With The British Cookbook – published, inevitably, in time for Christmas – Phaidon continues its galivant through the foods of different nations. We’ve already had books on the cooking of Mexico, Peru and Thailand. Now it is the turn of Britain. Ever since Anthony Bourdain sang the praises of Fergus Henderson, the founder of St John restaurant in London, British food has commanded, if not awe, then at least international interest. Given that it took an American to signal to the world that our national cuisine can be taken seriously, it’s perhaps appropriate that Phaidon have chosen another American, Ben Mervis, to write The British Cookbook.
Mervis is based in Glasgow. Before he started on this book, he founded a food magazine called Fare and was a researcher for Netflix’s Chef’s Table, so he’s got the credentials. He also says he finds a ‘pleasure unlike any other’ in British food. He first came to the United Kingdom as a ‘student of British history’ and there is a historical scaffolding to the recipes in this book. Each one has an introduction in which we are given ‘as much of its historical and cultural significance, and tips on serving, as space permits’. Don’t worry, there’s not a lot of space, though the publisher has found room in each recipe for symbols indicating if it is vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free and so on, just in case readers find it too onerous to peruse the short list of ingredients to discover for themselves.
Mervis admits that ‘all the recipes in this book were contributed by others’. In this he is following in a strong tradition of English cookery book writers, such as Florence White, who travelled the country seeking contributions from members of the public while assembling her landmark 1932 work,