Flemish food photographer Regula Ysewijn celebrates British cuisine

Summary

Obsessed with Britain from an early age, Flemish photographer and blogger Regula Ysewijn has just released a book focusing on the history of Britain’s puddings

Pride and puddings

Regula Ysewijn is a Flemish photographer and graphic designer who is passionate about all things British, especially the food. So much so that she created a blog, Miss Foodwise, to celebrate it.

Her blog and Instagram account have been nominated for several awards, and TV chef Jamie Oliver is a big fan. She has now published her first book, Pride and Pudding, which tells the history of British puddings, from ancient times to the present day.

Ysewijn, who is also a trained beer sommelier and attends culinary school in Antwerp, originally had a love-hate relationship with food. “As a child, I was a very difficult eater; it was a big issue,” she says. “I became interested in food because it was so hard to find something I liked. My mother didn’t like to cook, which resulted in dull Flemish fare: meat, vegetables and potatoes on a daily basis. It wasn’t something I enjoyed eating; I just had to.”

Her fascination with Britain began with a nursery rhyme: Witte zwanen, zwarte zwanen wie gaat er mee naar Engeland varen? (White swans, black swans, who’s going sailing with me to England?)

“To me it was such a mythical place,” she says. “Everyone wanted to go to Disneyland; I wanted to go to England!”

And she got there as early as eight years of age. “When my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday, the answer was easy. We travelled around England and visited pubs for dinner, and that’s where my passion for food started.”

What has defined British cuisine throughout the ages is the quality of the produce and getting it all locally. “Because there are so many remote areas in England,” Ysewijn explains, “there wasn’t a lot of importing going on. So people focused on growing and raising the best produce they could. Every region now has its own specialities.”

Puddings: a history

Which is why her original idea, to write about the cuisine in general, would have resulted in something a little more encyclopaedic. So she ultimately decided to focus on the pudding – not the creamy yellow dish known in Flanders but a concept with a much broader meaning.

“The pudding is something that popped up quite early in their cuisine,” Ysewijn says. “Back in the day, pudding wasn’t just the name of a dish, it also referred to intestines. By adding other intestines or wheat, like in haggis, it often became sweeter – making the current link with desserts.

“So it was a dish, it was what went in the dish, and now it’s a dessert. The name as well as what it refers to keeps on evolving. In mainland Europe, we only have black pudding and white pudding, but that’s all due to etymology.”

Pudding in all its shapes and forms is a central part of British cuisine and quite unique due to the variety. The Dutch-language Pride and Pudding, with an English translation on the way, combines history and recipes, showing us the evolution of Britain as well as its dishes. Ysewijn always incorporates the original pudding recipes on which hers are based, accompanied by background information and photographs. 

They were still rationing until 1954, which meant there were several generations who never learned to cook with fresh produce.

“I wanted to write a book about food,” Ysewijn continues, “but not a cookbook. What interests me is the origin of these puddings, how they were initially created. I wanted to write a book about the food culture and history to show how it changes through the ages.”

Pudding, for example, “both sweet and savoury, was part of every course,” she explains, “but now it’s only served at the end of the meal. This evolution is something I try to illustrate in my book. The history and evolution are very important in understanding the term ‘pudding’.”

Many of the puddings featured in Pride and Pudding have now been forgotten, so for some it’s the first time they have been published with a photograph. For people who are interested in food culture, it’s quite a treat.

Despite the abundance of British celebrity chefs, prejudices about British cuisine abound, making Ysewijn’s book unique subject matter for a non-native. “Their food culture suffered a blow during the world wars because England is an island and limited imports during the period,” she explains. “They were still rationing until 1954, which meant there were several generations who never learned to cook with fresh produce. Add to that the famous Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published in the 1860s, which was reissued and filled with all kinds of nonsense, like you had to boil carrots for an hour. Everyone who didn’t have a mum or grandmother to teach them how to cook learned from this book.”

After the Second World War, the British imported a lot of processed food from the US. “Combined with Mrs Beeton, British cuisine was at a low point,” says Ysewijn. “People had to wait until the 1990s for chefs like Gary Rhodes and Jamie Oliver to finally change this way of cooking and make it accessible.”

Pride and Pudding (€35) is published in Dutch by Davidsfonds. The English version is expected next spring

Photo: Regula Ysewijn                                         

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