Friday 8 August 2014

A Victorian Altar to Curry and Other Events

A high Victorian table at Hutton-in-the-Forest (Photo: Cressida Vane)
I have been so busy over the past few months, that I have had no time at all to post on this blog. I have really missed it. So very briefly, here are some of the things I have been doing lately. As well as catching up with various writing commitments, much of my summer has been taken up with filming what seems like innumerable food history features for popular BBC programmes, such as the Great British Bake Off, James Martin's Home Comforts and others. However, the real highlight of the year was working with my Korean friend Wook-Jung Lee on another episode of his remarkable series A Food Odyssey. This time we looked at curry in Victorian England and the images here are of a 1890s table I recreated for the programme. Various Anglo-Indian curries and some English savoury dishes are served around a dessert set out on a surtout de table. You might spot a Twelfth Cake in the middle of the table, which I made for another production, but just for fun recycled it here as a striking centrepiece. It took me two days to make and decorate, so I thought I would get a bit of extra mileage out of it. 

A Victorian Moorghabee or Fowl Pullow made from a recipe in Dr. R. Ridell. Indian Domestic Economy and Receipt Book. (Madras: 1850).
Among the many Indian dishes were a few choice English ones.
The cake also turned up at a lecture/demonstration I gave on the last day of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow for Scotland Can Make It! To celebrate the Games, ceramic artist Katy West was commissioned to design a Common Wealth jelly mould, made using a clay body provided by Highland Stoneware of Lochinvar and inspired by the Art Deco interior of the celebrated Glasgow restaurant and cocktail bar Rogano. I was invited to put Katy's creation into context at a jelly tasting, which involved an illustrated lecture on the history of moulded foods, a marathon jelly un-moulding session followed by a tasting session at which the eighteen historic jellies I created, rapidly disappeared into the highly enthusiastic audience. 
Photo: Eoin Carey.
A marbree jelly made in Katy West's mould. Photo: Eoin Carey.
Photo: Eoin Carey.
If you missed this event, you may be interested in a few others I am involved in over the next few weeks. On 28th August, I am presenting a lecture in Prague at a conference called La Festa Sontuosa. The event is being held on the 300th anniversity of an entertainment given at his palazzo in Rome on 28th August 1714 by Johanna Wenzel, Count of Gallas, to celebrate the birthday of the Empress Elisabetta Cristina. The conference is being held in the count's Prague residence, the extraordinary baroque Clam Gallas Palace. The most important feature of this event will be the modern world premiere of Sacrificio a Venere, a lost and recently rediscovered serenade composed by Giovanni Battista Bononcini in 1714 especially for the occasion. My lecture Trionfi di Tavola examines the extravagant emblematic table centrepieces created for occasions of this kind.

At the count's entertainment five tables covered in ices, jellies and confectionery regaled the guests after Bononcini's performance. The centrepiece was an artificial tree hung with one hundred and fifty moulded ice cream fruits. A few years ago at the Oxford Food Symposium, my friend Robin Weir demonstrated the logistics of creating an ambitious caprice of this nature on a hot summer's day. Rostislav Muller, one of the organisers of the Prague conference has created a 3-D model of the Gallas table. A reconstruction of the table will feature in the performance later this month.

A detail of he gran rifresco at Count Gallas's party in Rome on 28th August 2014 at which Bononcini's Sacrificio di Venere was first performed. Photo; courtesy of Getty Research Institute.
3D reconstruction (detail) of  the trionfo da tavola designed on the occasion of the celabration of the birthday of Empress Elisabetta Cristina. Copyright Rostislav Maria Muller.
Many different ices, jellies and other items of confectionery featured at Count Gallas's entertainment. This is my own interpretation of a dish described on the table (note the Italian is in its eighteenth century form - 'una piramide di gelo d'agresta con odore di gelsomino e con agresta intiera siroppata dentro' - verjuice jelly scented with jasmine, with verjuice grapes in syrup inside  - delicious!    Photo: Eoin Carey.
If you cannot make it to Prague, perhaps you can catch up with me on September 6th at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas where I will be giving a lecture at a one day symposium 'The English Country House - Then and Now'. My talk is entitled From Banquet to Ball Supper – Dining and Entertaining in the British Country House 1600-1914.

Nearer to home, I am giving a lecture on early Georgian dining at the Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London on 17th September entitled Regal Ragouts: courtly dining and cookery in early Georgian Britain

Perhaps I will see some of you at these events. I hope you can make it.