If it’s not careful The Supersizers Go… could well become my favourite television programme very quickly, very soon. I really enjoyed last week’s series opener (where Giles Coren and Sue Perkins ate only wartime ration food for a week) and this week the pair was back dressing up as 17th century Restoration types and sampling some of the grossest, most stomach-curdling food I have ever seen or heard of. For a week they drank ale for breakfast, wine for lunch and dinner, ate every kind of animal you’ve ever heard of, and ate parts from every animal you’ve ever heard of that you would never, ever consider eating. I’m a vegetarian and this made me gag (and laugh out loud when they spat things out), so Lord only knows how Giles and Sue felt like eating this stuff.
It was the usual deal – Giles and Sue dressed up in their period clobber and got to work getting into the whole 17th century swing of things. The Restoration period was, of course, the time when the reinstated Royal family decided the celebrating gluttony and wealthy and all that kind of stuff would be a good idea. Consequently, the meals were HUGE and alcohol was taken with every meal.
In a bid to be super authentic, no water was to pass the pair’s lips for the whole week (water, at that time, wasn’t fit to drink). As Giles commented: “A week of sweaty armpits and peeing treacle.”
So, let me give you some of the menus they waded through with admirable gusto:
First course: Stewed carp, Jowel of salmon, Pullet in almond sauce. Second course: Neat’s tongue, claret, tansy (an omelette flavoured with a herb called tansy, which is actually poisonous if you eat too much… unfortunately Sue had and she suffered a bout of tansy poisoning).
Then there was Pigeon Pie (which actually contained chicken, veal, sweetbreads, bone marrow, cocks’ heads, cocks’ combs (the ruffly bits on top of chickens’ heads), oysters, pigeon breasts and came with a two-inch pastry crust). Giles had nipped off to a coffee shop in the morning (there were 82 coffee shops in London during the 17th century, where intellectuals and wits would gather to talk nobbins), Sue had made the pie. When Giles complained that it was horrible, Sue explained that he got off lightly – the original recipe should have contained sow’s udders and larks.
More horribleness continued. They went to a stately home to celebrate King Charles’ return and ate: First course: Ordinary pottage, olive purdida, stewed oysters, quaking pudding and some boiled pike. Second course: Hash, tongue pie, lonsters, buttered crab, snow cream, larded pigeon, mince pies and peas. The banquet course: ice cream, pineapple, strawberries, jellies, candied fruit and nuts and metheglin.
One of the dishes contained 20 types of meat and was basically a massive dish of boiled meat bits, which had to carried to the table to by two grown men it was so heavy.
Then it was up to Cambridge to live a spot of Puritan living. They stopped off at a Little Chef on the way up (stopping off in inns during long journeys was popular in the 17th century) and ate some venison pasties and turnips. When they got to Cambridge they had lunch made up from recipes taken from Oliver Cromwell’s wife’s cookbook, which was derided at the time as food fit only for livestock. They ate: Marrow pudding, scotch collops, roast shine of beef, white pot (bread and butter pudding but with bone marrow instead of butter), caudle (a gloopy mixture of oats and spiced ale, looks like sick).
Back in London they ate a meal at Covent Garden market from the books of John Evelyn, the first man in Britain who recognised that eating vegetables was a very good thing. This was their favourite meal - 1 hour boiled mushrooms, pickled samphire, carrot pudding and lettuce.
After a ‘plague picnic’ of Roast shoulder of lamb, boiled onions, gallbladder of hare, ships biscuits, parmesan, sack, Giles and Sue prepared for their final banquet. It was to be a recreation of the feast held to celebrate the removal of Samuel Pepys’ bladder stone (many died from this operation). It started at midday and finished at 10pm. They ate and drank solidly for 10 hours.
So, the pair and their assorted guests ate: Fricasse of rabbits and chicken, leg of mutton, three carps, side of lamb, roasted pigeon, lobsters, apple, quince and pear tarts, lamprey pie, anchovies, wine, sack posset.
And that was it. basically, Giles and Sue had eaten meat for a week, and drank booze for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They felt ill, they felt sweaty, the felt pissed all the time. Not surprisingly, Giles’ doctor told him to give his liver a rest for the next fortnight.
Next week… the Victorian diet.