East Midlands Food

East Midlands Food

A MuBu miscellany…

I still have a couple of more weightly blogs in mind before the MuBu food project ends later this month – but in the meantime here’s a final selection of smaller items from my MuBu research.

The colour of carrots

Further to my blog on ‘strange museums’, did you know that there’s also a World Carrot Museum? This is a ‘virtual museum’ rather than a physical entity, so having paid it a visit I can tell you (if you didn’t already know) that the carrot hasn’t always been the orange colour that we now take for granted. No one really knows when the wild carrot was ‘domesticated’ from a tough and spindly root to a fleshy edible variety, but documentary evidence from around the world suggests that the cultivated carrot originated in the Afghanistan region and was purple in colour. 

The modern orange carrot was developed in the Netherlands in the 16th – 17th centuries. Some versions of its history suggest that it was cultivated in the 17th century to honour William of Orange, but it seems more likely that its colour was simply the result of a mutation. More fascinating facts about carrots at www.carrotmuseum.co.uk/, along with lots of recipes and a link to a list of collectors of carrot-related items including plates, bags and a hand-made carrot-shaped electric guitar.

An immense supply of broccoli

Still on a vegetable theme, this item from the Leicester Chronicle of 23 May 1863 is a reminder of the days when some fresh foodstuffs were ‘imported’ from other parts of the country – and of the benefits of faster railways travel in terms of moving food supplies from one ‘distant’ part of England to another:

‘BROCCOLI. – Amongst other advantages which quick railway transit yields to the public is that of supplying distant markets with various sorts of produce in a fresh state. Who that has visited our Saturday market lately has not been struck with the immense supply of fine broccoli, but whoever supposed that this article of consumption was grown in the county of Norfolk, and sent here during Friday night for sale? but such, we are informed, is the factor, at least that the greater part of the supply has been weekly forwarded from that distant part of the country’.   

Shopping and the weather

The snow and ice we experienced this winter certainly cause some temporary disruption in food supplies, but as the leaflet Shopping and Weather Superstitions by the Flintham Society (2007) notes, wet weather in the past ‘meant that people were less likely to go out shopping’, with potentially serious implications for shopkeepers with stocks of perishable food in the days before fridges and freezers. It was little wonder, then, that Fred White and his daughter Muriel, the village shopkeepers in Flintham from 1911, kept a daily note of the weather; or that – in the absence of weather forecasts on radio or television – the natural world was closely studied for portents of good weather or rain. The latter included a ring around the moon, a donkey braying, a pig carrying straw in its mouth, and (an all too familiar one) leaving your umbrella at home… My thanks to Sue Clayton at Flintham Museum for permission to quote from this leaflet.

Beer made from treacle

Beer was a staple of the diet of the poor in the past, often safer to drink than water which carried diseases such as cholera, and usually made at home by the women of the house. Supplies could be seriously affected by shortages of grain, which were very common in the event of a bad harvest. According to Ian Andrews’ book Traditional Northamptonshire Recipes (W.D. Wharton, 2000), p88: ‘In 1757 there was a severe shortage of wheat to the extent that on the Eighth of November that year Dr. James Stonehouse of Northampton felt it necessary to write an article in the Northamptonshire Mercury suggesting recipes designed to help the poor. One of these recipes was for beer made from treacle’. In the same book there is a recipe for Hundred-to-One Pudding from Malton Malsor, using 100 pieces of potato to one of meat. Contrast this meagre fare with ‘Egges in Moonshine’ from Kirby Hall, consisting of egg yolks cooked in rosewater and sugar and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.

Distinguished support from the Nobility

At the upper end of the food market, this announcement of the retirement of James Kirby, tea dealer, grocer and biscuit maker of Market Place, Leicester in 1863 gives a glimpse of some genteel advertising. Mr Kirby desired ‘most respectfully… to tender his best thanks for the distinguished support he has received from the Nobility, Clergy, Gentry, and Public in general during the last fifty years; and in disposing of the same [shop] to Messrs. Joseph Simpkin and Son, whose business habits are well known, he has great confidence in introducing them to his numerous patrons; at the same time assuring them he will ever remember those tokens of their esteem and confidence with feelings of the most lively gratitude’.

Simpkin & James in Leicester in 1891

Mr Simpkin and son promised to continue the business ‘the same as hereforeto, with the exception of such improvements as the present age requires. The latter included the introduction of ‘all kinds of crystallised foreign fruits’, Italian goods, candles, and ‘all other articles connected with a First-Class Family Grocery Business’. Their business later became the well-known Leicester firm of Simpkin and James. There is an audio extract from the BBC Radio Leicester archive on its closure in 1971 on the My Leicestershire website at www.myleicestershire.org.uk/. Enter ‘Simpkin and James’ in the search engine and click on item no. 49!



Comments are closed.

About this Sponsor

A research project that looked at various aspects of food in the East Midlands, linking them with museum displays and objects in the region, and making the results available to as many people as possible in different formats.