceps could tempt us! She suggests boiling the spinach, mixing in milk and egg yolk and adding sugar. Yuck.

3. Mawmenny

This one deserves a special shout out because it was eaten for over three hundred years – from the 14th to 17th Century. That’s two hundred and twelve years longer than the Mars Bar (long may it live) has been around! Unlike the Mars Bar, which has a simple formula for success – chocolate, caramel, nougat – Mawmenny is a little more complicated.

A standard Mawmenny recipe might include wine, sugar, dates, nuts and cinnamon. Not bad, you think? Well, then you add the pheasant. Yep. Pheasant. Mawmenny is a savoury dish. While some people have heralded this as a medieval British curry, we think we’d rather stick to a chicken korma.

4. Crappit Heid

We wouldn’t feel right writing a list of bizarre British foods without including a Scottish one. Crappit – don’t laugh – heid is a traditional fish dish from the 18th Century and demonstrates a thrifty spirit by using a less common part of the fish… the head.

To make this tasty treat for your friends, take one boiled fish head and stuff it with suet, oats and liver. Then hope everyone has a very strong stomach. For reasons unbeknownst to us, crappit heid has become a rarity.

5. Burlington Whimsey

Our final dish is found in ‘Modern Cookery for Private Families' by Eliza Acton and dates to 1845 when, we might add, they’d already invented a load of perfectly nice things like photographs and hot air balloon travel. This recipe, however, despite the cutesy name, does not sound nice at all.

Burlington Whimsey includes the meat and jelly from a boiled calf’s head, in a mould with spices. To make it even more horrifying, the recipe we found suggested “decorating” the mould with slices of calves’ tongue before pouring in the disgusting mix to give it extra panache.

 Instagram in 1845 would have been a very different place (incidentally, take a look at our Insta here).

So, there you have it: a whistle-stop tour through the weird and wonderful foods our ancestors ate. It makes you wonder how they ever invented the really good stuff, like sticky toffee pudding or fish fingers. Thankfully, our recipe books today are filled with much nicer stuff, as is our menu.

At SE Twenty, we’ve cherry-picked the best of British cuisine, with nothing scary in sight. With us, you can enjoy warming dishes like summer fruit crumbles, bangers & mash and our infamous Sunday Roasts. And we promise – NONE of our ice cream flavours include spinach. Take a look at our delectable dishes here.

Don’t just take our word for it – come down to SE Twenty and put our menu to the test. Walk-ins are more than welcome, or call 0203 9602 220 to book a table.

Tell us, what’s your favourite British dish and is it on our menu? Here are the contenders so far:

“Pie all the way. Not fake pies that are basically just a casserole with a bit of pastry on the top, proper British pies with pastry all around and mash and gravy on the side. Whenever people visit from other countries I always take them to a British pie restaurant. People are so good at pastry now too – some pies you get these days look so dramatic and impressive!” - Micha, 32

“Rhubarb crumble is my favourite. It always reminds me of my grandpa – he grew it in the garden and his tortoises would hide under the leaves all summer. There’s just something amazing about tart, sweet British rhubarb. I love it in everything, but crumble is the best.” -  Pete, 22


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