A 73-year-old rebuff of Orwell, the author of “1984” and “Animal Farm,” recently came to light, and he received a belated apology for it on Thursday. The British Council, which promotes international cultural relations, asked Orwell in 1946 to write an essay on British cuisine, in an effort to persuade European neighbours that the food did not deserve its notoriously poor reputation.
But the council not only turned up its nose at Orwell’s essay, called “British Cookery,” sending a rejection letter to the writer along with an accompanying cheque for 30 guineas, it also roundly rejected Orwell’s recipe for orange marmalade, scrawling across his directions: “Bad recipe!” and “Too much sugar and water.”
Orwell’s essay on British cuisine went unpublished. But his writing was never the issue. The original editor acknowledged it had been an “excellent” essay. The rejection was pinned, in part, to the dislike for his recipe. “Rather embarrassingly, we rejected the finest writer on politics of the 20th century in the English language,” Alasdair Donaldson, a senior policy analyst at the organisation, said. An archivist discovered the exchange between Orwell and the council’s publications department while hunting through some historical files. It wrote that the rejection of the essay came out of concern that the piece was lauding UK’s food while rationing was still in place after World War II.
Alongside the essay, Orwell had shared recipes — including ones for pudding, treacle tart and marmalade. Although the council accepted that it had made a mistake in rejecting the essay, it stood firm on the criticism of marmalade recipe. “It would have turned out too watery,” Donaldson said.