Beer in English Cookery – Part III



I will 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 stewed pigeon, with observations for those mulling (wood) pigeon for food. First, he says it is actually a luxury food, but happens to be cheap.

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

Fowler ponders the old saying that eating pigeon once a day for a week will kill you. Sobering to read in a book with a pigeon recipe, but he seems finally to reject the idea. Still, forewarned is forearmed.

For the recipe, he says place pieces of the fowl in a marinade of “draught beer, with added sliced, raw onion and such herbs as you prefer”. He indicates a preference for 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 anything similar elsewhere. Fowler deserves credit for a hyper-specialist approach here, decades ahead of his time.

After a night in marinade, remove meat then flour, sauté, and casserole it. Pour over the 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 liked.

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

He states red wine serves 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 in casseroled rabbit or mutton, and for beef olives, an ancient dish that attracted Jamie Oliver’s attention. I mentioned earlier Fowler is a proponent of beer in steak and kidney pie. Having read hundreds of recipes for the dish, I think he is in the minority here – water and stock seem more usual.

This is the tally of his recipes for which beer is an ingredient. His “Tatie Pot” recipe –  a version of northern Hot Pot – calls for water as medium.




Fowler’s recipe for jugged hare calls for 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 roast 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 and Belgium, say.

Withal 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 mentioned beer not once. Well, she did mention “small beer” IIRC for raising a pastry, but this hardly counts.

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

Some Victorian recipes do call for beer, see my Part I, but not in a way to suggest anything 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. The place of beer is fixed in Britain – as a beverage, taken alone mostly. Food is at best an afterthought. Perhaps there was no room to develop a methodical beer cookery.

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.