History's Food and Drink

History Today, June 1996 | Go to article overview

History's Food and Drink


* The mention of `heritage awards' can often conjure up visions of renewing some Tudor thatch, recreating a Georgian landscape or, more politically correct, spick and spanning Victorian labourers' cottages to a more pristine state than the historical reality. But what about the history of ordinary life that is not bricks and mortar and often falls through the gaps?

This spring the UK finals of the Henry Ford European Conservation Awards have delivered a useful corrective by singling out two projects as winners in their Heritage section that are doing something to preserve and revive that `other sort' of history.

The first prize went to a project from Twyford to recreate traditional cidermaking in Berkshire. Acutely conscious that, for many, these days `Home Counties' has become synonymous with `homogenised', the New Road Cyderists set out to see if it was possible for a complete group of novices to make traditional cider without the use of modern brewing techniques.

In the best traditions of English improvisation, they scrumped apples from suburban gardens where windfalls would otherwise rot on the ground, and produced a `cyder nouveau' that scooped prizes in its wake. Their 5,000[pounds] prize money, coming from the Conservation Foundation awards, sponsored Europewide by the Ford Motor Company, will be used to invest in traditional cider-making equipment and to buy land for orchards in which once again the Cox's Orange Pippin -- which originated in Berkshire -- can be grown, and where the traditional `wassailing' of trees with cider around Christmas and Twelfth Night -- to ensure a good harvest for the New Year -- can again take place.

Food and drink as the stuff of history also featured strongly in the work of the other Heritage category winner. A local librarian from north east Lancashire, Benita Moore of Haslingden, collected 2,000[pounds] for her one-woman oral history project to capture on tape and in photographs the traditional skills, crafts, customs and comestibles of an area associated with the mills and textiles of the Industrial Revolution. She is also acutely conscious of the particular and different histories `up hill and down dale' around the small towns and villages in a fortysquare-mile area bordering the Ribble Valley.

Black pudding making and tripe dressing -- two traditional Lancashire offalrelated dishes from the safe and secure world before BSE and other food scares are among the activities recorded by Mrs Moore in a project that has lasted ten years and involved interviewing around 1,200 people, many of them in their eighties and nineties. …

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