Cooking and Eating History

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 ‘situation’…which is a word that hardly expresses its impact…there are certain activities which have flourished.

Online shopping, for example, is up by over between 400 and 600% in most markets.

Another boom business has been home cooking for those who weren’t all that fussed about washing up just one short year ago. Whether it is a sudden discovery in the joy of artisan bread baking, home brewing or the necessary desperation of trying to put something together with a bunch of odd items you had hidden in the back of the pantry -has anyone found a use for tinned clams and sun-dried sweet potato yet? – making stuff at home instead of eating out is one of the big winners during this Pandemic.

On places like YouTube, you will find more cooking channels than the planet has dead cats to swing, but some of the more interesting ones are those that combine a bit of history with their kitchen skills. The advantage to watching ‘historical gastronomy’ is that, if you don’t fancy actually cooking what is on offer, you needn’t feel guilty, because you are actually gaining historical knowledge along the way. Win win !

Here are three great YouTube channels that offer more than just recipes.

Townsends. Jas Townsend & Son 

1.5 million subscribers

This YouTube channel and website bases itself historically in the 18th century in the United States and features the food and lifestyle of that time. It is accurately set out and the recipes are well researched. Where items are no longer available, or are slightly ambiguous, alternatives are mentioned. Many of the recipes have British or French roots, although there are plenty of local quirks, such as a look at dishes made and eaten by slaves, to make it very interesting. 

The main presenter, John Townsend, is passionate, very knowledgeable and easy to follow. The food is often quite simple, 18th century America did not have a huge range of produce available by all accounts, but the segments are so charming that you will find yourself delighted about whatever fare is on offer.

English Heritage – The Victorian Way

1.13 Million Subscribers

This is a channel within a channel. English Heritage is a charity which uses YouTube as a way to generate income for the 400 historic homes in their care. 

The Victorian Way follows the culinary skills, and sometimes the personal musings, of a real person and cookbook writer, Avis Crocombe, who was the head cook for Lord and Lady Braybrooke at Audley End House in the 1880s.

Mrs. Crocombe is played by Kathy Hipperson, and every segment is dedicated to showing how to produce actual recipes that were served to the ‘upstairs’ residents of this beautiful home. Recipes for the servants of the house are also included, along with a ‘soup for the poor’. Mrs. Crocombe is chatty and extremely entertaining. She is also occasionally given to sharing a bit of local gossip or rue the behaviour of someone within her circle. Historically accurate and often fascinating in detail, this is a cooking show that brings life to the everyday minutia of Victorian England.

Whether Mrs. Crocombe is dismissing the cheap Italian ices now available on every street corner, or showing us how to make a Victorian Christmas cake, you will enjoy every moment of this clever and easy to follow series.

Tasting History with Max Miller

508,000 subscribers

A relative newcomer to the genre, his channel started in December 2019, Max Miller seems to have hit the right note with audiences as he replicates some genuinely ancient recipes as well as medieval favourites. If you’ve ever wondered why the Spartans were so strong, Max will teach you how to prepare their famous pig blood soup. If you’d prefer something more festive, how about a 400-year-old Babylonian New Year’s dish? He also has working recipes for Tudor Butter Beere and the occasional Roman aphrodisiac.

Unlike the two other channels mentioned here, Max does not indulge in cosplay or use olde worlde kitchen tools, however, the recipes are well researched and his segments always break off midway as he explains the context, significance and source of the dishes he is producing. He provides workable modern ingredient alternatives, and is candid about how he feels about the taste and practicality of the food he prepares. If you are looking to try something truly unique, or you just want to learn about human history through food, this is a great YouTube channel to visit.

Is historic gastronomy, the next big thing? Maybe, but if we appear not to be going anywhere fun in the next couple of months, we can at least enjoy travelling through time in the kitchen. Do you have a favourite online cooking channel? Let us know ?


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