Doctors dissect 500 years of festive food with candlelit evening of culinary time travel and relic recipes

Doctors dissect 500 years of festive food with candlelit evening of culinary time travel and relic recipes

The Royal College of Physicians is a professional body with 30,000 members worldwide working across 30 different medical specialties. It is also, somewhat surprisingly to say the least, the home to one of Britain’s most remarkable collections of ancient recipes.

The recipes, or ‘receipts’ as they were once called, form part of the College’s renowned library and archives, dating backbeyond its establishment by the great bon viveur King Henry VIII, in 1518. This Christmas the recipes, along with the College’s exquisite collection of silverware, will be taking centre stage as the RCP venturesacross five centuries of festive food and drink to encounter the edible delights that once graced our ancestors’ feast day tables.

‘College by candlelight: 500 years of festive food’ from 6pm on Wednesday 09 December 2015at the Royal College of Physiciansis an adventure intoantique gastronomy and historic celebration.

On hand to lead the way are a team of experts with a range of demonstrations, tastings and explanations of the flavours and savours of times past.

Escape from the tyranny of today’s ever-present turkey is guaranteed on this voyage of cookery discovery with discussion taking in everything from Tudor boars’ heads garnished with rosemary and bay to exotic sounding but apparently unappetising 17th century swan in saffron sauce, Georgian sweetmeats to actual meat-laden mince pies, still available well into Victorian times.

Hear all about recipes too for perfumes, liquors, cordials and medicines too, as well as ‘receipts’ to rid ‘the afflicted’ of freckles and ‘against witchcraft’!

Reassuringly, some things remain a constant throughout the ages: fruit, nuts, cheese and wine have always been mid-winter favourites. The good news is that acclaimed caterers, Fare of London, specialists in ‘forgotten foods’, will be offering the opportunity to sample the best British cheeses and pick of England’s newly fashionable wines, once again considered sufficiently superior to be served at state banquets.

Food scholar and broadcaster, Ivan Day, famed for his recreations of historic meals and table settings, has been rummaging through the archives of the Royal College and will revel in some of the interesting recipes he’s found, along with iconic dishes from days gone by.

Christopher Hartop, silverware expert and ‘Antiques Roadshow’ regular, who worked with Ivan to stage the famous Netherfield Ball scene from Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ for BBC television, will explain the art of table top and food ornament, as well as shedding light on the Royal College’s own sparkling silver.

Cook, lecturer, and resident food historian on Radio 4’s ‘The Kitchen Cabinet’, Annie Gray, will raise the curtain on how chocolate became a Christmas staple and provide the essential overview into the special forms of sustenance (and excess) that have accompanied mid-winter celebrations from the time of Henry VIII right through to the present reign of ‘Queen Delia’.

For foodies with a festive bent, historians with a gastronomic slant, or simply the fun-seeking and culinary curious, there is no more fascinating event this Advent.

Emma Shepley, Senior curator, museum of the Royal College of Physicians said:

“Whilst doctors are today, quite rightly, associated with advocating moderation in the consumption of food and drink, even - perhaps especially - at festive times of year, this certainly hasn’t always been the case.

“In the 16th and 17th centuries physicians could make fortunes from their recipes for medicines, cordials and edible cures for all sorts of diseases and complaints; whilst the College itself had a certain notoriety as a place of fine dining. Indeed the institution features in the ‘Tales of Baron Munchausen’, with the Baron lifting up the Fellows whilst they are at a banquet by means of his hot air balloon – except the Fellows fail to notice as they are so busy feasting!

“Given this history, it’s only appropriate that we should throw open our doors this year and celebrate Britain’s rich tradition of celebratory dining with this very special candlelit evening of 500 years of food. We can’t wait to share some of the extraordinary recipes with our guests.”