Historic cooking class in London

I’m very excited to have been asked to give a talk and run a workshop at the forthcoming Just Festival Westminster, taking place in London from 10th – 21st June 2015.

First, details of the workshop:


David Reykart. Detail from Still lIfe with Lobster (c. 1620-30). In Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels.

14th June, 15:30 – 18:30
This workshop is a combination of a short illustrated talk and a hands-on cookery session. Inspired by Barbara Wheaton’s amazing classes on approaches to reading historical cookbooks, I’ll give a brief presentation on some of the ways we can think about texts and images that help to draw out the maximum of information and historical context. Then, the class (12-15 people) will divide into small groups. Each group will be given a C17th or C18th recipe that I have redacted for the modern kitchen, and the ingredients and equipment to prepare it. Once we’ve all cooked, we’ll eat and discuss the food together, seeing what a hands-on approach to research and a convivial environment can do for our understanding of the food, cooking and eating of the past.

Next, the talk:

Fatal Effectf od Gluttony: A Lord Mayor's Day Nightmare

Fatal Effects of Gluttony: A Lord Mayor’s Day Nightmare. Lithograph by M.G. (1830), at London Metropolitan Archive.

13th June, 11:00 – 12:00
It’s not only Magna Carta’s 800th birthday this year – it’s also the 800th anniversary of the Lord Mayor’s Show! The City of London is producing a lavish book about the whole event, which will be published to coincide with the 2015 Show in November. This talk builds on the research I did for a short piece in that book, giving me the chance to tell a few of the stories I didn’t have room for there, and talk about the food and the pageantry in a bit more detail – illustrated with some fabulous images found in the London Metropolitan Archives.

You can take a look at the whole programme here, where you will also find links for booking by Eventbrite: Just Festival Westminster. I do hope I’ll see some familiar faces – as well as make some new friends at either or both of these events.

How to read a cookbook


Maybe, like me, you are one of those people whose shelves groan under the weight of their cookbook collection. So here’s a question: what do you use all those cookery books for?

Easy! To find and compare recipes, to get inspired with new food ideas, to plan and dream about future meals – and to COOK, of course!

But for those of us who spend our time thinking about history and culture, reading a cookbook can tell us so much more than just how to cook something. Cookery books are a little window into a cultural moment, giving insight into a particular place or time or group of people. They don’t just tell us about the next dish or the domestic microcosm, but help us think about the place of this slice of the everyday in the wider world beyond.

The wonderful writer and mentor-to-many, Barbara Wheaton runs a week-long seminar exploring all the ways to think about cookbooks as historical objects. If you can get yourself to Cambridge, MA in late May/early June, do it: I’ve attended twice, and it’s such an exciting week at the Schlesinger Library (which also has an enviable collection of cookbooks). For 2015 details see this page.

Combining what I learned from Barbara with my own work, and adding some actual cooking into the mix, I ran a Metalab seminar on the theme of reading historical cookbooks last year. We talked and read, and cooked and ate, and had a fabulous time.

On Friday evening (2nd May 2014), I am repeating the seminar for ‘Leisure’ week at Birkbeck’s pop-up university in Willesden Green, London. Sadly the facilities do not permit us to do any live cooking this time – but if you want to look at some beautiful paintings, read a few bits of cookbook text, and talk about food, history and culture for a couple of hours, then do come along. I might even manage to bring along a little something for you to nibble on while we talk.

This session – like all of them in this great initiative – is free, but you do need to register via Eventbrite.

I hope to see you there!