The British Council has released a previously unpublished essay ‘British Cookery’ by George Orwell after originally rejecting it in 1946 – along with several recipes by the writer.
The UK’s international organisation for cultural and educational opportunities turned down the essay that it had initially commissioned partly because of concern about how the piece would be received by the ‘continental reader’ – presumably because of the food shortages in mainland Europe.
A rejection letter from the British Council Publications Department and the editor’s notes which have also been published, acknowledge the ‘excellent’ essay, but ‘with one or two minor criticisms’ – one of which is that Orwell’s recipe for orange marmalade contains ‘too much sugar and water’.
At the time the organisation was anxious to avoid producing an essay about food (even one which mentions the disastrous effects of wartime rationing) in the aftermath of the hungry winter of 1945. A shorter version of the essay was later published in the Evening Standard.
The full article, not published in previous editions of Orwell’s collected works, also includes the writer’s recipes for Christmas Pudding, Welsh Rarebit and Treacle Tart.
In the essay Orwell defends traditional British cuisine against its detractors, explaining that ‘the characteristic British diet is a simple, rather heavy, perhaps slightly barbarous diet, drawing much of its virtue from the excellence of the local materials, and with its main emphasis on sugar and animal fats’.
“When people overseas talk about the cultural assets of the United Kingdom, its cuisine tends to come fairly low down on a list that is dominated by education, arts, science, music and more,” said Alasdair Donaldson, British Council Senior Policy Analyst and Editor of organisation’s Insight newsletter.
“But despite this, Orwell mounts a sturdy defence of our cooking – and food is one of the best ways in which different world cultures can exchange traditions and knowledge to learn from and appreciate each other.
“Orwell was one of the finest minds on politics and the English language - but opinions are divided on his orange marmalade.”
Orwell once wrote of literature that ‘the effort is too much to make if one has already squandered one's energies on semi-creative work such as teaching, broadcasting or composing propaganda for bodies such as the British Council.’
This previously unpublished correspondence reveals a possible reason behind Orwell’s attitude towards the organisation.