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Living History 2011

With all the gloomy news about cutbacks, grant cuts and austerity it seems fair to expect a bleak year ahead for Living History and anything that doesn’t involve the forthcoming Olympics in 2012. However it isn’t by any means all doom and gloom, so especial praise for free events Read more…

Rationing: Real Women and the Home Front

It’s about time I moved nearer to the present in articles about the past. There are all sorts of sites that itemise how rationing worked during World War 2, but I want to try and give an idea of how it felt to live in the period when ration books reappeared in 1939. Read more…

Weird but Wonderful: Potato Pie

Cold potato pie

The heavy pastry crust is a hangover from the earlier pastry 'coffins' which were used as containers for interesting fillings

Potatoes are nowadays such a staple ingredient in the U.K. that it’s difficult to imagine life – or traditional English meals -without them. There’s a huge variety nowadays, offering different colours, flavours and textures (floury, waxy) and availability all through the year. So it’s even more surprising to discover that when they were first brought back to England they weren’t an overnight success. When they first made their appearance in the latter part of the 16th century people were used to cereals cooked in their pottage, and bread of varying qualities with their meals. This was either served to accompany dishes, or sliced and served under meaty dishes as sippets which could absorb the meaty juices. So the poor potato had no clear role or position to fill, and chips were yet to be invented… Read more…

Washday Blues: how did they keep clean?

    Until fairly recently washing was a difficult and physically demanding job.  In the Tudor period outer garments belonging to the wealthy could not easily be washed, only brushed and aired for freshness, sometimes being hung in the approach to a (private rather than communal) garderobe so that the ammonia fumes would disinfect clothes from infestations.  The fine fabrics;  silks,  brocades and velvets, Read more…

Traditional Nursery Rhymes

It seems a pity that these are going out of fashion. Children today, according to the media, can recite advertising jingles and sing television tunes, but are losing the words of ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ and ‘Humpty Dumpty’. They lack relevance or purpose, we’re told, not to mention political correctness. I would dispute their lack of relevance: many of them started life as lampoons or summaries of events, and sum up past events in very few words.  They ridicule kings and politicians with equal enthusiasm and many of them have lasted hundreds of years with the words varying through the generations. Read more…

Marchpane revisited

As there has been quite a bit of interest in the article on marchpane I have  added a footnote to it, showing the new one that was made for the Tudor Christmas at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich. It allowed me to play with my interest in the use of symbols and visual compliments during the medieval and Tudor periods. Nowadays life is comparatively bland, with the nearest comparison being in the use of logos and branding with which we associate products. However, in the past when literacy levels were proportionately lower, visual symbols held more significance and were found in the food of the wealthy as well as in art.

I hope it may provide a starting point for someone else to develop their ideas to make their own marchpane, perhaps to mark a birthday, wedding or christening.

Our Curious Christmas – its Traditions and their Origins

Christmas is a time for tradition, when many of us choose to do things the same way year after year; that is both the blessing and the curse of the season. Often, trying to put our customs into some sort of perspective can be quite liberating. This will be a quick romp through some English Christmas habits with an attempt to give their origins. Obviously, with ideas that have developed over centuries, there are variations, geographical limitations and differences of opinion. Please feel free to comment if you think I’ve gone wildly wrong and you know better. Read more…

Marvellous Marchpane (marzipan)

Have you ever given a thought to that rich gooey layer nestled between the actual Christmas cake and the decorative icing that coats it? Nowadays it no longer has its original importance, sitting centre stage as a statement of wealth, and for most of us it simply comes in a plastic coated pack, used without thinking. However, its antecedents go back to the Romans who made a confection of almonds and egg whites, and it reached its zenith in the late Middle Ages and the sixteenth century before losing its role as a status piece at the banquet. Read more…

All TORM'd out

This weird phrase is in frequent use by re enactors at the moment; what does it mean? Read more…

Hallowe’en

It’s that time of year again. The shops are full of pumpkins and dressing up outfits. Shelves are groaning under all the sweets and cakes and on Sunday the door will reverberate to knocks and thinly disguised threats unless placatory offerings are made. It’s all become more reminiscent of Saturnalia; the ancient Roman festival that falls during December when roles were reversed and the young and the servants ruled the roost. Read more…