Centre for Culture and the Arts 

European Cuisine and British Identity in the Age of Nationalism 1760 to 1837

Using George III’s Kew Menu Ledger, this work looks at the ingredients that featured in the palace kitchen, and the language used to describe what the King and his household ate.

European Cuisine and British Identity in the Age of Nationalism 1760 to 1837

The challenge

This work looks to discover the ways in which European influences have been present in the British diet for as long as there has been a sense of Britishness as a national identity.

By linking findings with our research on 18th-century cookbooks, we are developing a new understanding of what both the King and his subjects ate, and how this might help us to understand the complex ways in which British and European identities have becoming inextricably intertwined over several centuries.

How to… make a pie fit for a king In these strange times many of us are spending more time in the kitchen trialling new recipes and experimenting with food. But have you ever tried to make a dish worthy of royalty? Join food historian Rachel Rich as she shows you how to make a pie fit for a Georgian king.

The new British cookbook The food we eat is rooted in Britain’s connections to its international and colonial past - from the occasional peacocks that graced the dining tables at the court of King George III to the chicken tikka masala we know and love today. In this event, food historians will unpick 250 years of food in Britain, charting how changing tastes have influenced contemporary cuisines. Discover how classic Italian and German dishes were tweaked to suit royal palates in the Georgian era, learn about the colonial origins of 19th and 20th century recipes like Mrs Beeton’s mango chutney, and test your own foodie knowledge in pop-quizzes. Part of Being Human Festival, 12-22 November

The Approach 

Looking at ledger books from Kew Palace and other royal households we can discover the range of dishes served to British kings. We ask ourselves: Are these dishes British, and what makes them so? What national, European and global influences appear on the King’s table? And how do these dishes resemble what was served at the tables of ordinary British people?

To answer these questions, we are producing a searchable database of all the King’s dinners at Kew, and linking our findings there to research about what the King’s subjects knew about food and cooking, through cookbooks and medical texts, and a wide variety of other primary sources.

The Impact 

Developing a clearer understanding of how British diets were being shaped by international influences in the 18th century is giving us new insight into what it meant to be British at a time when the idea of ‘you are what you eat’ was taken much more literally than it is today.

Big events like Brexit, but also a global pandemic, can make people think about who they are, and what their place is in the world. Understanding the historical roots of Britishness is important for people who want to understand how to think about their national identity in the 21st century.

Research outputs 

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