Food & Togetherness Yorkshire puddings as shared celebration
This Sunday, 7th February, as the UK celebrates Yorkshire Pudding Day, the cup like golden staple of a traditional British rosbif Sunday dinner reminds us of food’s capacity to bring us together for moments of shared enjoyment.
This capacity is by no means unique to the UK, but it is perfectly summarised in the Yorkshire pudding, a symbol that embodies many of the core meanings of food as shared celebration.
Gathering for a meal is an important family ritual in most parts of the world and for most cultures, and one particular (weekly) meal often exemplifies this. Be it the gathering on Friday evening for the Shabbat dinner in Jewish culture, the Arab tradition of crowding around the pot of cooked rice, vegetables and meat to watch the spectacle of carefully flipping it maqluba (literally meaning “upside down”) and eating together from the same dish, or the aforementioned British Sunday roast.
These meals typically involve a complex palette of ingredients, with a balance of protein and vegetable ingredients, and are prepared and served with an added level of craft and care. All of which communicate a sense of healthful and caring nurture between individuals. The act of flipping the dish maqluba, for example, is one of careful mastery, often carried out by an older family figure signifying their benevolence and caring generosity. While the ‘at the table’ carving and serving of a roast dinner represents similar values. This is further reflected in the recent Aunt Bessie’s campaign, “Caring is the Hardest Thing We Do” (and who if not Aunt Bessie, represents caring benevolence!).
The comforting yet healthful credentials of these meals are sometimes even overtly referenced, such as referring to traditional Chicken Soup with Matzo balls as “Jewish Penicillin”.
What is also notable is that these shared dinners are typically warm meals, marking a sense of temporality. These foods must be eaten whilst they are hot, within a short time frame and in close proximity to where they are prepared, creating an intimate occasion moment. The physical warmth further serves as a metaphor and vehicle of the familial warmth between participants (whatever their real feelings at the time might be!). Meals of this nature necessitate close interaction through the ongoing activity of passing, sharing, pouring and serving to and from one another.
Comfort is also revealed through format. It is notable that the cup like shape of a Yorkshire Pudding, resembles the bowls for serving Chicken Soup, or the central bubbling vessel of a traditional Chinese Steamboat meal. The cup/bowl format physically ‘holds’ the contents serving as a further metaphor of the gathering and shielding of the family or group. Rather than numerous distinct elements to add to individual plates, these formats are the shared core from which the eating occasion emanates.
It is also worth thinking about ingredients, Yorkshire puddings are made from the now everyday combination of eggs, flour, and milk, but this combination is also associated with pancakes, a link present in the earliest recipes for Yorkshire puddings:
“Make a good batter as for pancakes; put in a hot toss-pan over the fire with a bit of butter to fry the bottom a little then put the pan and butter under a shoulder of mutton”
Pancakes, of course, are associated with feasting, and the using up of rich ingredients before the restraint of lent. Pancakes therefore share a subtle sense of indulgence with Yorkshire puddings, of taking the best and richest ingredients, and looking to share the bounty with others.
Finally, in a modern context the use of the iconic Yorkshire pudding format has been adapted and integrated, to engage with a wide variety of disparate culinary traditions, reflecting the multicultural landscape of the UK. A Pan-Asian restaurant in Harrogate has created a giant Yorkshire pudding filled with chicken curry, reflecting the chef’s British-Asian heritage. Similarly, Yorkshire Burrito in Camden Market offers Yorkshire puddings stuffed with various Tex-Mex inspired ingredients, adding a third cuisine into their hybrid mix. While a couple of years ago Morrison’s tried their hand at a Yorkshire pudding pizza. Across all of these border spanning innovations, the essence of the Yorkshire pudding remains consistent; to act as a semiotic centrepiece, signifying care and belonging, and holding and binding foods, and people, together. As we look forward to an end to Lockdown, we can also look forward to food playing a profound role in bringing our families and friends back together. We shall meet again and we shall eat again, together.
Key takeouts for brands:
- Seemingly everyday food stuffs can be vehicles for important cultural meanings
- Understanding this meaningful context, is important for any brand to develop culturally resonant communications that build on established narratives
- Dramatic creative innovation can occur where existing meanings are respected and furthered, maintaining authentic heritage of the core element
Lailah Choudhry, Semiotician, & Mark Lemon, Project Director