Orwell wrote the piece, entitled British Cookery, in 1946
The British Council on February 7 publicly apologised to George Orwell after rejecting an “excellent” essay of his 70 years ago.
Orwell, born in British India and perhaps one the UK’s greatest political writer of the 20th Century and the author of 1984 and Animal Farm wrote the piece, entitled British Cookery, in 1946. But the council, which promotes British relations with other countries, told Orwell it would be “unwise to publish it for the continental reader“.
The editor acknowledges it is an “excellent” essay, but “with one or two minor criticisms” – including that Orwell’s recipe for orange marmalade contained “too much sugar and water”.
In the essay, Orwell describes the British diet as “a simple, rather heavy, perhaps slightly barbarous diet” and where “hot drinks are acceptable at most hours of the day”.
Re-producing the original essay
Alasdair Donaldson, British Council senior policy analyst, said: “It seems that the organisation in those days was somewhat po-faced and risk-averse, and was anxious to avoid producing an essay about food (even one which mentions the disastrous effects of wartime rationing) in the aftermath of the hungry winter of 1945.”
He said: “Over 70 years later, the British Council is delighted to make amends for its slight on perhaps the UK’s greatest political writer of the 20th Century, by re-producing the original essay in full – along with the unfortunate rejection letter.”
According to Orwell’s essay, published on the website of the British Council, cheap restaurants in Britain are almost invariably bad, while in expensive restaurants the cookery is almost always French, or imitation French.
“Not a snack but a serious meal”
“In the kind of food eaten, and even in the hours at which meals are taken and the names by which they are called, there is a definite cultural division between the upper-class minority and the big mass who have preserved the habits of their ancestors,” he wrote. According to him, breakfast for most people in Britain is “not a snack but a serious meal” that consists of three courses.
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At the end of the meal comes bread, or toast, with orange marmalade. “Other kinds of jam are seldom eaten at breakfast, and marmalade does not often appear at other times of the day,” he writes.
Tea is the preferred drink with which to wash breakfast down, since “coffee in Britain is almost always nasty”. Of tea, British people “are extremely critical, and everyone has his favourite brand and his pet theory as to how it should be made”.
“The British are great eaters of pickles,” but “as for vegetables, it must be admitted they seldom get the treatment they deserve”, he writes. “Cabbage is simply boiled – a method which renders it almost uneatable – while cauliflowers, leeks and marrows are usually smothered in a tasteless white sauce.”
Of tea cakes and crumpets
Orwell says high tea in 1940s Britain consisted of a variety of savoury and sweet dishes, but “no tea would be considered a good one if it did not include at least one kind of cake…A particularly delicious kind of tea cake, made to be toasted and buttered, is the crumpet, which is unsweetened and is eaten with salt…Crumpets, which are of very strange appearance – they are white, and full of holes like a Gruyere cheese – are made by a process that is known to very few people.”
Russian tea cakes, coconut macaroons, sugar cookies, chocolate chip, molasses spice and chocolate oatmeal
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Born in Motihari (present-day East Champaran in Bihar) under British India, Orewell died in January, 1950 at the age of 46. The essay was published with the permission of the Orwell Foundation.
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