Britain’s Strangest Food Superstitions


CLAIRE BARRAND discusses strange folklore in the kitchen and the rules we must follow to ensure we don’t have back luck!

Does a watched pot ever boil?
Does a watched pot ever boil?

Once upon a time, in Britain, there were many bizarre folklore tales about food and kitchen magic, with superstitions being adhered to, for a great fear of reprisal may fall upon those who did not take heed of the old wives’ tales.

Many housewives believed that to stir a pot of food “widdershins” meaning in the opposite direction to the sun, meant that the food would spoil.

The reason for this being that they believed witches danced in this way.

Does a watched pot never boil?

You may have heard the saying “a watched pot never boils”? But ever wondered where it came from?

In Dorset, it is common knowledge that a slow-boiling kettle is bewitched and may contain a toad!

It was ill-advised to ever throw eggshells onto a fire because it would cause your chickens to stop laying or even worse, create a storm out at sea and anyone that burned bread was said to have “fed the devil”.

It was said to never sharpen a knife after the sun sets because this attracts misfortune and even worse, it was believed to attract murderers or thieves to the house.

Crosses on your bread

When baking bread, it was and still is common to mark a cross on the top, but maybe you didn’t know that this was said to “let the devil out”?

In Yorkshire, housewives used to swear that bread dough would not prove if they had a corpse in the house too.

If someone cut both ends off the loaf, the devil would be sure to fly over your home as well, so be warned!

Don’t spill salt!

Salt has fantastic food preserving properties, and it is probably because of this that the next superstition arose.

To spill salt would be said to anger providence, remember Judas dropping the salt during the last supper?

Cooking Superstitions: Don't spill salt!
Cooking Superstitions: Don’t spill salt!

It is an omen of bad luck, but this is commonly thought to be counteracted by the act of throwing salt over the left shoulder to throw dust into the eyes of the devil, who sits on your left shoulder.

Remember which is your left and right, however, because to throw salt over your right shoulder would be to throw it into the eyes of your guardian angel.

Some other strange omens about food were that eating marrow bone from pork would make you go mad as would combining mushrooms with almond icing!

I would love to know who tried this combination the first place because it sounds positively revolting!

Folklore about eggs

A double-yolked egg, I always thought was lucky, however, this is not the case if you live in Somerset.

It was felt that if you get a double yolk, then there would be a shotgun wedding shortly due to an unexpected pregnancy!

There are loads of superstitions about cooking and kitchen etiquette.
There are loads of superstitions about cooking and kitchen etiquette.

Beer was commonly brewed in barrels with an iron bar crossing them to ward off demons from spoiling the contents.

But being teetotal didn’t let you off the hook from other superstitions!

Follow tea rules to a T

Pouring tea from the pot after someone else had already poured it was considered a way to ensure pregnancy so depending on your hopes or fears that was possibly good or bad luck!

Another belief was that you added sugar to your teacup before adding the milk than tea because adding the sugar after the liquid meant a broken romance.

Accidentally placing two teaspoons into your cup, however, was a great omen and betokened a wedding shortly!


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