Kazakhstan & Horse Meat

Having just passed our first ABC of World History milestone, we move to central Asia to take you to an incredible place: Kazakhstan. As much as I love to think that you are aware of this country because of the significant role that it has played in history since time immemorial…Let’s face it, you probably know this country and word for one reason only: Borat. (Yes, it is ok. At least you know it exists…and you are about to find out more). But first, here are some basic facts about Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country in the world, and it shares borders with Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan (which will feature later on in our project). It is currently run by the same guy that has been in charge of the country since the fall of the USSR (an authoritarian regime, in case you did not get that from THAT Context…). Furthermore, it is home to 131 ethnicities and a key hub for the ancient Silk Road.

And before I get to share a bit of cultural history (it is what today is all about), I want to share a little bit of my personal history. The first time I ever met someone from central Asia back in Spain was a dear classmate of mine who is from Kazakhstan when I was in college. At the sweet age of 16, he explained how to build a Kalashnikov in the middle of class recess. Fascinated by this, he told me of the severe political issues of his homeland and the fact that this type of education was still being imparted in school when he was living there (late 1990s-early 2000s). I became a little obsessed back then with any bit of culture that I could get from my pal about this land which sounded so exotic in my mind (I had never left Europe and back then still haven’t moved far from Western Europe indeed). Admittedly, my classmate’s family was of Russian descent, and I did not get to know a lot about Kazakh culture itself. However, one thing always stuck with me: everyone loved horses – and ate them without such a scandalous fear of whatever meat it may be they were consuming. And for once, I felt normal: we eat horses where I come from (though not in the same quantity), and I Love It. 

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Tasty History: Chocolate

Hello guys! It has been a really long time since we have had time to write a proper blog entry. But now hat we have got the podcast up and running and the team is reconfigured, it is time to deliver. And, our first topic since the formation fof Nu History couldn’t be more delicious: Chocolate! Whether you like it dark, with milk, hot, cold, as a bar or a drink, I believe there is a chocolate for every kind of person. So, today I will give you an insight into how chocolate came to be. For this, we must first travel thousands of years into the past to one of my favourite historical areas: pre-Hispanic Meso America.

The Origins of Cacao

Just to clarify; chocolate is a product derivate from cacao or cocoa beans. The actual word for chocolate comes from the Aztec xocolatl, which meant bitter water. However, cacao was used way before the Aztecs to create indeed bitter tasting beverages made with cocoa and often used for either ritual or medicinal purposes. In a recent study (2018) published by Sonia Zarillo et al. trace back the earliest recorded used of cacao to 5300 years ago, in the area of Santa Ana, (Ecuador). Coe and Coe also state that the Olmecs had domesticated cacao plants and used its produce for medicinal purposes and religious rituals, and we have ample evidence of this from the area of Veracruz (1900–900 BCE). But the most extensive knowledge of Meso-American culture that we have regarding cacao comes from the Mayan culture, (500-800CE) where there is an abundance of ceramics that depicts its varied uses. It is also the Mayans from who we get the word cacao as kakaw. Kakaw was essentially a gloop of cacao made into a drink and the most renown discovery of this type of product is found at Rio Azul. This is the site where in the 90s the scientists from Hershey Corporation first identified the original chemical signature of cacao. By the time the Aztec empire took control of most of Meso America, things had changed. It seems that the Aztecs didn’t actually grow their own cacao already by the 1400s, and instead they used to obtain it as an import, often paid as a tax from areas they conquered. They also started drinking it cold and branching its uses, so that in Aztec culture cacao was an aphrodisiac according to Szogyi.

Cocoa Beans Comes to Europe

The beans were brought back to Europe by the cargo ships from the Americas. It was in fact Columbus who originally shipped them to Spain, however they got little interest from the public until much later when chocolate was introduced to the Spanish court. Despite it being first found by the Spaniards, the success of cocoa and chocolate in Europe would come from other nations, two main rivals of Spain in fact: the English and the Dutch. Cocoa was prominently imported during the reign of Charles I and during the 16th century, it was actually used as a drug to solve tooth decay and dysentery. Moreover, one of the physicians for Queen Anne, Hans Sloane, seemingly saw Jamaican workers during his visit to the island back in 1680 mixing cocoa powder with breast milk as a form drink, so he decided to borrow the concept (but with cow’s milk) for medicinal purposes once more. At this stage, the history of chocolate takes a dark turn as during the early modern period many African slaves were used in the cocoa plantations that the English, Dutch and French had in the transatlantic colonies. And so, with cheap labour and the invention of the first mechanic cocoa grinder in Bristol (1729) the European obsession with chocolate – and slavery – continued all the way to the 19th century when things changed once again.

Dutch Production, English Consumerism: Cocoa in the 19th Century

The transformation of cacao into the product that we could recognise nowadays only happened in the 19th century thanks to a clever Dutch chemist. Coenrad van Houten came up with the idea of removing cacao butter and added baking powder to the mix all successfully achieved by his creation: the cocoa press (1828). He had previously invented a alkaline solution that made chocolate less bitter to the taste, so the “Dutch Cocoa” invention made it a lot more marketable. Interestingly most the cocoa consumed in the UK during the 19th century was produced in the Netherlands, making this a very profitable industry for the Dutch. In Victorian Britain the first chocolate houses opened in the area of Mayfair and the concept drove English society into an absolute craze. In fact, at the royal apartments in Hampton Court we know that Willian III, as well as George I and II had a dedicated chocolate kitchen. Lizzie Collingham argues however that during this period much of the cocoa powder used in these establishments was heavily adultered with other products. Amongst these feature things like lentils or tapioca, which actually made what they served more similar to a cocoa soup rather than a cocoa drink.  However by then, the price of cocoa dropped becoming more affordable and an easily available product in many houses. Cadbury’s chocolate in the UK was a great conduit for this phenomenon. Still popular today, the first shop was opened in Birmingham in 1824 by John Cadbury. Collingham again adds that the most influential brand that contributed to the popularisation of cocoa amongst the working clasess was not Cadbury, but the now forgotten Dr Tibbles’ Vi-Cocoa. Vi-Cocoa distributed a blend of cocoa, kola nut, malt and hops that made it incredibly popular between 1895 and 1910. In her book The Hungry Empire, she says that Cadbury’s target audience would have most likely been middle classes women, whilst Vi-Cocoa was targeting the working class man with an alternative to tea.

Towards the end of the 19th century, Daniel Peters enhanced Victorian chocolate by using powdered milk in the beverages and therefore creating milk chocolate, and instant national favourite. Dutch cocoa balanced bitterness reached a new height when the Swiss chocolatier Rodolpe Lindt (1879) used his conching machine to turn cocoa butter into an improved product, with better texture and flavour. The manufacturing advances of the time also allowed for Lindt’s product to be easier to distribute and reach new markets, so Lindt was a key player in changing chocolate into a food item rather than a drink. Meanwhile in America? Cacao beans were also used as a currency up until the 19th century in Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Brazil. Funnily enough, these were easy to fake: empty casks were often filled with soil to pretend they were ripe cacao beans.

So as you can see the journey of cacao, cocoa, and chocolate is a varied and multicultural one. From its origins in America to its developments in Europe kakaw has adopted many forms and purposes. And, although I certainly believe most of us don’t use it as a medicine for tooth decay…I think we can probably agree it is a medicine for the soul and, as recent scientific research confirms, good for our mental health. With this history of chocolate, and the many more to come articles and podcasts regarding food history, I am trying to send a message of hope and unity. I truly believe that food brings people together, and in this day an age of conflict and division, humans and human history could do more with interconnectivity and hope.

I hope you join us on the next one 🙂

The Struggles With Lesbian History

LGBT history as a whole is difficult to study, with both its legal and societal condemnation historically and today. The first attempts to study the history of homosexuality were not started until the 19th century and these were largely hampered by source scarcity and societal opinion. It was not until the mid 20th century that as a study it became more popular, and until the 1970s that all identities under the LGBT umbrella were included. The last several decades have seen a massive increase in scholarship, especially in gay male history; however other identities have struggled much more. Trans historiography has been hampered by how to define trans historical figures, particularly so in the issue of whether people were trans or if they were passing as another gender for other reasons, such as avoiding being drafted into military service. Bisexual history has languished similarly due to the issue of how to consider historical figures who appeared to be bisexual – were they bisexual or were they gay and their opposite sex relationships a requirement of the society they lived in, or were such relationships genuine? This, of course, has implications for same-sex history: are historical figures being labelled as attracted only to the same sex or could they have been bisexual? While the lack of definitively knowing hampers any study of history, LGBT history particularly struggles.  

Lesbian history has always struggled – even the term ‘lesbian’ to describe history has been considered by some to be a difficult descriptor. Some feel that lesbian refers to an identity that historically women would have not considered themselves to be. Sometimes the phrase ‘women who loved women’ has been used. Scholars such as Cook and Rich argued for the use of the term ‘lesbian’ to describe women who had relationships with other women. However other scholars prefer to avoid the term, arguing that lesbian as a concept did not exist, or that the term does not fit the historical reality of the women they are studying. Others have also argued that this term is too Western-centric. However, others have pointed out that terms such as queer are too broad and erase the specific experience of women. This issue on phrasing symbolises the difficulty that lesbian history has faced. 

While there has been little debate about male homosexual history, lesbian history has been much more problematic. The existence of lesbian history has always been harder to find, just because as the history of women in general has been difficult to source because of the domination of men in the historical written word, lesbians have often been written out of history – even more so than heterosexual women who generally have been only featured when, relevant to men. Lesbian behaviour was less likely to be prosecuted than gay male behaviour (not that lesbians were not prosecuted but they were caught less often or in some cases the sheer idea of lesbianism was so alien that legislation did not exist) which also reduces the amount of source material available, although what does exist is important. Prior to the 19th century lesbian history is fragmented, although some lesbian historians, like Emma Donoghue, have criticised historians for failing to notice mentions of lesbians due their own heterocentrisim. Debates over whether female historical figures had romantic and/or sexual relationships with each other or whether they simply had close platonic friendships plague lesbian history. Many lesbian historians have pointed out that they themselves, and those that came before them who clearly were, and often identified, as lesbian have been described as ‘platonic’ yet that there are often signs of such romantic and/or sexual relationships. Anne Lister’s diaries are an example of this; when her diaries were originally deciphered some declared them a hoax because of their explicitness’ and her frank understanding of her sexuality.  

Most sources we do have on lesbian history focus predominantly on upper class women as they were the most able to record their own experiences. This can be frustrating for two reasons: women in the lower classes made up higher proportions of the general population and therefore are more likely to make up a significant proportion of lesbian women; and also that working class women traditionally had more opportunity to socialise with other women and without as much scrutiny. Upper class women were far more likely to have limited social circles and limited opportunity to be able to conduct affairs privately. Not only does this limit the amount of available knowledge it also means we miss out on knowing about working class lesbian subcultures and communities prior to the 19th and 20th centuries.  

Oral history has been an important part of lesbian history and has provided a significant amount of source material, although this is mostly restricted to post 1920s, as lesbian oral history was not recorded until the 1970s and beyond.  Along with sources such as zines and photography, archive groups in the 1970s and 1980s attempted to construct archives focused on the lesbian experience, such as the Lesbian Archive – now housed at the Glasgow Women’s Library, and the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York. Other regional archives exist as does archives holding either LGBT history as whole or feminist/women’s history. 

So why is lesbian history so important to discover? Other than the general desire to uncover the past as much as possible, many lesbians find it important to connect to their forebearers and to demonstrate that their identity is legitimate and has existed for millennia. Lesbian erasure, historically and currently, is a major issue not just in society in general but also in the LGBT and feminist communities that claim to include and represent them. Erasure and ignorance of lesbian history helps exacerbate lesbian erasure. Many lesbians have been outspoken about society’s attempts to erase ‘lesbian’ as an identity, from claiming that ‘lesbian’ is exclusive or to that it doesn’t even exist – the tendency for some historians to deny lesbian history prior to the 19th century does just this.  

LGBT history often focuses on gay men while feminist history often focuses on heterosexual women. The fact that lesbians have often been both at the forefront of social movements is often ignored, even within these movements, and despite their presence they have been later ostracised or written out of these histories. Therefore their lesbian identity has been paramount to them. This importance also highlights the need for lesbian history to be inclusive of all lesbians. Recent scholarship has aimed to not only focus on white middle-class women in western societies but to expand our knowledge of lesbian history and how the diversity of these women are how we can broaden our overall knowledge.  

Christmas Desserts

As we come up to Christmas Day, let’s have a look at the history of several popular Christmas desserts.

Mince Pies

Dating from the Middle Ages this English dessert, like the name suggests, originally contained meat based mince. While meat disappeared from the pie in the 19th century (barring suet), the combination of ingredients in it today dates back from its origins which were inspired by Middle Eastern food that English soldiers experienced during the Crusades. It is not known exactly when they became associated with Christmas, but prior to the restoration of Charles II, their shape was oval and was thought to represent the manager; they also sometimes included a baby Jesus on top. During Oliver Cromwell’s rule mince pies were considered Catholic idolatry and were frowned upon. During the 19th century recipes for both meat based mincemeat and fruit based mincemeat existed but by the end of the century the sweet version, that is made today, dominated.

Yule Log

This popular cake is named and designed after the European Christmas tradition of the Yule Log – a log chosen specially to be burnt on a hearth on Christmas Eve through to Twelfth Night. This tradition happened throughout Europe. The cake itself dates back to at least 1615 with a recipe of the cake featured in The English Huswife. In the 19th century, Parisian bakers popularised the cake, known as bûche de Noël in French, creating the more elaborate designs like you see today. Today the cake itself is more well-known than the origins it is based on.

Christmas Pudding

As we know it today, Christmas Pudding did not appear until the 19th century although it had its origins in the 14th century as pottage – a broth using many of the ingredients that are still in it now, alongside meat. It was served as a starter rather than a dessert. Its association with Christmas did not come until the 18th century. The Victorians were originators of the Stir Up Sunday tradition – the making the pudding on the fifth Sunday before Christmas where each family member took a turn to stir the mixture from east to west. This was meant to represent the journey of the Magi and bring the family good luck for the year. Like Twelfth Night Cake, it was also customary to hide small items within the mixture to symbolise what the future would hold for the person who found that item. A coin could signify future wealth, while a thimble would signify spinsterhood.

Christmas Cake

Like the Christmas Pudding, the Christmas Cake originated from pottage but also from the traditional Twelfth Night Cake. During the 19th century Christmas cake mostly supplanted the Twelfth Night cake and began to use elements such as marzipan for decoration. The expanding British Empire and migration to the colonies – hence the popularity of Christmas Cake outside of Britain – and within Britain itself, also meant that many people began to boil their Christmas Cake with alcohol to preserve the cake during travel. Like mince pies and Christmas Pudding, the spices of a Christmas Cake are meant to represent the Magi.


This German fruit bread has its own festival in Dresden and like those above has developed over its history. Originally it was much less sweet due to restrictions by the Catholic Church during Advent on the use of butter. Eventually Pope Innocent VIII 1491 allowed the Prince Elector of Saxony, his family and household to use butter for Stollen while bakers were allowed to as well as long as they paid a fine that was used to fund churches. This stopped several decades later when Saxony became Protestant. The festival around Stollen dates back to when the rulers of Saxony were presented with a Stollen by the bakers of Dresden. This stopped with the fall of the monarchy in 1918 but was resumed in 1994. The shape of the Stollen is meant to represent the swaddled baby Jesus.

Napoleon’s Forgotten Tin Cans

Whilst getting ready for this paper I was quietly watching the television, late at night, when a story came to help me. The show was a documentary about Waterloo. The story was, roughly, about a private and his food on the morning of the battle, or rather, about the lack of food. So as the Foot Guards were occupying the Hougoumont farm that would become one of the decisive points of the fight, the rank and file were soaked after a terrible night. And hungry. Not very promising for the clash to come.

Private Clay of the 3rd Foot Guards recalls in a letter how a butcher was found amongst them after a thorough search, and how he was given the task of getting a pig and butcher it. Thus, every man was given a meagre meal consisting in a small piece of bread of about one ounce, in addition to a piece of pig, varying in size and quality (probably depending on how close an acquaintance you were of the aforesaid butcher and/or the Sergeant Major). Private Clay was quite happy with his share, that being a big piece of the head. However, upon cooking it, he found it unsavoury and too rare for taste, not having salt at hand and all that. So after a little munching, he gave up and saved it for later. Later on the day, the not really well nurtured troops defending Hougoumont dragged endless numbers of French units to the fray, thus contributing to the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo.

Napoleon himself was very aware of the importance of food in the Army. It was him who famously said that “an army marches on its stomach”. It went bad in Russia, and in the eve of Waterloo his soldiers were as bad fed and as soaked by the rain as the British were. So his Army was, maybe, not that willing to march. Anyway, food has been a source of trouble for the military since the beginning of time. You need lots of food to feed an army in the field, and you need it in a specific time and place- usually when moving every now and then. No food, no strength. So how do you feed the Army, then?

The documentary was hosted by actor Sean Bean, well-known as the heroic Richard Sharpe in the popular television series. If you are familiar to the series, you would easily remember his despair when Sergeant Major Harper is not around to get the tea going. Or maybe you’d recall that in many an episode meals were provided by Harper’s own Spanish mistress, then wife. As imperfect as a television series could be as a history source, the depiction is accurate enough. For a long time, the rules only amounted as to the quantity of raw food the soldiers were entitled to. It was up to them to get it cooked. And that, obviously, was in the lucky days, when rations were abundant and available. If you were on patrol duty, in hostile territory, or simply the campaign was not entirely going favourably…well, food could be a big issue. Then, usually, the only thing soldiers could do was living of the land…if there was anything to grab, which was not always the case. Think about Napoleon’s Armeé in Russia: the Russians took everything with them in their retreat; then came the snow, and the freezing cold. Nothing to eat on the way back to France.

There are multiple sources that give us quite a good idea of what you could expect to eat while serving in the military. Bread was always a staple, with some kind of meat to go with it. Dutch soldiers around 1650 were favoured with cheese and got cod or meat in alternate days. The all-powerful Spanish Tercios soldiers were entitled to a pound of bread, another of meat (or fish, surely if cheaper or available), as well as a pint of wine a day. They had to pay for it and cook it, occasionally resorting to robbery, threatening the merchants or simply requisitioning the villagers’ food- which was quite cheaper and of course made a strong case for resentment amidst the Dutch civilians. Salted pork was always a great favourite. The British soldiers at Waterloo were supposed to get roughly 25 ounces of bread, 15 of salted meat and about 30 of vegetables. We may ask Private Clay, but I’m afraid that was more the exception than the rule. Old Byzantine soldiers were expected to grind their own flour, and their tent-equipment included a hand-mill and cooking utensils. They usually double-baked the dough, having then hard tack, easier and faster to do, and longer-lasting. Preservation was difficult for the Romans and the Byzantines, and was no better for the Tercios, the Dutch, or the Napoleonic era troops. In the end, food poisoning, food bad preservation and sheer hunger driving to eat whatever was at hand, were in some campaigns deadlier than swords or bullets.

As for the usual question about being able to fight with what, to a modern eye, may well seem as not enough food, or not varied enough (not to mention not tasty enough), there is a funny insight in one of Asterix comic-books. As Asterix and Obelix are asked to take care of a youngster who has enrolled with the Legions. As themselves are in the training phase, they are served their first meal. Gruesome gruel could be a fair view of it. Then our Gallic heroes reckon the Roman Legions must be truly strong, because, they say, the strength of an army is given by the quality (or better that lack of it) of its food. I mean, when Napoleon’s artillery is pounding the ground you are on, it matters quite little if you had a proper breakfast that morning- one guess is either hold fast or run fast, regardless of the menu.

Now, in the search for better preserved food, armies have a lot to say, one can assume. And so, during the French Revolutionary Wars, the French, who were fighting in multiple fronts and against many a foe, and were resorting to levés en masse to get the numbers working, decided that something had to be done. In 1795, the military issued a decree establishing a gold prize of 12000 francs for a new method to preserve food for the army. An up to then confectioner and chef named Nicolás Appert thought he could do it. (Or so the story goes). But as everything in here seems to be related in some form to Napoleon and his “marching on its stomach” armies, it happened to be but in 1810, in the very middle of the Napoleonic Wars, that Appert came forward with the ingenious solution. After long experimentation, he simply (or not so) put the foodstuffs in glass jars, sealed the jars with cork and wax, then placed the jars in boiling water. And that was it, 12000 well-earned francs from Nicolás who went on with the show writing a book on his methods and opening the first factory of its kind in the Paris outskirts. Unfortunately, it seems mass production couldn’t reach its peak before the invasion of Russia (transport would have been a nightmare, also) so the remnants of the Grande Armée ended up eating their horses and, allegedly, sometimes each other.

Well, as the military requested from Appert-to give him the money-that his method should be open to the public, the benefits of his invention were soon expanded throughout Europe, and even America, by means of adaptation (Peter Durand in Britain, also introducing the tin can) or patent purchasing. Yet, maybe not surprisingly, the military were not taking great advantage of something they had contributed to develop. And in France’s (and Britain’s) next great war, this was going to be, again, a source of misfortunes and the tomb of many.

We all know Florence Nightingale. (She even has her own statue there in London, in the very Crimea Memorial. Wow). Yet rumour has it her works were much ineffectual regardless of the impact she got in the long run. There, in the Crimea, there was a man trying to achieve the same goal, say, saving lives, but in this case with food. Improved food as it was. His name was Alexis Soyer and, you know what? He, too, was a French chef. He went to the Crimea hand in hand with Nightingale, volunteering to advise the army on cooking. When Miss Nightingale left, herself very ill, he took over the kitchens at the Balaclava Hospital, armed with a team of French and Italian chefs. He took to the British army the field canteens the French had introduced during the Napoleonic Wars, and introduce his own device: the Soyer Stove, which was still in service during the second half of the 20th century. He also instructed soldier-cooks, developed simple recipes, even created a long-lasting bread much more palatable than the surviving hard tack. In his superb Crimea (p.355) Orlando Figes gives us this Soyer’s soup recipe, serving fifty:

  1. “Put in the boiler 30 quarts, 7 ½ gallons, or 5 ½ camp-kettles of water.
  2. Add to it 50 lbs of meat, either beef or mutton
  3. The rations of preserved or fresh vegetables
  4. Ten small tablespoonfuls of salt
  5. simmer for three hours, and serve”.

Sick soldiers got well faster, regular soldiers got sick less frequently and Soyer went back to London. It was the second time he achieved success in such a difficult enterprise. The first time had been providing the “famine soup” which saved many lives during the Great Irish Famine of 1847. Then he published a “Soyer’s charitable cookery” book and gave proceeds of it to various charities. Now I’m wondering… where must be his statue? (Appert has one in his hometown, Châlons-en-Champagne)

So, both Appert and Soyer introduced great improvements, even though not completely successful at the time. Army food improved little by little, with little, or no attention whatsoever paid to balance, or specific nutrients. Quite a strange thing if one remembers Napoleon. “An army moves on its stomach”. Yes, my Emperor. Yet they seem to keep on moving quite well, even with poor food. The Russian affaire was another matter, sire, but, you yourself said once: “never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake”. Nicely put.


For Food history week I am going to write about a very famous liquor I came across on my travels this summer called Limoncello. Although Limoncello is a drink it is relevant for the food theme as it is a product made from lemons. The drink originates from the Campania region of Southern Italy, primarily associated with Sorrento, the island of Capri and the Amalfi Coast.

In terms of when the drink was invented, this is currently unknown as there have been many theories circulating about who actually made the drink first. Many of the theories stem from the Middle Ages and contain elements of myth and legend, making the exact origins of the drink near impossible. However there does appear to be a general consensus with these theories in question. Some say fisherman used to drink Limoncello as a way of warding of the cold at a time when there was a Saracen invasion from the Middle East. Another popular theory states monks made Limoncello as a treat for themselves between their daily prayers. Again these theories perhaps should not be taken literally as there have been no documented evidence to support this and these stories have been heavily reliant on word of mouth. The only documented evidence of Limoncello making we have is from the early twentieth century and that it was not consumed on such a large-scale amongst Italians until the late 1980s.

This June in 2015 I was lucky enough to visit a Limoncello factory on the Sorrentine Peninsula and the process of making Limoncello was explained. Firstly the lemons are grown on large plantations across the Sorrentine Peninsula, the Amalfi coast and sometimes on the island of Capri. They are then harvested by hand between February and October when they are above 3 metres in height. The lemons are then put into warm water and the zest of the lemon is removed as the lemon zest is the main ingredient for the flavour. Then two litres of pure alcohol is added to the zest of the lemons and is stored in a cool dark place at room temperature until the mixture turns yellow. The alcohol content is expected to be approximately 28 to 32%. After a month of putting the mixture into storage syrup and sugar is added with boiling water. After allowing the sugar to dissolve and allowing the syrup to cool, when this is done it is added to the zest of lemons and alcohol. Once again when this process is done they leave the mixture in a cool dark place for forty days. When the forty days have finished the mixture is then bottled ready to be dispatched and sold. After purchasing the Limoncello it is customary to store it in a freezer.

Sometimes the Limoncello is added with Pistachios, Walnuts, Berries and Fennel in order to make different flavours and I as the typical student I am could not help but down a few shots of Limoncello!

The primary industry focuses on agriculture and the growing of lemons aids the local economy. The lemons in this area of Italy have also been used to make other products like cosmetics, soaps, olive oil and biscuits and has done for many years maybe due to the popularity of Limoncello in recent years.

Tudor Confectionery

Human’s attachment to sugar began several thousand years ago, exact date unknown, with the growth of the sugar cane plant, and with steady cultivation across Asia meant it was one of the most valued and rich export from the Asian world to Europe. Sugar itself was incredibly expensive up until the year 1500 when sugar was grown extensively across the tropical climates of the South Americas and earned the name ‘fine spice’ which was reserved for the wealthy. Sugar under the Tudor dynasty (1485-1603) developed an economic status, you were rich if you were able to provide sugary treats for dessert and most specifically have a cook capable of creating sugar sculptures of monumental sizes. But it also played a part in court life in romance since sugar items were used as a way of a gentleman sweetening the woman he was courting.

From Henry VIII to Elizabeth I it was well-known that the monarch adored rich, sweet and fruity tastes for their meals. Everything could be laced with honey or drenched in a thick sauce or spiced wine that would eventually turn your teeth black. Due to the rise of cookery books in the late sixteenth century, experimentation with food created new puddings and dishes; the most popular of all was confectionary. This expanded once exploration of the supposed new worlds expanded the food available to the Tudor society. ‘Sweetmeats’ was a delicacy of crystallised fruit or a piece of candy that was popular in banquets and feasts, this included home-grown strawberries and pears to the more exotic pomegranates and oranges. These are still popular today but due to mass marketing in the nineteenth century they lost their ‘only for the wealthy’ status. But in Tudor times this was reserved for royalty and the top echelons of society. The term ‘sweetmeats’ also refers to the course that came after the meat course during dinner. The prime example of this would be ‘marchpane’, marzipan to today’s confectionery world. Powdered almonds would be combined with what would be considered as icing sugar and then moulded into sculptures. This became popular under the late Plantagenet dynasty but is better remembered as a delicacy of the Tudor age. One Tudor feast was known to have displayed transformations of Ovid in marchpane, another would be a scaled model of a bear and other legendary or mythological scenes. The sculpturing of marchpane eventually gave way to being known as ‘subtleties’ and was usually covered in gold leaf. The Tudor court would eat the entirety including the gold and usually the biggest or most prominent piece would be given to the monarch. Slices would get smaller the further down the table of the Tudor hierarchy you were. Since the Tudors were the epitome to pageantry and obvious conspicuous consumption, it was natural that the properties of sugar was used to full effect when putting on a show since it was so expensive. The sweetmeats course would occur at dinner, around 3-4pm, every day but on special occasions or important diplomatic feasts, sugar would be used to create the finest confectionary. Occasionally there would be a whole extra banqueting tent put up in the royal gardens to house the subtleties, especially if it was portraying a scene from a play, or a scale size version of a palace/castle.

All sugar products were handmade in the Tudor era and was a skill highly valued in an upper class house’s kitchen. Many cooks would find themselves occupied in mixing sugar to make ribbons, bows or table decorations as and when needed. Something similar to what we would recognise as red laces coloured with fruit juices would be a popular treat. Children were not given a lesser diet then the adults so they would be introduced to sugar from a young age so naturally sugary products would be used as gifts to children or as part of courtship between an unmarried couple. Romance was attached to the products alongside it being part of daily life. There is one story of Elizabeth I attending Kenilworth Castle, home of the Earl of Leicester, and arriving to confectionery hanging from the trees. The idea was for a gentleman to take the confectionery from the tree and present to the lady he was courting. Once again this was all to do with the parade that was court life, yet sweets and sugar still hold a connection within today’s society with it being one of the most affluent sect in the business of food.

Chocolate and the Quakers: Cadbury, Rowntree and Fry

The nineteenth century saw the rise of the three famous cocoa refining companies: Cadbury; J. S. Fry & Sons and Rowntree. What were unique about these companies were their Quaker roots. All three were run during this period by Quaker families although by the twentieth century these companies moved out of Quaker control. So why did Quakers come to dominate the British cocoa industry?

Quakers, as Protestant dissenters, were a marginalised group up until the early nineteenth century, including being barred from universities. This meant that a highly educated and motivated group in society were left to pursue business. While a number of famous British companies such as Clarks and Barclays Bank were set up by Quakers, in the nineteenth century Quakers like other Protestant groups such as Salvationists, were concerned about the effects of alcohol abuse. Quakers were a leading group in the temperance movement and saw drinking cocoa as an alternative for alcohol. Cocoa was seen as a good substitute, as not only was it cheap but the requirement to boil water to make the drink meant that it was safer than drinking just water, therefore it was suitable for consumption from those from all social classes.

Fry was the first of the companies beginning chocolate production in 1759. By 1822 the company was the largest commercial producer of chocolate in Britain and had introduced several factory techniques to improve chocolate production. Fry was followed by Cadbury in 1824. After initial success including a royal warrant the company went into decline in the 1850s until Richard and George Cadbury took over in 1861 who turned the company profitable within three years by moving the company’s focus solely onto cocoa products rather than tea and coffee. In 1862 Rowntree was founded and the three Quaker companies began to coexist.

So why were the three companies so successful? Their Quaker roots certainly were a major factor as Quaker businesses were widely seen by the public as reliable and fair who were not out to rip off consumers with unfair prices like non-Quaker businesses. They were also seen as good employers who were socially conscious, again due to being Quakers. They provided decent working conditions, housing, healthcare and education for both staff and their families. Cadbury and Rowntree in particular pioneered socially conscious working conditions such as the five-day week, sick pay and pensions. These two companies are also particularly famous for their model villages built for their workers. Cadbury designed the famous Bournville village in Birmingham for their workers, with superior housing stock and facilities for their workers. Rowntree produced a similar village known as New Earswick in York. As Quakers the signature community pub however was missing in conjunction with Quaker views on alcohol.

However while these may seem morally enlightened, some aspects were outdated, such as the fact women were not allowed to continue working after marriage. Fry who did practise fair practices towards their workers were let down by their refusal to move from their cramped premises which meant that Fry’s employees worked and lived in worse conditions than their Cadbury and Rowntree counterparts.

By the early twentieth century Cadbury began to dominate. During the nineteenth century the three companies had managed to coexist in the market. For example Fry had produced the first chocolate Easter egg in 1873, which Cadbury followed in 1875. These Easter eggs were different from those produced today made out of a much more bitter dark chocolate and were hand decorated, which meant they were seen as a luxury item. However the creation and popularity of the brand’s staple Dairy Milk in 1905 propelled Cadbury to become the leader in the market while Fry’s and Rowntree’s attempts could not match up to the quality of Dairy Milk. Rowntree was let down by the belief of its owner Joseph Rowntree who mistakenly branded milk chocolate as a fad. Fry on the other hand was let down by its premises once again, which did not allow the transportation of fresh milk in the quantities needed for quality production, instead they used dried milk which led to an inferior product.
While Rowntree managed to maintain some level of competition with Cadbury, Fry was plagued by problems. They failed in advertising, which meant that Cadbury and Rowntree managed to gain more of their market share. The final blow was upon the death of Joseph Storrs Fry when the company fell into the hands of squabbling family members who would only communicate via letter. As a result Fry merged with Cadbury in 1919.

By the second half of the twentieth century both Cadbury and Rowntree had both moved on from their Quaker roots and were run in a more typically capitalist fashion, with Cadbury merging with Schweppes in 1969 and Rowntree taken over by Nestlé in 1988.
For British readers, especially, Cadbury and Rowntree are part of our daily life. We recognise and have purchased products bearing these brand names since childhood. In some respects they are a fundamental part and symbol of British life. While in their current capitalist itineration it is easy to forget their impact on British history. Firstly their impact on chocolate becoming such a valued and popular food in Britain and secondly how as companies they helped revolutionise working conditions in Britain, helping make their historical impact twofold.

Merry Drinking and Home Food in Lithuania

By popular vote the guys decided July would be themed as “Food Month”. This is to say that we would look at the role food has played in history from different view points. When I came to choose my subject, I realised I had actually written about this previously: Pumpkins. So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to revisit some of the areas of the blog we have left for dead. I looked through our tags and discovered that the history of Lithuania only had one update. One of my dear friends, Karolina, happens to be Lithuanian and always tells me wonders about the food from her home. So today I welcome you to embrace the Lithuanian food spirit, and as a congratulations for getting a great grade in her Archaeology Dissertation: this one is for you!


Lithuanian cuisine has many elements in common with that of other Eastern European and Baltic countries, particularly Poland-after all they formed a great duchy and alliance since the Middle Ages. This is the reason why there are similar types of dumplings, spurgos and blynai in Lithuanian, Polish and many Jewish recipes. The staple foods from this area are things like barley, rye, berries, potatoes, mushrooms, and certain greens, suited to the climate of the region. However, the nation making and expansionism of certain countries in Europe had great impact in the cultural and collective identity of the country, which did also leave a mark in their culinary heritage. The absorption of Lithuania into the Soviet Union did produce severe changes in the way Lithuanian food was understood- like elsewhere, Soviet product and dishes took prevalence, replacing those of the native population. Nevertheless, the local traditions were kept alive in private garden plots that the Soviet government allowed the people in the region to keep. Families dedicated themselves to the cultivation and care of these plots as a way of keeping their identity and memory alive. Since the independence of Lithuania in 1990, returning to their old dishes and recipes has been an important cultural drive as a way of re-establishing Lithuanian identity.

Now, there is an incredible amount of Lithuanian delicatessen that I could spend hours talking about. Yet, I realised there is something that remarks this revival of cultural identity, and that I am very familiar with, which I believe exemplifies the Lithuanian spirit and identity in a concise way- and without having to induce anyone into a food coma. I believe that Lithuanian brews and drinks show the right amount of tradition and innovation that their entire cuisine represents.

One of the products that is highly celebrated since the Lithuanian independence is Alus -beer. In fact, Lithuanian beer has won several international awards and its finding its own niche within the European supermarkets. (I know this first hand – Karolina knows everything about beer!). They produce this in a traditional farmhouse brewing style. Since their independence, over 200 breweries appeared in the country; many have since closed, and it is acknowledged that perhaps only 70-80 of them are still functioning. In any case, these are local produce, with recipes unknown and dissimilar to other place in Europe and the world. Another traditional Lithuanian drink is Krupnikas (Starka). This is a honey like liqueur and it dates back to the 16th century, during the time of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It is not so popular nowadays, and in fact the beverage has rather derive into a kind of trauktine, which is like an herbal vodka, that also has medicinal properties. Mead, or midus, also has an important place in Lithuanian history. As in the rest of Northern and Baltic Europe, mead was a common drink since ancient times. Experts believe that the Balts drank and produced mead since 1600 BC. The tradition continued and is reflected in the use of this beverage by noble families as a signed of distinction and identity throughout the Middle Ages and into the 16th century. Some academics advise that the Radvila family, one of the most famous aristocratic lineages in Lithuania, used and produced med heavily well into the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 20th century there was a rise in mead production, just like with bear. Beini Šakovas Prienai bier brewery was one of the first companies to start producing four different types of mead that they will let mature for at least five years before consumption. Lithuanian mead reached its peak when Aleksandras Sinkevičius was awarded his own production certificate by the Soviet Union in 1969 as a registered product. Thus the Lietuviškas midus because a honey brew technique recognised by the Soviet power as an achievement and drink innovation. Even though mead is not very common nowadays in Lithuania, its rich history still has a soft spot in the heart of the communities.


As an afterword, I think it is interesting to find out that food matters so much in Lithuania that, according to Alexander Belyi and Antanas Astrauskas, national legislation on  traditional culinary tendencies must prove a continuous use and recurrence of at least 100 years. This is heavily overseen by the Culinary Heritage Foundation, created in 2001 by Birutė Imbrasienė, trying to restore some of the traditional Lithuanian recipes of 19th century. As a cultural scholar, I find it fascinating that a nation can have such a deep reflection of their cultural changes and values imbued in their everyday use and consumption: food and drink. This is true of many cultures and communities, and I believe that throughout this month, you will become well acquainted with this phenomenon elsewhere. We usually take food for granted, even though is an intrinsic part of our existence.  As we change, it changes with us. What we drink and what we eat, and how we understand these things, shows our own character, who we are, and where we come from.

Let them Eat…Pumpkins

So back in October (2014) with the Halloween craze I suddenly found myself thinking: “what’s the deal with these pumpkin stuff?”. Then I realised I knew nothing about pumpkins- OK it is not a big deal, and perhaps you do not know much about pumpkins either, but you know where potatoes or tomatoes come from right? Well I came to the conclusion that I ought to know what was so special about them in both cultural and historical terms…And here is my research.

It seems that they are not only a Halloween icon, but also one of the most common crops on Earth. They had being used as a source of food as far back as 10.000 B.C as recent research by Cindy Ott shows. They were popularly grown and consumed in the Oaxaca highland (Mexico), and certainly cultivated in the Tehuacan and Tamaulipas as staple food since 6.000-5.000 B.C. Most Mesoamerican Pre-Columbian tribes like the Aztects and the Maya used them not only as a source for nutrients but also their seeds to create oil and sauces, and even the shells to make cups. Moreover, it has been suggested that they would also dry strips of pumpkin and then sew them together to make mattresses. 

The use and demand for pumpkins increased even more with the arrival of the European colonists, as there were no other staples easily available unlike in the old continent. It seems that at this stage they may have even being used to produce certain drinks, like beer (Pumpkin beer…that’s a thought for you…) The Spanish colonists took brought pumpkins back into Europe where they became popular as they were quite cheap and nutritious food, and so pumpkins started to become common ingredients in European recipes. Of course, the tradition continued in America, and in fact the first recipe for pumpkin pie recorded in American cookery books dates from 1796, provided by a woman by the name of Amelia Simons.

However, by the 19th century pumpkin consumption went into decline. The main reason behind this turn was simply that fact that other food sources were available, and even though it was still an affordable item for the poor, the wealthier classes did not deem it appropriate for their kitchens neither their tables. Ironically, while less and less pumpkins passed through the tables of both American and European people, they grew dear in their hearts and evoked a sentiment of nostalgia. Moreover, these orange, dark green and yellowish fruits (yes, they are technically fruits) became usual sightings in daily life paintings and landscapes. In addition, this contributed to the tradition of serving pumpkin for Thanksgiving, as a recollection of the traditional agricultural life of the American settlers and ancestors.

So how do we get from the pumpkin to the Halloween lanterns? Well, it is all due to the Irish, of course. With the great influx of immigrants from Ireland since the Potato Famine, a cultural mash-up took over the United States, thus combining the original Celtic idea of Samhain and the American pumpkin tradition to make Jack O’ lanterns that were meant to spook off evil spirits.

But if you think that pumpkins are things of the past, then you are wrong. Most traditions revolving around pumpkins are still alive. The production of pumpkin crops in the United States nowadays is still massive. Researches Orzolek, Greaser and Harper, from the Penn. University have gathered data that suggests that around 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are produced each year in North America, particularly in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, California, and Pennsylvania. Furthermore, in modern-day Mexico they grow enough pumpkins each year to supply for the whole country as have spare to export to Japan…

And with this brief story about pumpkins, I hope your curiosity, like mine, feels a bit more satisfied and complete. knowing about this millenarian food resource that has shape shift from pies to lanterns!