News Research

November 30, 2021 at 2:36 pm

Bell and Moran research food in the inter-war years in Britain, from tripe to tea

Bell and Moran at the School of Economics and Business Studies, Roma Tre University,

Bell and Moran at the School of Economics and Business Studies, Roma Tre University.

From Ohio University News

For Drs. David Bell and Theresa Moran, their research is often a journey where food, culture and language entwine. Their latest research also evokes memories—the smells and tastes of growing up in Manchester, where tripe was one of the most popular foods in Northwest England and Sunday meant rambling around the countryside and stopping at farmhouses for “tea.”

Their collaborative food studies research agenda currently focuses on foodways in the inter-war years in Britain. Bell is chair and associate professor of Linguistics, and Moran is adjunct associate professor of instruction in Environmental & Plant Biology, both in the College of Arts & Sciences.

Their latest publication tells the story of the rise and fall of United Cattle Products, which operated 166 tripe restaurants and retail establishments and 12 factories in and around Manchester, in the Northwest of England. In their day, UCP cafes were as popular as McDonald’s are today. Tripe is the muscle wall of cow stomach.

“This research has really connected me to my youth growing up in Manchester,” Bell said. “I used to relish eating honeycomb tripe in salad. Pro tip: fill each honeycomb with malt vinegar!”

Moran notes that tripe preparations were the original “nose to tail” dishes. She added that “tripe offered the working class a sustainable way to enjoy beef, and now contemporary notions of disgust and distain have pushed this nutritious and inexpensive product off consumers’ plates.”

In “Superfine Quality, Absolute Purity, Daily Freshness:” The Language of Advertising in United Cattle Products’ Marketing of Tripe to British Workers in the 1920s and 1930s, a chapter in Food for Thought. Numanities – Arts and Humanities in Progress, Bell and Moran note that “an examination of images used in the advertising of tripe reveals a message that tripe is cooked in middle-class homes by stay-at-home moms and enthusiastically eaten by white-collar fathers and children, so fulfilling working people’s aspirational social needs for a happy home and family. UCP’s advertising also connected tripe to higher order needs of self-esteem and actualisation by validating such moral qualities as perseverance and endurance, qualities especially espoused by people in the industrial Northwest as part of their work ethic.”

‘Tea and Hot Water Provided’

Their latest research explores the food that hikers, or ramblers as they are called in Britain, ate in the inter-war years as described in the weekly Rambling Notes by W E Hopkin. Hopkin’s weekly column appeared in the Ripley and Heanor News. Ripley is just to the southeast of the Peak District, one of Britain’s favorite hiking districts. Hopkin was famous throughout the Midlands as a writer, poet and naturalist and was a friend of D.H. Lawrence. His weekly column describes the previous Sunday’s hike of the Border Ramblers Association, of which he was the president, and gives the destinations, times, and meeting place of the upcoming Sunday ramble. And in these rambling notes, there are wonderful descriptions of the teas they stopped for in farmhouses and cottages that bore the sign: “Tea and Hot Water Provided.”

“Just to be clear,” says Bell, “The tea described by Hopkin was neither the evening meal known as ‘tea’ in the North of England nor ‘afternoon tea,’ which was a decidedly aristocratic invention to bridge the long wait between lunch and dinner. Here, ‘Tea and Hot Water Provided’ refers to the sale of a beverage with sandwiches and cakes alongside a more economical option—ramblers could bring their own tea leaves in a thermos to be filled with the purchased hot water.” Moran comments that these rambles provided the urban dwellers a temporary reprieve or escape from city life and that throughout Hopkin’s columns, he emphasizes the “wholesome,” “homemade,” and “authentic” fare found on the countryside rambles.

Because of the size of the hiking groups—often between 15 to 25 people—and the improvisational nature of the tea establishments, arrangements usually had to be made in advance. On the day of the ramble, a couple of hikers would go on ahead to warn the lady (the host was usually female) of the imminent arrival of the main party and of the necessity to start boiling the water.

Sometimes, there was no forward planning and ramblers had to ask around if a host would take them in.

On one occasion, as Hopkin recounts in his Notes, finding tea was even more serendipitous: “We wandered around Ruddington looking for somewhere to get tea but found no place whatever. We were just about to commence a few choice maledictions when a boy came up and said that his mother would make tea for us…. So we had a comfortable tea in a comfortable room and afterwards left for Nottingham and home.”

For Hopkin, these communal meals together represent the apotheosis of conviviality: “Miss Smedley had a cheerful fire and presently brought out bacon in a lordly dish… And also eggs—on the same dish. We ate, drank, and watched it rain … and were vastly contented. Then the rain once more ceased and we sallied forth….” The food is described  as wholesome  and authentic: “bread (brown and white) home-made, butter home-made, pastry and cakes home-made, trifle with lots of real cream produced on the premises…. Indeed it was a sumptuous and merry meal.”

These teas also provided opportunities to play games like dominoes and ring games, chat, and sing. One of the songs they probably sang was Manchester Rambler by Ewan McColl, with its chorus of protest, “I may be a wage slave on Monday/But I am a free man on Sunday.” It’s a song Bell remembers well from his days in Manchester when he, too, used to ramble in the Peak District.

“Reading Hopkin’s weekly column again brought back many memories of my roots in the North of England,” Bell said. “It even inspired me to sing the chorus of Manchester Rambler at the conference we were presenting at.

The conference was the annual conference of the International Commission on European Food History held at Roma Tre University’s School of Economics and Business Studies held Sept. 7-10.

“It may well be the last time I sing at a conference. I surprised myself. But when you are working with material that re-connects you with cultural activities and foodways that you once shared, it is hard to resist,” Bell said.

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