One of the exciting things about this past year at Strawbery Banke is that I have been able to explore a lot more food history. I had spent the last couple years teaching myself about medieval foodways, but it was awesome to look, first at colonial food, then Jewish cooking, and finally getting the chance to dip my toes into traditional Irish fare.
For Candlelight Stroll I am in the kitchen of the Victorian mansion, portraying an Irish servant, so when asked if I wanted to do some cooking, I jumped at the chance. The dichotomy of a girl coming from a culture of starvation (1850s Ireland) to become the cook in a house where almost any food is available in almost any season is extremely fascinating. Some of my bosses talked about the decadence of Victorian cooking, others about the long traditions of Ireland. At first I was at a bit of a loss, I had a short time to read up on two different food cultures, and I did not have a lot of museum support since the regular season was over. Still, I knew some basics: pies and puddings are good Victorian celebratory fare, tea and soda bread are good Irish traditions.
I called on my own Irish connection and my aunt Kathleen came through. She mailed me a copy of A taste of Ireland in Food and Pictures by Theodora Fitzgibbon. What a great book! Kathleen had marked her favorite recipes and I picked out one that looked good, a fruit-cake-like dessert that seemed festive enough, called Tea Brack.
|The recipe book, surrounded by at least some of the ingredients|
|The tea rack sits among the other goodies and looks splendid|
Photo by Jess Boynton