Long Sutton couple teaching history through food

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If an era is defined by its food, what will future historians make of the way we go on today?

We like meals fast; we prefer to buy things hygienically shrink wrapped; and then we waste a huge amount of food.

Yes, you could make chocolate pudding during the war: using sago. Julia Gant demonstrates war-time improvisation. Photo: SG100814-100TW

Yes, you could make chocolate pudding during the war: using sago. Julia Gant demonstrates war-time improvisation. Photo: SG100814-100TW

“There is a lack of respect for food,” believes Julia Gant, of 4 and 20 Blackbirds, based in Long Sutton.

“It has become fun to go back and translate the recipes of the past, to find out what they were eating.”

Julia and husband Nigel have been doing precisely that for the past five years as living history interpreters.

They interpret the food and the rituals that went along with it at various stages of history, looking initially at the medieval and Tudor times.

Learning history is good fun, discovers Charlie Ward, making Spam sandwiches with Cheryl Kalane and Julia Gant. Photo: SG100814-111TW

Learning history is good fun, discovers Charlie Ward, making Spam sandwiches with Cheryl Kalane and Julia Gant. Photo: SG100814-111TW

Now, they cover anything from 1400 up to 1945, though Nigel is less likely to get involved in the Second World War period because of family memories, says Julia.

Julia uses historic recipe books for her research, which tell her not only what people were eating but how it would have been served.

For instance, a 1790s recipe book describes how to lay the table as well as how to prepare recipes.

Food was also medical, as Julia has discovered from some of the old texts.

She says: “In medieval times you had hots and colds and the four humours and these were designed to take care of health.

“Even in the 18th century you have recipes to take warts away from the hands and face, and sweet scented bath oils and it’s in there with a stiff cake or how to pickle and preserve.”

Translating the recipes also means deciding on oven temperatures for food that would have been cooked on an open fire – ranges didn’t come in until about 1830..

However, Julia says: “There’s a pie crust recipe from the 1730s and I don’t use anything else. It’s that good.”

For Julia though, the whole point of all the research and interpretation is education.

She says: “We are not caterers. I do cater occasionally if the venue is good and the project looks good, but at the back of my mind it is always education.”

They have been asked to appear at some choice events, such as an 1850 dinner at which guests will be served by a butler (usually Nigel) and a footman.

Then there was the Napoleonic ball in Elba for 150 people from all over the world, and the 1814 tavern they ran for re-enactors attending an event at the Chiltern Open Air Museum.

More routine historic interpretations are carried out in local schools and at Ayscoughfee Hall in Spalding.

Julia says: “We look at the social history and the hearth and the food is the centre of the home. I think we can define our history through food and the rituals of food.”