Saturday, December 14, 2013

The French Connection and The English Kitchen .

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated November 2019.
Statue of William the Conqueror
In the town of his birth Falaise, France
Photograph courtesy of Normandy Then and Now.
The French Connection  and The English Kitchen
 Was originally published as:
 L'influence française sur la cuisine anglaise

The French connection with the English Kitchen began 
with William the Conqueror in 1066

William the Conqueror conquered England in 1066.  Following his crowning as King of England William began handing out the lands that had belonged to English aristocrats to Norman-French Barons and others who had fought with him. The data that shows that the English aristocracy was replaced may be seen in the Domesday book of 1086.  The Doomsday Book registered all meaningful property in William’s new country and showed his tax base.  It survives in the original and is kept in the National Archives at Kew in London, England.  The Doomsday Book may be viewed in the original by scholars; the rest of us may see it online (in Latin with an English translation) at:

The original, hand-written, 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.

Part of the Bayeux Tapestry 
showing William’s ships arriving in Hastings 1066
The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the conquest of England in the year 1066

The new Anglo-Norman-French aristocrats built castles on their new land.  From the letters and documents of the time, we can see that their cooks were Norman-French or French while the kitchen help was Anglo-Saxon.  The cooked meats and cooked poultry names were taken from the Norman-French which the cooks used.  However, the live animals were the responsibility of the English kitchen help and the farmers.  So livestock names remained in the German-based Anglo-Saxon English. 
The language of the French cooks on the left.
The language of the kitchen help and the farmers on the right.

 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/Venaison - 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. Included in the 12 are the two queens who were born in Navarre, then an independent nation between France and Spain. The 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 Norman wife, Matilda of Flanders, who was crowned Queen of England in 1068.

Classic British dishes, with French roots, chosen for this post show the Norman – French, and French roots, of what are considered traditional British dishes. True Brits will be pleased that puddings are not included as they are 100% a genuinely 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 and or Irish Breakfast.

Bacon - The word "bacon" together with the word "lard" came to England from France. Today, in both English and French, bacon means smoked or salted meat from a pig. The second French word lard now also means bacon in French, but in  English lard continues to means pig fat, which is saindoux in modern French.  That often creates confusion for English speakers when 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 Fumé Monkfish 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 would be easy to assume that the cafe is offering eggs cooked in pig fat. Less than one-hundred ago, in 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.  Now, even in France, the word has changed, and mushrooms are called champignons.  The old French word mousseron nevertheless 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 primarily used for a large saucisse. While the term boudin is commonly used for uncooked sausages.  That includes the pork or beef sausages that are served grilled or fried for the English and Irish breakfast. In France, a boudin blanc, is a pork, veal or beef sausage, part of light lunch or dinner.  Sausages are not commonly 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 (Black Pudding) with apples

Toast – Toast, Pain Grillé. The French word toster came to England from France where it meant grilled or to grill. The French took the Anglicized word toast and 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.

Blancmange - The Blancmange that came to England with the Normans was very different to today’s French dessert. Blancmange then and now could be anything as in French blancmange just translates as a white food. A modern French blancmange will be a dessert, including powdered almonds, sugar, milk and cream all usually set with jelly.  The menu may also offer versions flavored with strawberries, coconut and other fruits or at least, hopefully, natural fruit flavors. The Norman-French blancmange that came to England was a stew of chicken or calves feet flavored with almonds. Old recipes showing the French and English versions remain. The blancmange offered in Britain today will, hopefully, be nothing like the dish called blancmange that I hated as a child in England. Then blancmange came out of a packet; it was fruit flavored cornstarch and sugar to which milk was added.

Ox-tail soup and stewThese classic British and Irish dishes were taken directly taken from William the Conqueror's soldiers when they arrived in England in 1066.

Many of William's soldiers came from Flanders in northern France where their oxtail stew was called a Hochepot and there it is still is a popular dish. Hochepot would become the traditional British oxtail and stew with plenty of taste from slowly cooked meat with a soft silky texture flavored with the bone marrow that you can feel on your tongue. (The old province of Flanders, is today mostly within the department of Nord on France’s Le Manche (its English Channel and North Sea Coast).

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.  

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. They 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.  Both French and British diners are usually 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 the shepherd's pie began as a Hachis Parmentier d'Agneau.  In France, these much loved traditional recipes are nearly one-hundred years older than 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.

Shepherds Pie

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 the dish is ready to be served.
  Hachis Parmentier

Hachis Parmentier, for beef and Hachis Parmentier d'Agneau for lamb, were named after Antoine-Augustin Parmentier. He was a 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.  The dishes named after him were already French comfort foods and on French restaurant menus by the 1850s.

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 flavor accents, the dishes are the same. Shepherd's pie and cottage pie first appeared on British and British colonial menus only in the early 20th century.  They 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.

Antoine-Augustin Parmentier
The examples shown above are French contributions to traditional British dishes, and there are many others that could have been chosen.

   With all that French influence in the English kitchen
English speaking visitors to France
need better menu translations.
France look after your tourists!

With so many similar words in French and English French menu listings such as those offering a Steak Frites, or Steak Salade, are understood by English speakers. However, 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 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 menu listings 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.


Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2013, 2017, 2019

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog write to Bryan Newman

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