Recreating 600+ Years of Conspicuous Consumption
April 4, 2009 10:19 PM   Subscribe

Ivan Day is both chef and historian. Using old equipment and original research in primary sources for recipes and descriptions, he can "cook a meal from any time from the Battle of Agincourt to the First World War," recreating historic banquets and collations in full detail. Galleries of his food exhibitions show that he can back that claim up, and that rapid changes in culinary trends are not of recent vintage.

Some of his recipes:
Orange-larded leg of lamb (1789)
Lemon and Bergamot Water Ice and Spongati Cake (1789)
A holiday collection, including Twelfth Night cakes, punches, and a sweet haggis, forerunner of Christmas pudding. (1600s-1800s)

Here he is on BBC Radio talking about spices, and on another visit, Twelfth Night cake.

With Heston Blumenthal, chef and cooking-show host, he helped to create the perfect English Trifle (which included a try at milking a cow directly into a bowl of cider).

Also with Blumenthal, he helped to craft a series of four one-hour documentaries running this spring on BBC TV as part of the "Heston's Feasts" series. What they sacrifice in historical accuracy they make up for in modern-day reality television gross-outs and celebrity gawking. Though I can't seem to find working links for them online, I have this much:
Heston's Roman Feast - slideshow
Victorian Feast which includes Absinthe Jelly
Medieval Feast, featuring bulls' testicles (guests' reactions)
Tudor Feast, with mythical beasties taxidermied for your pleasure and frog blancmange
posted by Miko (25 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite

 
I went to a restaurant that advertised "We serve breakfast any time" so I ordered french toast during the renaissance" - Steven Wright
posted by spock at 10:27 PM on April 4, 2009


"
(Sorry. OCD.)
posted by archagon at 10:32 PM on April 4, 2009


I love this type of stuff. Thanks.
posted by bardic at 10:43 PM on April 4, 2009


WOW. This is fascinating. What a unique, ingenious chef. The lengths he goes to in his investigations are incredible.

I can't wait to find out what he knows about cheese. Cheesemaking is a Dark Art, and a strange one.

Well, then, off to have nightmares about puddings.
posted by louche mustachio at 11:40 PM on April 4, 2009


This is inspiring. This guy must have so much fun in the kitchen.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:03 AM on April 5, 2009


Take a fillet which is the tenderest part of the beef, and lieth in the inner part of the surloyn

From there he just describes how to approach a tenderloin to this day. Nice.
posted by sourwookie at 12:15 AM on April 5, 2009


What kind of 'historian' makes a 'Roman feast' that includes cocoa? It casts everything else in a questionable light.
posted by Goofyy at 12:39 AM on April 5, 2009


Nevermind the cocoa, what about the dry ice?
posted by ryanrs at 1:33 AM on April 5, 2009


This is an amazing and interesting post, thanks Miko! I must say, though, I was so proud of myself for serving homemade mac and cheese last night (with cubed ham, even!) and now I feel so inferior, but I have something to aspire to.
posted by amyms at 1:45 AM on April 5, 2009


Yeah, this guy's a cook and showman first and second, or second and first, and historian probably twenty-seventh or so.

I'd be more interested in everyday meals, not absurd feasts for rich folk. Show me what average people in London ate any given morning, noon, and evening in 1600, with seasonal variations. If you were poor, what did you get by on in January? If you were relatively comfortable, somewhat middle class, what did you eat and drink every day, and how did that change depending on variations in local availability? This ancient feast stuff looks a bit like Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous and Top Gear go to Ye Olde Restuarant.
posted by pracowity at 1:45 AM on April 5, 2009


What kind of 'historian' makes a 'Roman feast' that includes cocoa? It casts everything else in a questionable light.

If you look at the comments, it seems "cocoa" could be a typo for "couscous":
"Hi, It very interesting about the trojan hog - I come from Tunisia and Tunisians Do use Sheep and Cows intestines : they clean them and they do fill them with either Couscous or rice or barely "Melthouth" (simlar to couscous ) including livers and stomachs and small pieces of meats and fat which has already been boiled ."
posted by iviken at 1:47 AM on April 5, 2009


I'd be more interested in everyday meals, not absurd feasts for rich folk. Show me what average people in London ate any given morning, noon, and evening in 1600, with seasonal variations.

I think you'd like this book.
posted by palliser at 5:58 AM on April 5, 2009


This is so much fun. Food is wondrous. Thanks.
posted by peggynature at 6:29 AM on April 5, 2009


What kind of 'historian' makes a 'Roman feast' that includes cocoa?

The historian isn't making the feast, the chef is. The reasoning, for those who didn't watch the show (I watched it last night) went like this:

- Lets do a Trojan Hog.
- What would that be like?
- A hog, that, when you served it, it looks like its entrails drop out.
- OK, how do we fake entrails?
- Sausages?
- Lets go see an Italian sausage maker then.
- Wow, this guy uses cacao nibs in his sausages, lets have some of that in ours!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:51 AM on April 5, 2009


What kind of 'historian' makes a 'Roman feast' that includes cocoa? It casts everything else in a questionable light.

Yeah, this guy's a cook and showman first and second, or second and first, and historian probably twenty-seventh or so.

No, reread the post - Ivan Day is an incredible historian and is regarded for his accuracy around the field. His histort and rec-creations are reliable and respectable. Heston Blumenthal is the feast re-creator - he used Ivan Day as a researcher on his show and Day makes a few appearances here and there, but as I said, Blumenthal obviously took a sensationalistic approach and is more concerned with viewership than accuracy.I had second thoughts about including the Blumenthal segments, but they seemed connected to Day's work and the idea of 're-created food history.'

If it ends up casting doubt on Day's work, I'm sorry. I work at a museum that does 18th- and 19th- century food recreations, and what he does is thoroughly well researched and executed, based on real sources, and a model for the field. It stands up beautifully to serious examination.

Sorry it was confusing.
posted by Miko at 7:13 AM on April 5, 2009


Miko, this is just.. it's spectacular. Thank you.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:35 AM on April 5, 2009


Great post.

By the way, does anyone remember a similar television show on PBS in the early 90s? On this program, old methods of cooking were investigated and actually tried out. I don't remember much of it except for the episode where the host was recreating Roman cooking in Northumbria. He was out on a moor, cooking in an iron pot over a fire. It took about 20 minutes for him to explain the dish and cook, and when he was finished he took one bite and then said "...and it takes absolutely disgusting" and chucked the lot over his shoulder, into the muddy field. I would looe to see that show again.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:55 AM on April 5, 2009


Great post, thanks.
posted by Devils Slide at 12:09 PM on April 5, 2009


digging around youtube, I found some additional clips:

The "reveal" portion of the Victorian Feast

Similar, but for the Tudor

A Roman Pudding
posted by mrzarquon at 1:21 PM on April 5, 2009


And Ivan Day offers weekend classes! Dang! I would do that in a heartbeat if I lived in the UK.

Very cool site, Miko. What a treat.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:20 PM on April 5, 2009


I love this. What a great little historical niche this guy gets to play in.
posted by absalom at 11:47 AM on April 6, 2009


I would just like to say that I had nothing to do with Heston Blumenthal's series Feast. Mr Blumenthal, for whom I have a lot of respect, asked me to help with it and I had a meeting with the producer, but I decided not to be involved. This was nothing to do with anything wrong with Heston Blumenthal, but with Optomen, the company that made it. Optomen had made two previous shows with Clarissa Dickson-Wright on a food history slant and they were among the worst television programmes I have ever seen. Both programmes were feebly researched, full of historical inaccuracies and the attempts at period food were total rubbish. They were both wasted opportunities. My conversations with the producer of Feast led me to believe that his intentions went in similar directions, so I did not want to be involved.

When these guys make programmes with a food history focus, they just have to throw a lot of the yuck factor into the mix, because they think it will attract an audiance. So you get lots of testicles, intestines etc. That is not my style. I like to celebrate the extraordinary skills and wonders of past cuisine.

Mr Blumenthal himself has said that Feast was not a food history programme. It acted as a platform for him to create a series of fantasies loosely based on particular periods. Yes, there were a lot of historical errors and the comments by the sycophantic celebrities at the end were vacuous. However, what I enjoyed about the programme was Heston's surrealistic imagination.

Wonderful food history TV series could be made if only the producers and commissioning editors would only realise that they should not use celebrity chefs to host them. They have no knowledge of the subject, do not have the right skills and do not have the right equipment. If you want to see what period food was really like visit my website

www.historicfood.com

Unfortunately, you will see nothing of this quality on television.
posted by Ivan Day at 1:33 PM on April 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have an important correction to make!

In my MeMail inbox a letter from Ivan Day himself turned up. As it turns out, he didn't actually act as advisor on Blumenthal's "Feast."

The mistake is mine. I had based that aspect of the post on having found this mention that a mention in this Telegraph piece Day was a collaborator on the program, along with many other less specific mentions that he is a consultant or advisor to Blumenthal. But Day says that though his participation on the "Feasts" series was discussed, he ended up not participating. So the only appearances he made on Blumenthal's shows were the ones in the "Perfection" series. I quote from his letter below (with his permission):
I have just read your posts on MetaFilter about me and the responses to them. I thank you for your kind words. However, I would be very grateful if you could correct one thing.

Although Heston Blumenthal wanted me to be the historical advisor to his series Feast and I had a meeting with the producer, I decided not to be involved. This was not because of anything wrong with Mr Blumenthal, for whom I have a lot of respect, but because of the company Optomen who made the series. They had made two previous programmes with Clarissa Dickson-Wright on food history themes which were among the most awful television programmes I have ever seen. They were full of inaccuracies, rubbish interpretations of period food and the usual cliches. From my conversations with the producer of Feast I could see the direction he wanted to take the series in and I did not want to be involved.

Some of the people who have also made posts on this subject are right - there are many historical blunders in Feast. However, Heston Blumenthal himself has said that this was not a food history show. It was a platform for him to create fantasies in his own very original and extraordinay way. Once you realise that this is the case, the shows can be enjoyed in their own right. So, forget the historical mistakes, the unimaginative format imposed by the TV company and the dreadful sycophantic "celebrities" who ate the food. at the end. What I did enjoy about the shows was Heston's extraordinary surrealistic imagination.
posted by Miko at 1:33 PM on April 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Timing is everything!

Wonderful food history TV series could be made if only the producers and commissioning editors would only realise that they should not use celebrity chefs to host them.


It's true, and I really wish there could be more direct and simple presentation of shows like that. I'm sure they are afraid there wouldn't be an audience if they didn't jazz things up so much. But at the museum where I work, the food and cooking displays are where people really light up. They will sit and stay all day if they can - literally spend three hours watching someone do something as simple as make an apple pie, or farmer cheese. There is so much enthusiasm and interest for this subject. There is also surprise: people are always surprised to learn that what they imagine was the primitive, hardscrabble lifestyle of the American colonies isn't accurate. Here in my city, there were French chefs producing banquets for the entertainments of the wealthy that relied on exotic import goods and lengthy, delicate processes - things we'd be awestruck to find on our tables today.

At any rate, I'm so sorry for the confusion. In my desire to create as inclusive a post as possible I included too much! Again, hope the emphasis will remain on the work of Ivan Day.
posted by Miko at 1:38 PM on April 9, 2009


Thanks for joining in the discussion, Ivan!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 5:12 PM on April 9, 2009


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