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Food

Food historian Regula Ysewijn on British food heritage and judging the Queen's Platinum Pudding competition

Food historian Regula Ysewijn on British food heritage and judging the Queen's Platinum Pudding competition
Image: GREETJE VAN BUGGENHOUT

We talk to Regula Ysewijn who was a member of the judging panel for the Queen’s Platinum Pudding competition and has spent her life preserving British food heritage. 

Hi Regula. Despite growing up and living in Belgium, you have become an expert on British food culture. How did that fascination start?

It began when I was a small child. We had this skipping rope rhyme, which starts: ‘Black swans, white swans, who’s coming to England with us?’ I was fascinated by it. Everyone my age wanted to go to Disneyland, and I was nagging my parents to go to England. When I was nine, we went on a day trip to Canterbury, and then started having all of our family holidays in Britain.

How did these trips to the UK nurture your interest in British food?

I noticed that if I ordered soup, it came with a different type of bun in every region. So I started only eating soup for lunch as part of this childhood investigation to see what kind of bread would come out of the kitchen. We always ate in pubs, and we ate really well because it was the gastropub era. So I linked delicious food with Britain.

In 2010, you started your blog Miss Foodwise to share your baking, photography and passion for British food history. How did that develop?

It gave me a space to really nurture my love for British food. I wanted to show how amazing British food culture is – and that there is a food culture! Because everyone assumes Britain doesn’t have one. British baking, for example, is very different from French baking. British baking is a home baking culture, while French baking is a goingout- to-buy culture. British baking is very homey, cosy and honest, and you can’t hide behind embellishments.

You’ve since written four books on British food culture and were asked to join the judging panel for the Queen’s Platinum Pudding competition. What was that like?

That was a great honour because number one on my bucket list was to meet the Queen! Now I get to pick her platinum pudding with a team of fantastic judges. I’m so excited to be a little part of that new royal dish that will go into history. 

What do you think is the quintessential British pudding?

It has to be a steamed or boiled pudding. It’s really filling and cosy. Other countries did have similar puddings, but they disappeared out of the history books on the continent where the weather is milder.

Why do you feel these recipes and their heritage need protecting?

It’s so connected to your culture. Many people have told me that because of my books they actually see the culture, while before it was something they were blind to. For example, in my Oats in the North… book, I talk about the importance of tea and toast in Britain, and how you get it after you’ve given birth. And if you’re upset, you get tea and toast. My British friends said to me: ‘We had no idea that was a British thing. We thought everyone did that.’ So I think that’s the lesson: you have to open your eyes to your own culture, because it’s so easily missed.

Regula is a judge on the Belgian version of Bake Off. A new edition of her book Pride and Pudding (Murdoch Books, £30) is available 12 May. Find her latest blog posts at missfoodwise.com.

 

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