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The British Cookbook

This eminently readable tome on traditional British cuisine is primarily a book of recipes, partly culinary history — and often fascinating.

You will learn in these pages, for example, that the flavour profile of that indispensable British condiment Worcestershire sauce owes a debt to garum, a fermented anchovy popular with the occupying Romans. That a later conquest by the Normans gave us the words for all our favourite meats (beef, pork, mutton, and venison, from the Middle French boeuf, porc, mouton, and venaison). And those addictive spicy notes in your Eccles cake and gingerbread were made possible by the Crusades. More useful, perhaps, is the recipe for making your own clotted cream when your corner runs out. Not to mention those recipes for 15 regional variations of the full English breakfast, as well as innumerable mainstream classics from potted shrimp to rabbit-and-bacon pie. Other dishes are more obscure (say, cullen skink, rumbledethumps, and the ominous-sounding clapshot) but just as worthy. Author Ben Mervis began his odyssey of research with a list of 1,500 regional recipes from England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. With the help of leading British chefs, food writers, and other experts, he culled that to 550 essential recipes — each included here with a memorable introduction. This is no small feat. Like most other volumes from Phaidon, The British Cookbook is also handsomely designed and littered with beautiful images (in this case, photography from Sam A. Harris).