It is widely acknowledged that in the last 10 or 15 years we have witnessed a significant renaissance in British cuisine and its gastronomic culture. Driven by the dynamic nature of innovation and the heady spirit of competition, British cuisine has finally begun to shed its long established image as one of the most nutritionally poor and culturally bankrupt cuisines of Western Europe. As with most international cuisines it has been the gastronomic culture of our prestigious neighbour across the channel that has provided the greatest influence on this revival. However, in the last couple of years a number of internationally renowned chefs have started to look a little closer to home for their inspiration.
During the Middle Ages English cuisine was considered to be one of the finest in Europe. Through the patronage of its many royal dynasties and as a consequence of significant demographic and cultural changes, the kitchens of England led the way in many of the culinary innovations of the time. British food was not only something to be proud of, but something that was admired across the known world.
In the last thousand years England has witnessed significant amounts of cultural change. From the early Norman Conquest, through to the European renaissance and beyond. As a consequence of these cultural shifts, its national cuisine has always been a ‘hodge-podge’ of many cultures and tribal legacies, many of which left methods, ingredients and flavours that can still be found today. ♣
With its foundations firmly set in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia, the English Midlands became a significant reference point for the fusion of cultural changes leading up to the early renaissance. The rebirth of the English language, heralded by writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer, had its roots in the dialects spoken throughout the East Midlands, and most of the significant culinary texts of the time were written in this new vernacular. Thus the ideas and practices of England’s great kitchens were slowly and painstakingly immortalised in these beautiful troves of the culinary arts.
The food that we grow, cook and eat is an expression of our individual and regional cultures, of the cultures that we have historically produced and thus seen disappear. The recovery of the precious remnants of these cultures could perhaps tell us something important about how we might create gastronomic cultures of the future.
It is clear that at some point in history England’s prestigious cuisine lost its way, and although it has benefitted greatly from the culturally diverse cuisines that have found their way to its shores over the last 250 years, it’s perhaps now time to uncover the rich diversity that stretches from well beyond that time. However, it is important that we do not begin to idealise the past for the sake of a less perfect future, but begin to uncover the rich, dynamic practices that will help us develop new culinary and gastronomic experiences.
In this sense, our objective, at Hertes of England, is a relatively simple one; to build a unique architectural and building resource that explores the rich historical, material and cultural landscape of the English Midlands, with the hope of recovering the numerous and diverse practices that once gave rise to its built environment.