Back to Barnsdale Gardens this weekend to dress as an Edwardian again - as a cook this time - and to demonstrate jam making to the visitors together with historical background from WW1.
I had examples of the jam making kit from 100 years ago at the start of World War 1 - which didn't look very different from what I was using at the show. Here side by side are the brass pan, wooden spoon, vintage Kilner jars with glass lids with rubber ring seals,an old jam jar with paper cover, dear old Mrs Beeton and two books charting the history of the WI. Today I use stainless steel pans - thank goodness, I don't fancy the brass, sturdy Le Parfait preserving jars, modern jars and lids - and a wooden spoon. So hardly any change and very little change in the methods either. Preserving is still an economic start up occupation which goes on adding economy at every stage. The science is simple, as are the methods.
I was making raspberry jam - nothing tricky or problematic, to encourage the visitors to have a go. Honestly, it never fails to amaze me just how little is known about the preservation of food at a domestic - or even a professional level. It wasn't so long ago that every home would have made jams and chutney, marmalades and pickles, and bottled all sorts of fruit as a matter of course. Skills handed down from one generation to the next, just an ordinary part of the rhythm of life. It was simple really - there wasn't an alternative, unless you persuaded someone to sell you their produce. There weren't endless shops, supermarkets, 24/7 shopping on-line, delivered to your door, markets - what would we actually be capable of doing if this came to a catastrophic end? Would we be able to take back responsibility for our own food and well-being? I really fear not.
Someone has stated recently that we are just nine meals from starvation. Just think about it - the freezer and 'store cupboard' would quickly run out - I say store cupboard but it is nothing like the stores that would have been found 100 years ago. Our skills and capabilities are woefully limited and our understanding of the properties of our food, what is good for what, what will sustain us or even medicate us is practically non-existent in comparison to 100 years ago, 3-400 years ago. We are relatively alone in this in Europe, almost every other European country has better skills, knowledge and quality of fresh food than we do here. Is it too late to turn this around? Do we have the interest and desire? At the moment I doubt it.
It was a thought provoking day at Barnsdale, alongside an agricultural historian and a knowledgeable expert from the Heritage Seed Bank. His understanding of plants, their strengths and weaknesses, their lineage and developments was amazing and all packaged in a very calm, friendly, patient desire to pass on this knowledge. There are still people around who are not delivered by app or tablet, passing on what they know to inspire others.
I'll leave you with some pictures of the beautiful gardens created by the late, great Geoff Hamilton and now developed and taken forward by his son Nick.
Photographs taken by Trevor Lorkings - thank you