Saturday, December 14, 2013

The French Connection and The English Kitchen .

Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman

The French Connection 
and The English Kitchen  
originally published as:
 L'influence française sur la cuisine anglaise
in the blog: La mot juste en anglais.

When did the French connection begin?
William the Conqueror 1066
William the Conqueror, conquered England in 1066 and was crowned  King of England. Following his crowning William began handing out most of the  lands that had belonged to English aristocrats to Norman-French Barons and others who had fought with him. The data that clearly shows that the English aristocracy was replaced may be seen from the Domesday book of 1086.  The Doomsday book, which registered all meaningful property in William’s new country, survives with the original documents kept in the National Archives at Kew in London, England.  The original documents may be seen by scholars; the rest of us may see the Doomsday Book online at  The original, hand-written, Latin language document, makes clear that of the many large landowners, only four Anglo-Saxon-English aristocrats still owned their lands after twenty years of Norman rule.

                                       Statue of William the Conqueror
 In the town of his birth Falaise, France
Photograph courtesy of Keith 1999.

The English Kitchen after 1066

The new Anglo-Norman-French aristocrats built castles on their new land and from the letters and documents of the time we can see that cooks were Norman-French or French, and the kitchen help were Anglo-Saxon. The English names of cooked meats and cooked poultry names are taken from the Norman-French which the cooks used. The names of the live animals were the responsibility of the English kitchen help and farmers, and so they remained in Anglo-Saxon-German-English.

The language of the French cooks and The language of the kitchen help and the farmers.
 French – English   Anglo-Saxon German – English

Bœuf -  Beef                                             Kuh - Cow 

Jambon – Ham                                          Schwein, Swinan - Swine 

Mouton – Mutton                                        Chase - Sheep 

Porc – Pork                                                 Bigge - Pig 

Poulet – Pullet or chicken                           Huhn – Hen

Venesoun -Venison                                     Deor -Deer

The Influence of the twelve French Queens of England
after 1066

Of the 14 queens of England in the 400 years after the Norman invasion, there were 12 who were French-born, including the two queens who were born in Navarre, between France and Spain. That 400 year-long French influence on the English kitchen would have its effect on the English language and English table. Setting the tone for these Norman-French-English queens and their kitchens was William's wife, Matilda of Flanders, who was crowned Queen of England in 1068. 

The classic British dishes, with French roots, chosen for this post show the Norman – French, and later the French roots, of what are considered traditional British dishes. The true Brits will be pleased that puddings are not included as they are 100% a truly British creation.

The traditional English and Irish breakfast

The traditional English and Irish breakfast is bacon and eggs, with fried or grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, pork or beef sausages, along with slices of the blood sausage called black pudding, and, of course, toast. All of the ingredients may be seen on French tables though few if any, are seen at a traditional French breakfast.

 A traditional English or Irish breakfast.
Photograph courtesy of Vanessa Pike-Russell
Bacon - The word "bacon" together with the word "lard" came to England from France, and today, in both English and French, bacon means the smoked or salted meat from a pig. The second French word lard now means bacon in French, but in modern English lard means pig fat, saindoux in French, which can create confusion for an English speaker ordering breakfast in France.

A French menu may offer:

Deux Œufs Brouillés et Deux Tranches de Bacon Grillé –
Two scrambled eggs with two rashers of grilled bacon.

                        Rôti De Lotte Au Lard FuméMonkfish roasted with smoked bacon.

                         Œufs au Lard Fumé – Fried eggs with smoked bacon.
An English speaking diner seeing Œufs au Lard Fumé without any explanatory translation may not know that lard in French today means bacon. It will be easy to assume that the cafe is offering eggs cooked in pig fat. Less than one-hundred ago, in both France, North America and Britain that may well have been the case.  Today few French cafés that hope to attract English-speaking tourists will be frying eggs in pig fat.

Eggs – A genuine Anglo-Saxon name, œufs in French

Mushrooms - The word comes from the old French word mousseron; however even in France that has changed and mushrooms are now called, in French, champignons.  The old  French word mousseron remains part of the French name for certain wild mushrooms. e.g. Le Mousseron in French is the St George's mushroom in English.
Tomato – The British and the French both received both the tomato and its name from the Spanish via the conquistadores; the original Aztec name was tomatl and the Spanish passed that on. Having received tomatoes from the Spanish at the end of the 17th century, both the French and the British considered tomatoes an ornamental plant; who added the tomato to the English and Irish breakfast is unknown.
Sausage - The word sausage came to England as the French word saucisse in 1066. At that time, in French, a saucisse included all types of cooked and uncooked sausages; however today, in modern French, a saucisse is often a smoked, cured or dried sausage, including salami style sausages. The French term saucisson is generally used for a large saucisse, and the term boudin is commonly used for uncooked sausages, including the types of pork or beef sausages that are served grilled or fried for the English and Irish breakfast. In France a boudin blanc, is usually an uncooked pork,veal or beef sausage, and a boudin blanc is often part of light lunch or dinner;  sausages will not usually be seen on a French breakfast table.

Black pudding - The black pudding sausage; a pig's blood sausage that is a traditional British, Irish and French favorite, and in French  it is called a boudin noir.  All boudins noir, black puddings, will have been boiled before being sold, and then will be fried or grilled before being served. The British and Irish versions of black puddings are usually large sausages, much too much for a single person, and for breakfast only two or three grilled or fried slices will be served. French boudin noirs are mostly shorter and thinner than most black puddings and are often part of a light French lunch or dinner. France also organizes an annual international competition for the world’s best boudin noir, the world’s best black pudding. From all over the world, in March, the lovers of the boudin noir including many from England and Ireland come to compete at the Foire au Boudin de Mortagne-au-Perche, the black pudding fair which takes place at the town Mortagne-au-Perche in Normandy. If you love boudins noir, black puddings, then mark your diaries for the third Saturday and Sunday in March and call your travel agent or Easy Jet.


                                              Boudin Noir with choucroute.

Black pudding with sauerkraut.

Photograph courtesy of rdpeyton

Toast – Toast, Pain Grillé. The French word toster came to England from France where it meant grilled or to grill. The French have taken the Anglicized word toast and now use it with its modern English meaning. Today, in France, the word toast is just as popular as the correct French name for toasted bread, pain grille.

Ox-tail stewThis classic British dish was taken directly taken from Normandy, it arrived in England in 1066 from Norman-France and has become a British and Irish tradition; in today’s Normandy this stew was, and is still, called a hochepot.

Ox-tail stew.
Photograph courtesy of The Sun and Doves

The recipe for the Norman hochepot includes, apart from the essential ox's and or cow's tail, almost everything that may be found lying around the kitchen; that recipe accounts for the word hodgepodge in English. In today's English, a hodgepodge usually means a combination of odds and ends, miscellaneous items, and not specifically food. However, odds and ends are what made up the original Norman recipe, and so in its original form the Norman hochepot gave birth to the English word hodgepodge. There are also vegetable and meat stews found on menus in Great Britain and North America under the names hochepots and hodgepodges; however, these recipes are typically quite different to the original hochepot, and most of the meat stews using the name hochepot will be made without an ox's tail.

Shepherd's Pie and Cottage Pie and their French connection.
Shepherd's Pie and Cottage Pie - These two dishes are considered decidedly traditional British dishes, and are British comfort foods; a shepherd's pie is made with lamb, or mutton, and a cottage pie is made with beef. These two, apparently, traditional British dishes, are among those most often denigrated by French tourists when they visit Great Britain; then French and British diners are surprised that the origins of these two dishes are not British, rather they are 100% French. In France, the British cottage pie began life as the Hachis Parmentier and a shepherd's pie began as a Hachis Parmentier d'Agneau;  in France they are much loved traditional recipes nearly one-hundred years older that their British versions. On French menus Le Hachis Parmentier Grand-Mère indicates a Hachis Parmentier prepared as Grandma did, and foods made like grandma did, for the French, means comfort foods.

Shepherd's Pie
Photograph courtesy of jules:stonesoup

Hachis Parmentier - Cottage Pie in France is made with ground beef and chopped onions fried in butter, flavored with nutmeg and a gentle touch of garlic. When the beef and onions are done, they are placed in a casserole that has been prepared with mashed potatoes on the bottom and on the sides; then all will be covered with more mashed potatoes and placed in the oven.  When the mashed potatoes on the top turn a golden brown, grated parmesan cheese may be added, and then the dish, is ready to be served.
Antoine-Augustin Parmentier
Hachis Parmentier and hachis Parmentier d'agneau were named after Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, the pharmacist and agronomist who popularized potatoes in France in the middle of the 18th century. By making the French eat potatoes Parmentier saved several millions from starvation, and the dishes named after him were already French comfort foods and on French restaurant menus by the 1850's.
In the UK, the British shepherd's pie and cottage pie will be made without the garlic and grilled cheese on top and Worcester sauce will have been added; apart from these small changes the dishes are the same. These two dishes appeared on British and British colonial menus only in the early 20th century and obviously came from France where Brits had enjoyed Hachis parmentier when they began visiting France in large numbers at the end of the 19th century. Like it or not shepherd's pie and cottage pie are French imports.

Hachis Parmentier
Photograph courtesy of JaBB

The examples shown above are French contributions to  traditional British dishes, and there are many others that could have been chosen.
   English speaking visitors to France
need better menu translations.

With so many similar words in French and English basic French menus such as those offering a Steak Frites, or Steak Salade, are understood by English speakers. Despite that a popular French menu listing, such as a Darne de Saumon Grillée, Sauce Béarnaise, may confound the English speaking visitor who is not acquainted with French cuisine. At best an English language menu translation will read: "A thick cut of grilled salmon served with Sauce Béarnaise". A thick cut is clearly understood and so is grilled salmon, but how many English speakers, on their first visit to France, know what a Sauce Béarnaise is?  The French, with their historical connections to British cuisine, are urged to request the chefs and restaurateurs of France to make their menus more visitor-friendly.

This post was originally published as a guest post for the blog “Le Mot Juste en Anglais”. Then it was entitled “ L'influence française sur la cuisine anglaise,“ meaning the French influence on English Cuisine.  Le Mot Just en Anglais is a blog  whose readers are mostly French speakers interested in English; the blog is published by Jonathan Goldberg and Jean Leclercq and may be seen at: Le mot just en anglais.

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Bryan Newman
Behind the French Menu
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