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The history of food – from hunter-gatherers to hummus and halloumi​

The history of food – from hunter-gatherers to hummus and halloumi

Food is a fundamental part of our daily lives, but rarely do we stop and consider its rich history in Britain. Today, it's possible to go online and order any sort of dish we desire: vegan, vegetarian, Indian, American… The list goes on!

But we never pause to ponder how such a diverse array of cuisines found their way to our shores in the first place. The truth is, the history of food in Great Britain is as rich and diverse as that of its people…    

The richness of Roman cuisine

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Until the first Roman invaders made their way into Britain, the country had a traditional hunter-gatherer diet – essentially, a pretty plain and unappealing menu, albeit one that was filled with protein-rich nuts and seeds.

This all changed when the first soldiers landed on our shores, bringing with them cherries, stinging nettles (these were used as a salad vegetable), cabbages, peas, and wine. Improving our roads, as well as our crop cultivation systems, they made a big difference to our diets, much like the many fantastic Italian chefs who would come after them.

Case in point? ASK Italian's Primitivo - a delicious and crisp wine full of blueberries. To Italy: thank you.        

Saxon stews

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After the Romans came the Saxons, who were famed for their farming prowess. Cultivating a vast array of herbs which they used to add greater flavour to a largely plain and tasteless diet, they were particularly fond of a tasty stew, which soon became an English dietary staple.

Want a good example? The Stew and Oyster's Beef and Beer Stew. It's kind of what it says on the tin.  

Scandinavian fish dishes

The next big culinary revolution was catalysed by the arrival of the Vikings and Danes, who brought with them new techniques for smoking and drying fish and meat. These were so successful and scrumptious that we use them even today, with a dish of collops traditionally served on Burns Night, and York ham a household staple to this day.

Fish!'s Smoked Haddock is a perfect example of what we can thank Scandinavia for. Delicious fish and meat is such a staple of our diets, we couldn't imagine life without it.

The Norman naming system

By the time the Normans arrived on our shores, we had a much more diverse diet than our ancestors, but there was still a lot more to come! Aside from introducing new names and cooking techniques for lots of common foods, such as mutton and beef, they also brought oranges and lemons back with them following the 12th century Crusades.  

The York Roast Co's Beastly Beef Sandwich is just what we mean when we say we're more than grateful for Norman innovation.

Expanding trade under the Tudors

The next big culinary expansion occurred in the Tudor times, when an increase in trade meant that lots of new food started arriving in Britain. Suddenly, we had coffee and cocoa from South America, spices from the Far East, sugar from the Caribbean, and tea from India. Potatoes were also added to the menu thanks to the discovery of the Americas.

Are we thankful for potatoes? After tasting Philpotts' Baked Potato with Tuna Mayonnaise, we are.  

The fruits of the Empire

From the 16th century onwards, the expansion of Britain's menu picked up a pace, reaching its zenith during the glory days of the Empire, when new tastes and flavours were introduced daily. Dishes from India were brought back by the East India Company, along with foods from all around the world, helping to massively broaden our culinary horizons.

The aftereffect of this is evident to this day, with modern British menus filled with everything from Italian pizzas to Chinese curries, American hot dogs, Spanish tapas and much, much more. With food that's as diverse as its people, Britain caters to everyone, and that's exactly how we like it!

Don't believe us? There's Hummingbird Bakery's Rainbow Cake or – to reflect just how diverse our menus are – the vegan-friendly, all-inclusive Raw Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecake from the inimitable Anna Loka.

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