Scoff: A History of Food and Class in Britain by Pen Vogler - review by Thomas Blaikie

Thomas Blaikie

Gravy with Everything

Scoff: A History of Food and Class in Britain


Atlantic 480pp £20

Here are two huge subjects, and one of them, class, is tricky, to say the least. This book attempts to mesh them together. What is British food? Some countries don’t have a cuisine. Well, they do, but it isn’t often mentioned. You never hear of anybody rushing to a German restaurant – outside of Germany, of course. According to Pen Vogler, even some Czechs she encountered just as they were emerging from behind the Iron Curtain had heard of the utter rock-bottomness of British food. As for class, Vogler gets well beyond the tiresome old chestnuts – how to eat peas politely, how to pronounce ‘scone’, milk in first, builder’s tea and so on. She doesn’t even touch on the ultra-dainty question of how to eat (or drink) soup.

Vogler’s book is a series of dazzling essays on subjects such as venison pasties, spices, Christmas pudding and Brussels sprouts. The learning and the range of references, from obscure Italian Renaissance texts to Bridget Jones, are astounding. Titbits abound. Did you know that high tea is so called because it

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