Food and reflection

As we settle into 2016 we reflect on recent activities from the past year…

Over the holiday season many of us have indulged in a range of winter comfort foods and festive treats, from turkey and sprouts to mince pies and puddings. In the lead up to the Christmas break visitors were invited to Special Collections for our third and final Explore Your Archives event of the year, with the focus of the afternoon being (somewhat appropriately) food! The material on display covered areas such as the cultivation of food, food preparation, household management, food supplies, consumption of food (including some fine dining), and food relief.

Lankester & Crook price lists for the Christmas Season on display for the 'Food, Glorious Food' open afternoon

Lankester & Crook price lists for the Christmas Season on display for the ‘Food, Glorious Food’ open afternoon

Beginning with a section on cultivation, one of the first items was a plan and catalogue for trees in the kitchen gardens at Broadlands from 1769 which, incidentally, coincided with work done on the estate by ‘Capability’ Brown whose 300th anniversary will be celebrated later in the year. This was followed by a selection of material relating to the management of crops and livestock.

The United Nations has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses, with the aim being to “promote broad discussion and cooperation at the national, regional and global levels to increase awareness and understanding of the challenges faced by pulse farmers, be they large scale farms or small land holders.” As the planet’s population continues to increase, pulses such as beans, lentils and peas, are recognised as a sustainable crop which provide a low-fat source of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals.

The Perkins Agricultural Library, which primarily supports research on the general practice and improvement of agriculture in the 18th and 19th centuries, also holds a range of material focusing on areas such as household management. On display was William Ellis’ The country housewife’s family companion (London, 1750) which contains the following useful tips for preserving broad beans and peas: “To preserve broad beans and pease dry: take them out of their pods before they are ripe and while their skin is green strip them of their skin and dry them thoroughly in the sun; rub them all over with winter-savory, and barrel them up in straw or chaff, or without either, provided you keep the air from them. In winter or spring, or when they are wanted, soak them six hours in warm water, and then boil them for eating…” [Perkins TX 151]

A highlight from the selection of cook books and recipes was Florence Greenberg’s classic Jewish Cookery Book. First published in 1947, the book proved hugely popular with post war Anglo-Jewish households, bringing a mix of British and continental cooking. She described the Jewish influences as being seen clearly in the fish dishes, sauces and puddings.

There were also many examples of fine dining drawn from the papers of third Viscount Palmerston, Lady Swaythling, Lord Mountbatten, and W.W.Ashley and Cunard cruise ships, including menus, dinner books, and letters reporting on dinner parties and social gatherings. In contrast, somewhat less savoury culinary descriptions were to be found among the journals of William Mogg. Written during his time on Captain Edward Parry’s expeditions to the Arctic in the 1820s, Mogg describes methods used to thaw the crew’s frozen supplies — leaving them in a fire hole for three days — as well as the Christmas festivities enjoyed by the crew.

Chris Woolgar giving his talk on food related resources

Chris Woolgar giving his talk on food related resources

The visit to Special Collections was followed by a talk by Chris Woolgar who provided a highly engaging and comprehensive analysis of a number of the items on display. The evening was then rounded off with some tea and seasonal treats!

As we plan events for the year ahead we would like to thank everyone who attended our open afternoons over the past few months. Details of forthcoming events will be announced on our blog and website in the near future.

We hope to see you in Archives soon!

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