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Tales From Britain’s ‘Food War’ Zones

Tales From Britain’s ‘Food War’ Zones


Many Brits – perhaps hoping for a repeat of last summer’s heatwave – have decided against travelling abroad this year.

Of course, it’s great news for our home-grown tourist industry. If you’re planning to take your annual holiday in Britain this summer, you might be looking forward to the opportunity to sample local brews, cheeses, cakes and puddings.

Locally sourced foods are very much in vogue at the moment. However, before you tuck in to all that delicious produce you should be aware of the strong emotions a well-loved local dish can inspire. Say the wrong thing about a regional speciality in some parts of Britain and you could end up starting a ‘food war‘.

Cream tea tussles 

As you enjoy the gentle, rolling hills and gorgeous coastal scenery of the West Country, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a place of harmony and contentment.  The people of Devon and Cornwall are generally a peaceable lot. Beware though, as you could find some serious anger issues lurking behind those picture-perfect thatched cottages and sun-bleached beach huts.

Believe it or not, one of the main causes of strife between Devon and Cornwall is the innocent cream tea. That heavenly mixture of freshly-baked scone, home-made jam and clotted cream particularly loved by tourists. Ask a native Devonian to eat a cream tea and she or he will split the scone, pile clotted cream onto each half then add a dollop of jam on top. Serve someone from Cornwall the same teatime treat and they will split the scone, spoon on some jam and finally spread the cream on top.

Residents of both counties insist that their version is right. Many may be offended by any suggestion that the method practised by the neighbouring county is somehow better. Last year a National Trust poster, designed to attract Mother’s Day visitors to Lanhydrock House in Cornwall, caused outrage amongst locals. This included accusations of “cultural vandalism”.  It used a photo of a cream tea with the jam on top of the cream. In response, locals threatened to boycott the National Trust property.  One indignant Facebook member commented: “There are some things you don’t do National Trust, and putting a picture of a DEVON cream tea for a CORNISH cream tea event is disgusting.”

Pasty wars

Even the humble Cornish pasty has caused its fair share of discord. Historians have suggested that the snack was actually invented in Devon. Their claim rests on a document dating back to the early 16th century. It lists a cook’s wages for baking pasties served at a civic event in Plymouth. More recently food historian Peter Brears has suggested that the ‘traditional’ Cornish pasty actually originates from London. Brears claims that the capital’s 19th century bakers re-imagined the recipe to produce “an economical savoury nibble for polite middle-class Victorians.” This was achieved by shrinking down the huge, vegetarian pasties which Cornish miners enjoyed to bite-sized portions, filled with meat and potato.

Shape-shifting sausages

Ask any traditionally-minded Scot what shape a sausage should be, and the answer is likely to be “square”. The ‘Lorne sausage’, ‘slice’ or ‘square sausage’ is a tasty mixture of minced meat, rusk and spices, served as part of a traditional Scottish breakfast.

The ongoing culinary debate in Scotland is not, as you might expect, about whether a sausage should be square or cylindrical. Instead, it’s about what it should be called. In 2016 a Scot called Andy O’Donnell went so far as to create a Facebook page dedicated to the name ‘slice’ (to describe the square sausage). The page now boasts 188 members who regularly post photos and tongue-in-cheek comments about the appropriate name for their favourite breakfast ingredient.

Whose tart is it anyway?

Visiting a bakery or tearoom in the pretty town of Bakewell in Derbyshire?  It’s certain that you’ll be offered the sweet treat that is Bakewell Tart. This confection consists of jam, frangipane and flaked almonds inside a shortcrust pastry shell. It is a variant of the town’s famous dessert, the Bakewell Pudding.

Bakewell’s residents may be proud of their local speciality, but there is no evidence to suggest that the recipe actually originated in the town. To make matters worse, a rival tart was discovered in 2013. Gloucestershire’s council leader Paul James came across an old recipe for ‘Gloucester Tart’-with almost identical ingredients – in a local history book. The discovery prompted Gloucester’s local media to gleefully exclaim: “Gloucester Tart revived – and it’s better than the Bakewell!”

So before you set off on your summer break, it’s advisable that you brush up on your diplomatic skills. Get ready to run if you inadvertently mix up your tarts, or call a ‘slice’ a ‘Lorne sausage’. Heaven forbid that you spread your scone the wrong way. To be on the safe side, maybe you should pack some protective armour along with the suntan lotion and flip flops…

 By Kate McClelland



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