Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Thinking about Food

At the end of a recent British cooking show that I found via the Historic Cookery blog a bunch of historians sit around a table and get to have a meal of recipes from a 14th century cookbook. Right at the end the only male at the table gets quite emotional (for a British academic on television) about experiencing the recipes he has before only studied as words on a page. The cook who had prepared the recipes comes back at him, “You enjoyed it!” and he admits to enjoying it and that it brought to life something he otherwise could only read about.

We’ve been working on food in the Living History Podcast. Last month we did an overview of why food is important and what adding cooking can add to an historical portrayal. Then we followed it up with an episode specifically on cookfires and what one needs to cook over an open flame. Some day we’ll have to do an episode on food storage and keeping in a time before refrigeration, or maybe the class conscious or religious uses of food.

This weekend is our first guild workshop for the upcoming fall season and we’re planning to talk cooking in preparation for the upcoming event schedule. This fall we’ll be cooking for the guild five weekends in a row, sometimes three days per weekend; sometimes one meal per day, sometimes two. I’m thinking about meal planning and our daily schedule, weekend attendance as well as what new receipts I want to try.

So, dear reader, have you any suggestions for me? Any historical dishes that tickled your fancy, or any books on food that made you want to waltz into the kitchen and never come back out?

On a related note. A great article recently came out of Colonial Williamsburg talking about why they recreate historical skills and not just historical objects. I think this totally applies to cooking and eating, so I’m including it here.


  1. Ahh food. The connection is (pardon the pun) visceral and I can easily see why the historian was emotionally moved. One "Soul Food" (black Southern American) chef summed it up this way. She said, 'Cooking and sharing that food is intimate. Think about it, when else do you get to put something of yourself into someone else's body?'

    That Williamsburg article was very good. In addition to talking about the reason to recreate skills not just objects, it reminded me of one of their podcast interviews with a blacksmith and the important lesson "period thinking" they learned. Basically, the smiths were working to recreate a door lock. They carefully disassembled an original and took precise measurements of all its parts. But despite faithfully reproducing all the parts the reproduction could not be assembled. Finally, they realized no colonial smith would work in such a manner (making all the parts and THEN building it), instead each part was crafted as needed and specifically fitted to the one before it.

    DOING period tasks/skills can sometimes offer more insight into our ancestors thoughts and experiences than any period documentation they may have left behind. This is especially true of cooking and eating period foods.

  2. Well I don't think hardtack or boiled oats will ever add much to a Historical Trek accept authenticity, but I guess there are limitatations as to what can be classed as "Trail Food".
    Regards, Le Loup.

  3. Hi Alena! Might I suggest the three dishes that were prepared in the "Clarissa and the Kings Cookbook" video? Or something similar. Just because they ALL refute the long-standing myth that food of the past (whether British or any other) was dull, bland, tasteless, etc. Just a thought!

  4. I have to admit that my favourite period food is a marigold tart, from one of the 16th or early 17th century cookbooks (might be Good Housewifes Jewele, might be Kenham Digby, might be Fettisplace). To the extent that my late mother in law grew marigolds purely so they could be harvested, dried, and turned into tarts :)

  5. Boiled oats (i.e. oatmeal) is one of the most popular breakfasts in our house, so I think there will always be a place for it where historically appropriate.

    I am going to try the fish recipe and the Pears recipe from the "Clarissa" episode, they both look delicious, not too hard, and hopefully they will stretch our modern tastes a little.

    I have tons of marigolds in the garden! Now I've got to try marigold tart.

    Thanks for all the advice everyone!