Reading Antonio Carluccio’s Italia made me think how virtually every French, Italian or Spanish cookbook breaks down its recipes by region, while you rarely see an English recipe book do the same.
You could argue that England is only now rediscovering its food and cooking. The BBC series “Back in Time for Dinner” takes us on a journey that shows the evolution of our eating habits from rations post-war through to processed and take away food.
Other TV programmes show how much we love food…or at least, looking at others making it. “A Cheesemonger’s History of The British Isles” shows how, despite an impressive diversity of cheese all the way since pre-Roman times, the Industrial Revolution suffocated small cheese farming in favour of bland mass-produced Cheddar, most of which wasn’t even from the Somerset Gorges.
Is it our dependence on our economy of mass production that meant we have lost our regional food production at scale or is it our colonial history that meant that we preferred importing foods from outside the country, be it tea or curry?
Or could it be that it reflects the lack of power of our local areas and regions that everything is decided from Westminster?
Equally, you could argue that in France, Italy and Spain, the regions have used their distinctive gastronomy to forge strong cultural identities between the Bouillabaisse or Marseille to the Tartiflette of the Alps to the Cassoulet of the Midi — they even fight over its hyperlocal identity. Or between the Osso Bucco Milanese, the Sicilian Panelle or the Carciofi Judia Alla Romana.
To some extent, unlike in England where foods are distinctively English or in Italy, France & Spain, they have fused different aromas together to create new dishes, whether it’s the Arab influence in Sicily of using capers, raisins & pine-nuts, the Provencal influence on pesto in Piemonte, or the German influence on Alsatian flammekueche or the Medici introducing artichokes to the French.
I love how the natural infrastructure influences the food, the mountains helping create crunchier and grassier cheeses, the rivers providing the fish and paddy fields for rice, the sea helping create salt marshes and the forests providing the mushroom and garlic.
Growing food and its constraints have shaped the beauty of our architecture and landscapes. From the steeped balcony terraces needed to grow vegetables in Cinque Terre, the oast houses to make beer in Kent, the multi-coloured fishing huts in Murano or the wide-open plains in Campania for buffaloes to roam and make mozzarella.
Where can we get a Sagra dell Sacciuga or a Polentata di Santa Ana or even a Strada dei Funghi?