British Cuisine is too French

King George III’s dinner menu, 1789, 9 December

Despite the animosity between the British and the French in the times of King George III, the royal palate became rather fond of French cuisine. Dishes like ‘Des Pomme de Terre en gratin’, ‘Gateau de Mille feuille’, and ‘Cotelets des Poularde glac’ were listed in the royal menus of December 1789, as is the case for many of the wealthy.

Although this fad only really gathered steam in the nineteenth century, it does not come as a surprise that the royal household, with their wealth and proximity to Continental influence, should be trendsetters in their time. There were French eating houses, and French cooks were highly valued and considered a necessary presence in the kitchen of any “respectable Country Gentleman’s household”.[1]

French influence could be observed in both ingredients and methods of food preparation, such as meat that is fricasseed or ragoued, or served with sauces in particular. However, not everyone was as impressed by French cuisine. Hannah Glasse denounced its excessiveness, lamenting “I have heard of a Cook that used six Pounds of Butter to fry twelve Eggs, when every Body knows, that understands cooking, that Half a Pound is full enough, or more than need be used…so much is the bling Folly of this Age, that they would rather be imposed on by a French Booby, than give Encouragement to a good English Cook!”.[2] However, she also included plenty of French, or French-inspired dishes in her own cookbook. This derision of French cuisine was probably not unique to Glasse, for such extravagance could not be afforded by the less-than-wealthy and not to mention, there was a burgeoning sense of nationalist pride to be taken in British cuisine.

Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, 1747

French cuisine was not the only foreign influence to be found in eighteenth century England, where trade, immigration, and imperialism had brought all kinds of marvels.

Tea, coffee, sugar, spices had been introduced to the British diet, not without a keen awareness of their originating countries.[3] With the introduction of these new-fangled ingredients, the meaning of food grew to become representative of their cultures. Recipes for non-British dishes such as German ‘sour-crout’, Indian ‘pellow’ (pilau), and ‘China Chilo’ flourished as more and more Britons developed a taste for the exotic, but at the same time, the rivalry between national dishes grew ever stronger.

British food was exalted for its simplicity and plainness and roast beef became the country’s national dish. As Howes and Lalonde describes it, for some, “to eat British food was to affirm one’s participation in the British nation in a more resolutely self-conscious way than could have been the case previously”.[4] For others, foreign food was simply too costly, and they continued to subsist on ‘traditionally’ English fare which was much more affordable.


[1] Emma Kay, “Britain’s Own French Revolution”, Dining with the Georgians: A Delicious History (Gloucestershire: Amberley Publishing Limited, 2014).

[2] Glasse, “To the Reader”, pp. III.

[3] Troy Bickham, “Eating the Empire: Intersections of Food, Cookery and Imperialism in Eighteenth-Century Britain”, Past & Present, no. 198 (2008), pp. 71-109, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25096701.

[4] David Howes and Marc Lalonde, “The History of Sensibilities: Of the Standard of Taste in Mid-Eighteenth Century England and the Circulation of Smells in Post-Revolutionary France”, Dialectical Anthropology 16, no. 2 (1991), pp 125-135, http://www.jstor.org/stable/29790373, pp. 128.


2 thoughts on “British Cuisine is too French

  1. The inclusion of continental dishes in the royal menus is intriguing. Do you think this to do with the European origins of the Hanover royals?

    Did you notice recipes in cookbooks that emulated the french recipes but contained more affordable ingredients?

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