Beer in English Cookery – Part III



Below I examine more closely William Fowler’s use of beer in Countryman’s Cooking (1965). For Part II, with some bio on Fowler, see here.

He calls for it first in a dish of stewed pigeon, with observations for those mulling pigeon for food. First, he says it is a luxury food that happens to be cheap.

He notes pigeon is easy to dress. The feathers come out with no trouble, to the point dogs don’t like to fetch them – the feathers stick in their nose.

Fowler ponders the saying that eating pigeon each day a week will kill you. Sobering to read, but he seems finally to reject the idea. Still, forewarned is forearmed.

For the recipe, he says to place pieces of the fowl in a marinade of “draught beer, with added sliced, raw onion and such herbs as you prefer”. He likes bay leaf.

He has fairly specific advice for the beer. Use, he says, “mild, bitter, or old ale”, but make sure it is draught. With “bottled beer … the effect is not the same”.

He means clearly a cask ale of some kind with its residual yeast, vs. filtered, pasteurized bottled beer. I have never read this elsewhere. Fowler deserves credit for a hyper-specialist approach, indeed ahead of his time.

After a night in the marinade, remove meat, then flour, sauté, and casserole. Pour over marinade. If doesn’t cover meat, add water. Cooking is an hour to an hour and a half. Enrich sauce with egg yolk if binding is needed. Add port if a touch of sweetness is wanted.

To accompany: creamed potato, broad beans, Scarlet runners (which is?), or Brussels sprouts.

He states red wine works well for a pigeon marinade and sauce, but he prefers beer, and to drink the wine – claret, he specifies. He adds, for good measure, that rook and “waders” can be treated like pigeon.

Fowler advises beer as an alternative to cider or wine for casseroled rabbit or mutton, and for beef olives, an ancient dish that has attracted Jamie Oliver’s attention. I mentioned earlier Fowler is a proponent of beer for steak and kidney pie. Having read hundreds of recipes for this dish, I think he is in a small minority here; water and stock seem more usual.

Thus the tally of Fowler recipes for which beer is an ingredient. His “Tatie Pot” recipe –  a version of northern hot pot – calls only for water in the jug.




Fowler’s recipe for jugged hare uses a pint of draught cider – no other liquid. A second stewed hare dish is bathed in all-lemon juice. This makes for a rather sour taste, he says, but it will appeal to those who don’t much like hare. Makes sense.

As to roasting hare, he says, don’t go there: too stringy.

For casseroles and stews in which neither beer nor cider figures he calls for red or white wine, or water. For eel, dry white wine removes excess richness. There is no counterpart in the book to the beer and fish cookery of northern France or Belgium, say.

In sum, Fowler accords beer a place in English cookery. In the 1970s Elizabeth Ayrton was capable of writing a 500-page book on traditional English cookery and did not mention beer once. Well, “small beer” I think for pastry, but that hardly counts.

With the exception of a North Country beef-and-beer dish, and I think one for Welsh Rabbit, Dorothy Hartley completely omitted beer from her classic (1954) Food In England.

Some Victorian recipes call for beer, see my Part I, but not in a way approaching the hallowed place of wine in French cooking. If anything the trend since seems the other way.

Conclusion: beer belongs to the English kitchen, but modestly. Its place is fixed in Britain – as a beverage. In food, it is an afterthought, really.

Perhaps there was no room to develop a methodical beer cookery, given the great attention the British have applied to brewing fine beer (to drink).

Note re images used: The first image shown, of hunting the passenger pigeon, is in the public domain, and was sourced here.The second image is attributed as follows: By Tim Green (Flickr: John Smith’s Brewery, Tadcaster) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. It was sourced, here.  Both are used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.