The Book You Need About...Food

Christopher Fowler

It wasn't until the vivacious Philippa Pullar (b.1935) married a chicken farmer that she came to realise her perceived notions of rural life were overly romantic. In the seventies a number of authors began to take up their pens against the cruelties of factory farming. Pullar’s belief in the sanctity of animal life informed her first and greatest book, the uncatagorisable ‘Consuming Passions: A History of English Food and Appetite’, published in 1971.

Pullar had received a Cordon Bleu Certificate of Cookery and had been a restaurant manager, so she wrote of history of food like no other. This is a volume that incorporates such apparently unconnected subjects as phallic worship, cannibalism, agriculture, roman mythology, wet nursing, prostitution, witchcraft, magic, aphrodisiacs and factory canning. Her chapters include ‘Pudding, Pepys and Puritanism’ and ‘Culinary Erections’. Her style was scattergun and frequently hilarious, incorporating recipes, jokes, historical anecdotes and a persuasive explanation about why the English lost the art of cooking – an art whose revival has been stalled by finger-food chain restaurants and the New Austerity currently being inflicted upon us.

She explains how mediaeval cuisine was really Roman, and how spices like ‘galingale, mace, cubebs and cummin’ were added after the Crusaders returned with Eastern influences. There are descriptions of dinner etiquette and the experience of table gatherings, the steaming trays of cranes and swans being served, chamberpots being passed around, the men nodding off, the women stepping into the larder ‘where the jars made a cold crack on the marble shelves as the potted meats, the confections and the pickles were taken up to admire and set down again’. Looking down the household menus of the better-off I wondered 'Why aren't we eating more winter vegetables, hares and rabbits, and fish other than watery cod?'

I briefly worked with food scientists, who explained that the reason why canned, jarred or packeted fish soups don't sell in the UK is because 'British housewives have become so squeamish that any sort of cooking smells bother them, and they do not like the smell of fish.' So for years it stayed off the shelves. I grew up on cheap cuts of meat and offal, kidneys, hearts, liver, and loved them all. When I asked the woman in Waitrose if she had hearts she stared at me as if I was insane. 

‘Consuming Passions’ is not quite a history nor a cookery book, but a treatise on the art of taste, and is unique. Happily it has now been recognised as a fine work and republished. It might teach something to the child who was asked to name his favourite fish and said 'fingers'.

Good books about gastronomy (rather than recipes or reminiscences) ) are quite rare, but I've read a few now.

I’m keen on having a crack at porpoise with wheat porridge, a rare recipe from culinary horror ‘The Curious Cookbook’, a collection culled from anonymous authors in the British Library stacks. How about mashed potato sandwiches, roasted peacock, viper soup, parrot pie with beef and lemon peel, curried kangaroo tails?


Joan (not verified) Sat, 08/10/2022 - 12:57

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

A good time to be addressing the culinary arts, over here in Canada we are on the eve of our Thanksgiving Dinner. As diverse as we have become, enjoying foods from all around the Globe, we still dream of our golden roasted Turkey Dinner with pumpkin pie! And there could not be a better time to celebrate, with weather crisp and the leaves golden. Sometimes simple pleasures turn out to be the best, especially with a table of good company!

snowy (not verified) Sat, 08/10/2022 - 13:23

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I recognise the reference to Scrag end of 'Roo and "You really don't get much meat on a Parrot" pie, but where I saw it escapes me at the minute. [It has some sort of convoluted connection to 'The Chiddingly Onion Pie Murder'].

Jo W (not verified) Sat, 08/10/2022 - 14:09

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Mmm, mashed potato sandwich with black pepper, almost as good as a chip sandwich with lots of vinegar.

Cornelia Appleyard (not verified) Sat, 08/10/2022 - 14:45

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Isn’t scrag end neck not tail?
A farm shop near us sells hearts, mutton, rabbit and other unfashionable produce. Delicious.

Brooke (not verified) Sat, 08/10/2022 - 14:46

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

On my dad's farm in deep south US, this time of year was butcherin' time. So nose to tail eating was the thing. As innards have to be eaten immediately, my grandparents kept a large fire going in the farm yard to cook meat and stews which were shared out with neighbors who came to help. Seasoning came from the last of the garden. Fresh liver and kidneys roasted in wood coals are delicious. In the kitchen, mother and aunts were 'putting up' the orchard fruits (pears, figs, apples) for the winter and our (children) job was collecting pecans, walnuts, or harvesting sweet potatoes.

It was, and still is, the time when crazy people in my home state go rattlesnake hunting. After the poor vipers are killed, the meat is fried--it's disgusting because crazy people don't know how to cook. Unlike the south Asian community here where restaurants serve a viper/snake soup. Butcher shops in our covered markets routinely have snake meat on offer, as well as ostrich and other things I'm not sure are legal.

Patience Gray, MFK Fisher, Dorothy Hartley, etc. At one time such writing was quite common; what happened?.

Peter T (not verified) Sat, 08/10/2022 - 14:51

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'll come back when you've all finished with the blood and guts. I need a bottle of IPA to settle my stomach.

Christopher Fowler Sat, 08/10/2022 - 17:23

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

You had me at 'kidneys in wood coals'.
Right now this pernicious disease is denying me any pleasure from food, so such flavoursome treats are now a memory.

Hazel Jackson (not verified) Sat, 08/10/2022 - 18:25

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Quite unrelated. I was at Kew Gardens today (VERY LOUD Ladies Mariachi band in Mexico exhibit in Temperate House). In the bookshop, I noticed they were selling Peculiar London in their London section. Sales looked healthy. :-).

snowy (not verified) Sat, 08/10/2022 - 18:29

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I've remembered where I've seen that combination before. At some point in the late 19th, early 20thC somebody decided to revise Mrs Beeton's Household Management and give it a bit of glamour by including some 'International' recipes. Letters were sent out to the publishers in other countries asking for suggestions. [One suspects the publisher in Australia had something of a sense of humour].

America and Canada have their own section detailing the entire wide and varied cuisine, it lists: Corn, Clams, Cookies, Cranberry Sauce, Jombalyah [sic], Mush [cornmeal], Popovers, Slaw [served either cold and hot], Squash, Succotash, Terrapin, Waffles & Washington pie.

[My use of 'scrag end' is probably a family phrase; any cut that was presented at table with more bone(s) than meat]

Waitrose used to do heart, but the meat counter has become a slave to trends, their customers only cook what people on the TV tell them to cook. It certainly used to be available frozen along with chicken livers, but doesn't seem to be listed at the moment. [probably to make space for all the Xmas tat]. Indie butchers are the best bet.

snowy (not verified) Sat, 08/10/2022 - 18:31

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Oh, Brooke, since we have gone to the deep South, [and if I might be forgiven for dragging the subject away from food by mentioning... a book -sorry ], have you read: 'The Trees' by Percival Everett? Thoughts?

[Described by one reviewer as 'Detective story meets zombie horror meets slapstick revenge fantasy']. The nearest comparison I can think of... is a mix of early and later Joe R Lansdale. It's nominated for a 2022 Booker Award - oh! Booker is a food company, so it is on topic after all! Phew!]

Helen+Martin (not verified) Sat, 08/10/2022 - 18:51

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Yes, Joan, sunshine and coloured leaves at this end of Canada, too, and much to be thankful for. The registrar at our seniors' college said yesterday she's thankful for all the volunteer teachers and I thought that was certainly a good political choice even if she really means it. Northern hemisphere is all into winding up the agricultural year. I'm reading The Taste of Empire" and appreciating the influence of African foods on American tastes. Fall is always butchering time to reduce the number of animals to be wintered over but I wouldn't have thought that was quite such a concern in the U.S. south, unless you're at elevation, Brooke. They always say that ancient England butchering was November or even Dec. but perhaps it was warmer then.
My contribution this year is a cutting of peony leaves that have turned colour. The pie was bought and the turkey is a "roll". Now turkeys are North American as are pumpkins and cranberries. The potatoes are a question and the yams are African while the brussel sprouts are European (?) The putting together is modern British so a nice international mix. Some people add hummus for a Middle Eastern touch and pickles from all over.
An increasing number of people are vegetarian or vegan so adaptation is happening but has anyone else noticed an upsurge in the number of people with gluten intolerance?
Chris, when physical activity is not possible a small tasty treat is a real pleasure so when that is also denied what is left? Reading about it I suppose. Not much help.

Ian Mason (not verified) Sat, 08/10/2022 - 19:12

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Waitrose has no heart, but you can get a nice bit of cheap skirt in Morrisons.

roxanne g reynolds (not verified) Sat, 08/10/2022 - 20:51

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

i was distressed to read yesterday evening that Peter Robinson had died after a brief illness. my husband was watching the baseball playoffs on the box and i was catching up on emails. when i read it, i immediately yelped and said, "OH NO!" he thought i must have hurt myself (which i could easily do just sitting on the sofa.) i told him PR had died and in response to his quizzical look i replied, "DCI Banks!!" he then knew exactly who i meant. RIP, Peter Robinson and DCI Banks.

Roger (not verified) Sat, 08/10/2022 - 20:55

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Some of the dishes in Cooking with Cooking with Fernet Branca

James Hamilton-Patersonby James Hamilton-Paterson might blast through your damaged sense of taste, Admin.
Tesco's sell lamb's hearts in packets. Just as mackerel is dismissed as cat food, these are regarded as suitable for dogs. Venison hearts in season, which are magnificent can sometimes be found in game shops.

i've read a couple of books by Percival Everett, Snowy - Glyph & Erasure - and enjoyed them. Another writer who can't see a pigeon-hole without wanting to get out if it! He doesn't often turn up in England, unfortunately

Brooke (not verified) Sat, 08/10/2022 - 21:53

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Chris, can you do ice cream and gelato? They're not bad substitutes for grilled meat.
Here in Pennsylvania, for palliative care physicians prescribe marijuana to boost the appetite. Don't know about the UK but the oil might be worth a try.

Brooke (not verified) Sat, 08/10/2022 - 22:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Snowy, on general principle, I have not read The Trees. When the book was first published, I planned to get on my super charged, nuclear powered broom stick but some things are just not worth it. Will explain sometime over drink and Zoom.
For folks shaking their heads, Everett’s book revisits the brutal torture and murder of a young (14) black child, Emmett Till, whose (alleged) crime was whistling at a white woman. The men accused of murdering him were acquitted. Everett sets the novel in the same town in 2018. There are several murders and the victims are linked to the Till murder and trial.

The state of Mississippi promotes the town, site where Till was tortured, as well as his burial site, the courthouse where the trial took place, etc. as tourist attractions. Amazon Prime recently released a movie, Till. $$$$$$$

Brooke (not verified) Sat, 08/10/2022 - 22:42

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Helen, I'm not sure butcherin' time in south was about the economics of wintering animals. It was about gathering food stuff for people over winter as well as when people had time to get such work done.

Potatoes are interesting; initially Europeans didn't eat them because potatoes resemble other nightshade plants that are poisonous. . I've heard a lot of nonsense recently about how nightshade plants, potatoes, tomatoes, okra, eggplant are bad for you. None of it substantiated by research.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Sun, 09/10/2022 - 00:45

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Now that we have tomatoes how can we function without them, Brooke? Okra and eggplant are from the nightshade family? I accompanied a class of 12 year olds, most of whom were foreign born, on a walk through Stanley Park (How long before we change that park's name?) where I picked a handful of huckleberries. There were immediate cries of poison! poison! so I had to introduce them to the bush shape, leaf shape, berry formation and finally taste. It is easiest for foreign parents to tell children not to eat any wild fare without positive assurance than to learn by experience. I understand that, but the next step is for the parents to familiarise themselves with what grows, lives, and flies in the area.

snowy (not verified) Sun, 09/10/2022 - 01:00

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Brooke, firstly thank you for taking the time to reply. I did hesitate about asking the question for the very reasons you outlined. [I was aware of the Till connection, but utterly ignorant of the scale of the 'Industry' you describe].

[And I don't want you putting extra mileage on your stick if you are going to need it in three weeks time].

What persuaded me to um... summon the courage to ask was... to get a real persons perspective.

[Hang on I'm going to listen to the interview* with the author again, to refresh my memory].

The author justifies using the case as awareness raising, [nb. my clumsy paraphrase not a direct quote].

[I've not read it yet, it's probably going to be a bit brutal, so I'm testing the waters a bit].

The book seems to have multiple threads running at the same time.

The set-up is that somebody, [or something] is killing some, let's use the word 'hicks' and laying along side their bodies evidence of their complicity or involvement in an infamous murder.

The local police are clueless [and/or incompetent/compromised/complicit], and call in external help which arrives in the form of two foul-mouthed detectives from the city, [AKA civilization]. These detectives are the local police's worst possible nightmare, [intelligent/no-nonsense and Black].

So there is a re-running of history with the power balance reversed, that's the surface, [and the source of the very dark humour].

But under/over this is running some form of recasting/transformation of the original victim from poor helpless martyr to Avenging Angel?


I'm still wavering.... looks like my list of jobs for the week has just increased by: a) find more interviews/reviews b) sneak into a bookshop and find a physical copy to read.


[I've thrown a link up above, the interview starts at 17:00 if anybody wants to listen to it.]

Andrea (not verified) Sun, 09/10/2022 - 01:14

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Reading this made me remember my Grandmother’s Squirrel stew and fried squirrel. I don’t imagine those are dishes I will ever taste again! I still have her 85 year old cookbook, just no will to obtain the ingredients and do the work of preparing it

I am afraid I will never be able to appreciate some of the delicacies my husband grew up with especially “Thousand Year Old Eggs”

David Ronaldson (not verified) Sun, 09/10/2022 - 07:31

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My copy of Pullar's wonderful book sits alongside Dorothy Hartley's saner but nonetheless fascinating Food in England, which tells the history of the country from a food point of view. Books I can dip into like an egg soldier.

Brooke (not verified) Sun, 09/10/2022 - 12:38

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Snowy, before you shell out good English pounds for Trees, try downloading a sample to your kindle reader. Reader reviews are not encouraging...to quote: "a poorly constructed wander through racist Mississippi." And " basically a screenplay...there's a market for this kind of horror. .think "Get Out."

Poor Emmett Till seems to be always exploited...remember Dana Schutz, Open Casket controversy? (See New Yorker and New York Times, March/April 2017). The Till exhibit at the African American Museum (D.C.) is always blocked with visitors, as is the "Reflection Room" nearby where people can sit to recover.

Joan (not verified) Sun, 09/10/2022 - 12:38

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Brooke when I think of the Deep South, I conjure up images from Harper Lee’s, To Kill a Mockingbird. Its was such an amazing book on so many levels. One of the few good books that was successfully turned into a film. Gregory Peck made a great Atticus!

Brooke (not verified) Sun, 09/10/2022 - 13:02

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Helen. in US voodoo medicine, okra and eggplant are "nightshade." When I did a quick look-up, I got different answers for okra. The poor little fruit belongs to a different plant family. Like the night shade group, okra does contain solanine--the inflammatory bad guy du jour. But despite the Arthritis Foundation and other medical associations saying there is no evidence that the solanine family causes inflammation, myths persist. My hypothesis: folks in the US dislike vegetables and fruits and will use any excuse to not eat them..

Brooke (not verified) Sun, 09/10/2022 - 13:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hi, Joan. To Kill a Mockingbird is indeed highly rated and popular. So popular that poor Scout is banned by some school district every year.

snowy (not verified) Mon, 10/10/2022 - 00:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

In this particular case I wasn't planning to put much store in anon online reviews, cos dumb f.. olks have access to the Internet now. [At last! A use for those extra fingers they inherited from their Mother and their Sister!]

<b><i>[Hold on! You can't inherit genetic characteristics from siblings! *realises* Oh!.. er... as you were. Ed.]</i></b>

I do just remember the Dana Schutz thing, [looked it up just to check I've got the right thing, yep]. It wasn't [just] the distasteful exploitation - [note. English under-statement], that stuck in my head, it was something else, something far more dangerous that was happening around the protests that disturbed me... [Have to think about how to explain... that... very carefully].

'S funny somebody mentioned screenplay, I'd been playing 'Who would You cast?', difficult... to get a studio involved in something so dark would need some really big names, absolute box-office. I was going with Chris Rock and Will Smi...

*tears up film pitch*

Brooke (not verified) Mon, 10/10/2022 - 13:36

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Funny, snowy.
"...dangerous around the protest.." .indeed. Before we take over Chris' blog, find the New Yorker article that covers same. Ben Okri and others weighed in...
Today is World Mental Health Day (Oct.10). Chill out, everyone.

Wayne Mook (not verified) Mon, 10/10/2022 - 15:44

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I have problem eating tomatoes but it is more to do with how acidic they are.

Jo - spot on with the mashed potato butty, thick butter and black pepper. Lovely.

Brooke - I wish I had read what you had to say about The Trees before I bought it, I didn't realise it used Till murder. I still find it hard to believe that Jim Crow laws were only abolished in '65 and that even now there are certain laws that shadow them, i.e. the right to vote or access to vote, to misquote Animal Farm, we are all free but, some are freer than others. I know we have problems with race and class in the UK, education is a main one here and the right to protest, although they seem to be at odds with middle class youngsters (usually denigrated as snowflakes, but many of the climate protesters are from this group). Oddly enough making kids stay in education or apprenticeships until 18 (recent tory money saver/keep off the street initiative.) will give the lower classes more access to university than ever before. It wasn’t until 1972 that you stayed in to education until 16 which meant most working-class kids left with no exam results as 16 was the age you took the exam, what a coincidence.


Peter T (not verified) Mon, 10/10/2022 - 19:15

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Since I was a teenager in the 1960s, we've advanced incredibly on racial and sexual equality. The matriculation photo of the the first year at my college is all male with only two black faces. One of those was on a BP-Shell studentship from Nigeria; the other was the son of an ex-minister in the government of Uganda. When I left in 1977, everything had changed, much for the better. Have we done as well on class? The working class of my youth barely exists, though I fear that's more due to elimination than emancipation. I imagine that these days I'd still have made it to university, but, with the erosion of state education, Cambridge and the other great universities look far less accessible.

Brooke (not verified) Tue, 11/10/2022 - 11:39

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Greetings, Wayne. Did you read Trees? What do you think?

Wayne Mook (not verified) Wed, 12/10/2022 - 17:55

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hello Brooke - After what you said I put it to one side. My 10 year old daughter left some books out, Horrible Histories and an RL Stine Goosebumps The Haunter, which I enjoyed despite some plot holes, not as good as Robert Westall's ghost stories for children, which are better many an adult tale, still very readable.


snowy (not verified) Wed, 12/10/2022 - 23:14

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I did have a dip into the New Yorker. [For those who haven't been teetering desperately on the edges of their chairs, pearls clutched and breath bated, don't worry this is not that long - or wouldn't have been if I hadn't written this bit!]

Enough <del>p</del>r<del>e</del>amble.

From an article entitled “Troubling Pictures.” [April 10, 2017], I discovered the protest was a single-handed affair staged by a young artist named Parker Bright; who <i>"stood for several hours in front of “Open Casket,” making it difficult (but not impossible) for others to view the painting".</i>

Now you can call me a skeptic, you can call me a cynic, you can call me Betty, and Betty when you call me, you can call me Al. But this has a definite whiff of young artist trying to raise their own profile by protesting about something done by the Old Guard. [No mention of Ben Okri though, so we passed on].

[It did afford me a glimpse at the painting, something I heretofore had avoided, and I was appalled. I thought it would be some sort of harrowing depiction - nope, turns out to be a completely unrecognisable daub which if it didn't have a label on it you might have asked if the gallery had hung it right way up!

From this I learned you really can pass off any old bit of tat as "Art".]

Bounding forwards to, "How Radical Can a Portrait Be?" [May 5, 2017], two quotes stuck out:

<i>"The uproar over the work’s inclusion in the show—which included an in-museum protest and a misguided call for the painting’s destruction—smacked of old-fashioned Protestantism"</i>

[From which I infer Constitutional rights are treated as more of an à la carte selection one can pick and choose from, rather than the strictly set menu approach we are lead to believe].

<i>"(Also at work was the newer notion of particularist cultural ownership, under whose strictures Till’s likeness should be off limits to a white artist like Schutz.)"</i>

That's the dangerous overtone I was referring to, but lacked the articulation to relate. If extended to its logical conclusion that is the most frightening backwards step imaginable.


It was at this point the mailed fist of Capitalism descended, with a demand for money more insistent than a lycra-clad man in Times Sq. [Beating paywalls is a faff so I gave up].


But, I found a copy of the book, in a bookshop of all places, at the third try admittedly, [on the same shelf as 'Full Dark House'].

It's very cartoony, very sweary, short chapters of 1-2 pages, [I read about 15, jumping through the book] , the characters are broad brush stereotypes, with some very silly names which are set-ups for one line gags later in the text, [anybody that has ploughed through a 'Lucifer Box' book will know exactly how groany these get]. Relies on pace over narrative complexity, there is a running gag throughout about the food in the town's diner. [Food reference! On-topic Yay!]

In terms of what it is based on it's not gratuitously distasteful*, if anything it's rather earnest in what it is trying to do. But for the later it would be straight-up pastiche. [* What the murderer does to his victims is very distasteful and completely gratuitous, but that's par for the course].

It's not literature, it's a bit of throw-away, nine-days wonder sort of thing.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Tue, 18/10/2022 - 20:18

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Snowy, so no reason for us to clutch our pearls, leap from our chairs and dash to the nearest book store.
As for the mailed fist of capitalism they should go the same route as the Guardian where you are encouraged to support the journalism you obviously appreciate until you realise they're right and subscribe.