In January the North Notts Association of National Trust members once again welcomed their president, Dr David Bostwick, to give them one of his most entertaining and informative lectures, this one being on ‘The English Kitchen and Kitchen Garden 1550-1700’.
His talk was illustrated with pictures taken from various old books and manuscripts and paintings, showing kitchens through this period and how they varied between the rich and the poor, and how their respective diets varied. We have all seen paintings of piles of meat, game and fish in large spacious kitchens with various types of cooking facilities such as open fires with spits and large cauldrons and all being worked in by numerous staff, all with specific jobs. There are still many examples of some of these grand kitchens with copper pans and cooking utensils beautifully displayed in such places as Gainsborough Old Hall, Bolsover Castle, Hardwick Hall and many others all quite easily accessible to us in this area.
On the other side the poorer folk prepared food in one room usually serving as living room and bedroom as well, and cooking on an open fire and ate only porridge, grains and bread supplemented by whatever they could forage or trade. Pictures show the limited space and facilities and very little evidence of the meat and game enjoyed by the wealthy.
It was only when explorers started discovering other lands and found other foodstuffs that vegetables came to our country and made an appearance on our tables. It then became important to find ways of growing our own and the kitchen garden became a big feature of large houses and those with land. Many examples of these walled gardens are still in evidence now and would have been able to grow fruits such as peaches, apricots and grapes against the high walls, and Orangeries grew citrus fruits. With clever planning, ways were found to grow many different vegetables and also herbs which became a way of enhancing flavours and making food more interesting and varied. The improved cooking facilities helped with more adventurous meals, and the more everyday vegetables which we enjoy today could all be grown by anyone who had a small plot of land and were able to obtain seeds.
The portraits, carvings, plasterwork and books which still survive from the 16th and 17th century illustrate this huge change and give us a very clear picture of the changes that helped to alter our cooking facilities and our eating habits. Dr Bostwick’s specialised knowledge and sometimes humorous delivery kept his audience enthralled and left wanting more.
The meeting on 18th March is ‘The Pilgrim Fathers: Why did they all come here’ by Adrian Gray.
The association meets on the third Wednesday of every month at 7.30pm, with coffee or tea at 7.00pm, at The Crossing in Worksop. Attendance costs £3.00 for members and £4.00 for visitors, with membership costing £4.50. Future events can be seen on www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/north-nottingham-association. You can also email NthNottsNTAssoc@gmail.com or follow them on Twitter, @NthNottsNTAssoc.