The Last Food of England

Reviews \x96 credits

The Times \x96 Bee Wilson

'Food offers an emotional connection that can never equalled by air freighted mangetout. This is something Marwood Yeatman understands\x85 Sometimes he is eccentric\x85 Other times he is weirdly off the mark\x85 But he is never less than compelling, and occasionally he is visionary, in the grand old tradition of English visionaries stretching back to William Cobbett and William Blake. Yeatman makes you see the poetry in a plate of clotted cream; the forgotten pleasure of a whortleberry and apple pie. Although depressed by the countless features of modern food, he shows that many of the local foods of England are alive and well. \x93Every time I go to Bideford market, buy a saffron cake and eat it on the moors or by the sea, it seems the golden age is now.\x94

A super market, west of England.

Time Out \x96 Guy Dimond

'Yeatman writes beautifully, and his observations on traditional food production, under siege yet still surviving, are brought to life by his first hand experiences visiting producers. This is not a book that covers the well-known or the obvious; he is anti-hype, a true believer in the old ways, and has spent many years researching\x85 before Tim Lang even coined the phrase 'food miles'. He makes the crossover from agriculture to cookery seamlessly in the chapters, without relying on the folk-loric cliches of some other writers. He is well-read and informed on his subject, though, curiously, many of his references are ancient\x85 Many recent books on British regional food have been lazy, commercial, hastily-written exercises. In contrast, Yeatman reads like a Henry David Thoreau for modern times: eccentric, passionate, opinionated. You can tell he's the real thing. Read it, and be inspired.'

Jam and cake, mid west of England.

Financial Times
 A Year in Books

'(A) beautifully written and illustrated work\x85'

Literary Review
Elizabeth Luard

'Encyclopedic, stylish\x85 ingredients common and uncommon, from mutton to salt fish to famine rations, are examined \x85 in detail. A labour of love, if ever there was one. Take it to bed with you and dream.'

Fresh Magazine

'They must have put something in the scones to have inspired such a magnificent, painstakingly researched and passionately written love letter to English cuisine. Nearly 500 pages of dense, lyrical text leap effortlessly from fascinatingly detailed culinary history to practical information\x85 It's an eclectic treasure trove of delight, intensely personal but also incredibly wide-ranging.'

Pig killing and swaling, south of England.

The Last food of england - Book Cover

The Last Food of England, published by Ebury Press, is a personal exploration of our culinary assets, what happened to them, and who looks after them. The contents include farming, gardening, hunting, shooting, fishing, foraging, buying, cooking, baking, and the ancestral memories of country people. The book is based on the author's relationship with food, where it led him, and how absorbing and enriching the experience has been. It appraises a sub-culture, originally a culture, automatically connected to time and place. The focus is on an enduring gold standard in food as distinct from any movement or renaissance. All photographs in the book and on the web site are 21st century. 

Food is a lynch pin. The native or naturalised food of England belongs in a fashion free, celebrity free world which is under increasing pressure. The Cumberland pig and its legendary hams, along with songs, dances and dialects, have gone for good. The red Leicester cheese, absent for years, has re-appeared on its home patch. Miracles can occur, but the marketing, co-ordination and presentation of food in England remain weak suits. They need help. For interested parties, there are culinary, business and emotional opportunities, to which ways of life are attached. The next few years will decide how much or how little there will be to show for centuries of quality, craftsmanship, diversity and charm. The obstacles to continuity are well known and formidable indeed: the colossi of the food industry, utilitarianism, plagiarism and bureaucracy; negative perceptions, global competition, nutrition and superstition; ruptured connections, sentimentality, and a diminished understanding of what the countryside means.

Food Normality

The Last Food of England is not an inventory: a line had to be drawn somewhere (omitting cakes and biscuits). Nor is it a guide or manual, which thinks for you. It is a book with cookery included, based on the principles of taking the initiative, cooking instinctively and appropriately, and eating normally. This means learning to buy ingredients on sight, regardless of labels or propaganda, and letting them perform for you. Just as other nations do and our antecedents did.

There can be one way to prepare many things, with variations: to grill the different types of fish, or to make different soups and stews. I have explained why the proliferation of recipes is getting us nowhere, but given them where necessary \x96 for the more scientific aspects of cookery like baking.

Wild cattle, north east of England.

Do you know what
  • the food of England is?
  • the hooks, the chimneys, and brick ovens in cottages were for?
  • the Southdowns, New Forest and Lake District, other than recreation, can provide?
  • goes into your daily bread?
  • the pasteurization, homogenization and standardization of your milk involves?
  • differentiates a York ham from a gammon, or prosciutto; a red herring from a bloater; Evesham, Bath, and Lincolnshire asparagus; a damson from a bullace?
Do you know when
  • to expect the first broad beans, and the last tomatoes?
  • to pick hedge garlic, St. George’s mushrooms, and Dorset Moss?
  • to buy the finest watercress, clotted cream and laver?
Do you know where
  • breeds of livestock, types of cheese and varieties of fruit come from?
  • fish and shellfish are landed, by whom, and how stocks are doing?
  • to find oatcakes, mazzards, filberts, and rusks?
Do you know that
  • while the number of books, articles and programmes on cookery continues to rise, the number of people who can cook continues to fall?
  • while the cases of heart disease and food poisoning continues to rise, so does the consumption of allegedly ‘health’ foods, and amount of regulation?
  • the quantity of ingredients in low fat spreads (two in butter, one in lard) can be up to twelve?
  • cheap food and eating habits have had a greater effect on animal welfare, the bird population, wild flowers, conservation and SSSI than subscriptions to good causes?
  • Kyoto in Japan has over two hundred historic shops, complete with fronts and interiors, many of which are devoted to food, and the flagships of the English heritage industry (Salisbury, Winchester, etc.) may have two?

Grocer's, east Anglia.

Do you know
  • how many small shops and businesses existed in your area before one or more supermarkets rolled into town?
  • how supermarket 'contracts'are terminated?
  • how 'free'offers operate?
  • how much the supermarkets spend on advertising and packaging compared to the cost of the goods?
  • how much of the supermarkets' food is wasted?
Do you know
  • what you pay for a product like milk?
  • what the supermarkets pay?
  • what that means for suppliers, future supplies and national security?
Do you know
  • where English apples go for waxing?
  • where instore bakers obtain the dough for their bread?
  • why, in cases of animal cruelty, profiteering and duplicity, the supermarkets are not accountable nor 'available for comment'?

What you can do to help safeguard finite, endangered and historic resources, which other countries would be proud of

  • buy food in markets or shops.
  • link a place on the map and a time of year to the food you obtain.
  • ask in restaurants and inns for Sussex beef in Sussex, Shropshire lamb in Shropshire, Tamworth pork in Tamworth, the sole in Dover, the crab in Cromer, the kippers in Craster, the wildfowl in winter, cherries in summer, plums in autumn, and cut rounds or splits with a proper cream tea \x96 until you get them.
  • consider your roots. Ask your antecedents what they cooked, and cook it too. The local economy will benefit as well.
  • read: A History of the Countryside by Oliver Rackham; Country Life by Howard Newby; The Englishman's Flora by Geoffrey Grigson; Death of Rural England by Alun Howkins; Food in England by Dorothy Hartley, English Recipes and Others by Sheila Hutchins; Eating England by Hattie Ellis; Traditional Foods of Britain by Laura Mason with Catherine Brown. Also: Lavengro by George Borrow; Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thomson; As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee; An Innkeeper's Diary by John Fothergill.

Guild of Food Writers (Jeremy Round Award for best first book of 2007)
'As a wordsmith himself, Jeremy would have read this book with curiosity, some envy and admiration for its ambitious scope. Rarely does such a work come to our notice. This is food social history in a class of its own.'

Dressing tripe, beef wessin and 'bag'. north of England.

Amazon Reviews
N. Clarence-Smith
An elegy to English food\x85this is a beautiful book, elegantly written but also with passion and erudition. I chose it because I was feeling a loss. I have lived outside the UK for many years now, and every time the topic of cooking has come up English cooking has been the subject of ridicule. And yet I remembered eating quite well when I was young. I felt there had to be good food in Britain, and I set out to look for it. Originally, I had been searching for a book of English recipes, but Mr. Yeatman reminds us forcefully that good food is as much a question of how the original source is reared and prepared as of how it is cooked\x85 (the) real focus is the various English breeds, strains and cultivars still existing and the preparation they require before they even enter the kitchen.

Curing fish, far west of England.

I also found the book tremendously attractive because it is a paean of praise to all those unknown, humble folk who have maintained the art of English food preparation and cooking, through thick and mostly thin. Mr. Yeatman has delved into the remotest corners of England to track down preparers of traditional foods. Inevitably, the book is also an act of mourning for all that has been lost over the years, and continues to be lost as the older generation with the knowledge progressively dies out. But the book is not all pessimism. Mr. Yeatman's witty style does not allow us to keep black thoughts for long, and he does give us reasons to hope that English food can be brought back from the brink. The book comes with some lovely photos taken by his wife of livestock and people showing off their wares. The number of old people in the latter category makes one fear the worst, the presence of some young 'uns gives us reason to hope.

Reviews \x96 debits
The Telegraph Carolyn Hart
'What is this book for? (It) seems particularly baffling\x85 a gigantic, not very glossy hardback\x85 by someone who has yet to appear on the telly\x85 (Yeatman) is militantly unseductive, depressingly devoid of humour\x85 pompous\x85 dyspeptic\x85 (he) should have stayed at home smoking his own hams, brewing his own beer and growing his own organic fruit and veg\x85 An interesting idea\x85 but\x85 particularly baffling.'

Kate Colquhoun
'Oddities\x85 errors\x85 omissions\x85 too much Yeatman\x85 too little investigation.

Justly proud of her cheeses, midlands.