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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,

[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,, pp. 128.

King George III: Farmer and Hunter

Farmer George and his wife

King George III’s preference for a simple domestic life, coupled with his interest in the theory and practice of agriculture, earned him the homely nickname of ‘Farmer George’.

From the King’s private papers, it can be observed that the he was an earnest and active reader, jotting down notes in the margins of the agricultural periodicals. It is rare however to come across personal commentary that suggests his assessment of the text. In spite of that, what his notes can tell us is that the King was largely concerned with three general issues, namely the political economy of agriculture, the merits of ‘old’ versus ‘new’ husbandry methods, and the cultivation of specific crops.[1]

Even without personal input, the King’s notes are more revealing than expected. By selecting and rephrasing or summarising specific arguments, it is possible to determine which ideas and concepts the King agreed with and found useful.

Seeing as agriculture was the dominant industry in Britain at the time, having undergone an ‘enlightenment’, the King was not the only one who was invested in its development. There was a flurry of agricultural manuals, treatises, and periodicals being published as increasing numbers of gentlemen landowners sought to deepen their agricultural knowledge.[2] The King collected these materials, absorbing new information and debates as they arrived hot off the press. As the leader of the nation, it comes as no surprise that he was particularly interested in recommendations for increasing the profitability and efficiency of farms. This then involved issues like the management of land and labour, learning new methods of husbandry while retaining the merits of the old, and getting more mileage out of existing types of crops.

Apart from reading, the King established farms at Windsor, Kew, Richmond, and Mortlake, giving each his personal attention. He conducted research and practical experiments on his own estates, devising a model farm for his sons to cultivate a strip.[3] One of his key accomplishments is the successful import of merino sheep to improve British wool stock.  

Letters from Ralph Robinson to “Annals of Agriculture and Other Useful Arts”

One of such agricultural periodicals that King George III pored over was Annals of Agriculture. The publication was founded by Arthur Young, whom the King held in high esteem. Young advised the King on matters pertaining to farming and was appointed director of a farm in Kew Park.[4] He might not have guessed however that he was interacting with the King in a much more down-to-earth manner.

For all the reticence in his private notes, King George III occasionally expressed his thoughts and opinions in letters written to the Annals, albeit using a pseudonym. Adopting the name of a shepherd at Windsor, the King wrote two letters ‘On Mr. Ducket’s Modo of Cultivation’ in 1787 as a ‘Ralph Robinson’.[5] He praises Mr Ducket’s farm, delving into his practices and somewhat controversial husbandry methods, with the intention of providing advice to its readers.

Mr Ducket prioritised the profitability of a crop over a routine system of planting, causing him to “examine which sort of Grain will pay him best, and to vary his changes of Crops according to the demand of that particular kind of Grain instead of laying down a regular rotation of Crops”.[6] Although the identity of Mr Ducket cannot be ascertained, the example set by him must have been significant for the King to decide to write to the Annals about. Perhaps Ducket’s alternative methods and adaptable attitude towards the choice of crops was a concept that the King found novel and wanted to encourage.

The Royal Hunt in Windsor Park

Not content with just farming, King George III was also an avid hunter. Rather than its practicality, hunting held great meaning among the aristocratic class for its ability to display and maintain social order.

The 1671 Game Law had restricted hunting to the domains of the wealthy with land, making poaching a punishable offence. This, along with other expenses that come with hunting (outfits, equipment, upkeep of horses etc) served to cement the status of hunting as a sport for the well off and powerful.[7] The royal hunt then epitomized this, acting as “the most important blood ritual through which the hierarchy of status and honour around the king was ordered”.[8]

For King George III however, hunting was also a way for him to both exercise and spend time with his sons, training them in the skills expected of gentlemen. Windsor was greatly favoured for it was close to the capital and offered ready access to good hunting country. The King and his companions hunted deer there, but fox-hunting, and grouse and pheasant shooting were also popular choices for the aristocrats.

On 6 and 9 December 1789, ‘Haunch of Venison roasted’ was served for dinner at the royal household. This venison, or deer meat, may very well have been a successful hunt by King George III!

[1] James Fisher, ‘Farmer George?’ Notes on Agriculture, Georgian Papers Programme, <>, [accessed 26 April 2019]

[2] Fisher, ‘Farmer George?’, <>, [accessed 26 April 2019]

[3] Jeremy Black, “Character and Behaviour”, George III: America’s Last King (London: Yale University Press, 2008), pp. 137.

[4] Sir Walter Gilbey, Bart, The Royal Family and Farming: George III to George V (London: Vinton & Co, 1911), pp. 15.

[5] H.C. Bauer, “Royal Ghostwriter”, The Serials Librarian 3, no. 2 (1979), pp. 191, doi:10.1300/j123v03n02_09.

[6] Letters from Ralph Robinson to “Annals of Agriculture and Other Useful Arts”, Georgian Papers Programme, Royal Archives, <>, pp.8, [accessed 26 April 2019].

[7] Black, “Character and Behaviour”, pp. 138.

[8] Sylvie Nail, “Preliminary Chapter: Woodlands as Landscapes of Power”, Forest Policies and Social Change in England (Springer Science & Business Media, 2008), pp. 14.

May I Check These Books Out?

Visiting the Special Collections at the Albert Sloan Library in the University of Essex was an eye-opening and fresh experience for me. It’s not everyday that you encounter centuries-old books and I was looking forward to seeing (and smelling) these ancient books. You know that musty old book smell that some secondhand book stores have? That was what I was expecting when we were ushered into the collections. However, I was sorely mistaken and now that I think about it, I really should have known better than to think that the books in this precious collection would be allowed to deteriorate enough to produce that musty smell. As I oh-so-carefully drew a book out from its place on the shelf and flipped through its pages, I was in awe at the structural integrity of the books. Its robustness honestly surprised me, not to mention the pages that were hardly yellowed or fragile, unlike my books left out for a year or two in the sun and humidity. The quality of the paper that was produced centuries ago made me question the quality we have now, although I suppose that is the difference between tedious manual labour and convenient mass production. It also led me to question if books were then the domain of the wealthier class, for they must not have been cheap to obtain. Literacy was also limited to a lucky few in Britain then, so the people who were able to purchase these books, to read and write in them, must have been from the upper strata of society.

My curiosity about the methods of conservation and preservation of these books brought me to the Parliamentary Archives Collection Care team. On their website, they outline some measures such as the application of preventative methods, the provision of ideal environmental conditions, careful handling, and collection management. Books would contain mostly organic materials like paper and leather (perhaps in the book covers or binding) would seem to require the utmost circumspection.[1] The Parliamentary Archives stores collections at a tight range of humidity and temperature levels, but I am unclear if the Special Collections in the Albert Sloan Library are stored at the same standards. Books that were received in particularly bad condition or are rapidly deteriorating would be subject to “’minimal intervention’ techniques, such as re-attaching a book board to a binding, or for more serious cases…‘full intervention’ techniques, such as re-sewing broken down sewing that holds the gatherings of a book together in the cover (binding), or repairing holes and tears in a paper/parchment document”[2]. This left me wondering if any of the books I had thumbed through had been restored in some way or another, but without a trace such that the original integrity remains.

Olfactory stimulation aside, the first thing that struck me visually as I lay my eyes upon the rows of books lined up on the shelves was how nondescript they were. The book spines were plain, the colours earthy, and the external design rather homogenous, requiring close observation to identify the differences. Occasionally, the edges of the paper are printed with a pattern that some may find familiar.

I often see this pattern in the scrapbooking section of my local arts and craft store and was surprised to see it had lasted through the ages. Some others have a pattern that reminds me of what I might see through the microscope.

Nonetheless, their unassuming exteriors actually conceal treasures. Some books feature such exquisite and intricate pull out maps, not unlike the geographical maps we might see in travel guides and fantasy novels these days. It is a thrill to see a city that may no longer exist by its former name and imagine the landscape and scenery. The maps also illustrate the forms of printmaking that were in practice.

Some of these books were printed, while some were handwritten. The printed versions naturally indicated that the books were meant for wide distribution, hence the necessity for mass-printed copies that take less time to produce. An example here illustrates the proper manner of eating.

The contents of these books surely reveal the matters that were of concern in society at that time as well, such as witchcraft in England. On the other hand, the handwritten books typically lend a more personal and palpable tone to these historical archives. Yes, a lot of them are banal records of a household’s spending, or a town’s records of births, deaths, and marriages, but these are all testimony to lives lived, and are such important contributions to developing a nuanced understanding of a different time.

This all ultimately begs the question: what gets remembered and what gets forgotten? Of course there is the matter of what was lost in the many years that have passed between the creation of the book and now, but if a book does reach the hands of a decisionmaker, how might they determine if it is important enough to be conserved? Berger discusses some of the factors that might affect this decision, as it would involve “deciding the value of an item to the collection today and hypothesizing its value to the cultural record some years from now”.[3] The factors include the “extent of damage, amount of use, content, artifactual value, rarity, and market value, among others” and it becomes necessary to create a kind of ethical code and selection policy. [4] It is all a rather risky business to me as judging if the content and value of a book is important can be influenced by the prevailing beliefs in society. Should the words of a woman for example be deemed frivolous in a particular time and therefore be left to disappear with time, people in the later years would never even have realized the loss of a whole world and perspective. I think this issue is an increasingly complex one as we progress into a digital age where there is an overwhelming amount of data to sieve through to decide what should be preserved. There are all new formats and topics whose cultural importance are not yet obvious, and it would certainly be a pity and a headache for future historians if valuable information is lost in this teething period.

[1] Parliament of the United Kingdom, “Collection Care”, Preservation and Access, <>, [accessed 1 April 2019].

[2] Parliament, “Collection Care”, <>, [accessed 1 April 2019].

[3] Sherri Burger, “The Evolving Ethics of Preservation: Redefining Practices and              Responsibilities in the 21st Century”, The Serials Librarian,57 (2009), pp. 57-68, doi: 10.1080/03615260802669086, pp. 60.

[4] Burger, “The Evolving Ethics of Preservation: Redefining Practices and Responsibilities in the 21st Century”, pp. 60.