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Museum Week: Food

Museum Week Food

Food is very important to us here at Gilbert White & the Oates Collections, you just need to visit our Tea Parlour to realise that. But food is also a wonderful way of getting to know the characters we celebrate here at the Museum, by learning about what Gilbert White ate, we get a wonderful picture of what his daily life was like.

museum week food
Thankfully thanks to Gilbert White’s diaries we have a good idea of what his diet was like or at least what fruit and veg he was eating. His garden journals record decade’s worth of kitchen garden experiments and harvests. Just flick through his diaries and you can see that this garden was growing an alarming amount of cabbage and cucumber

October 30, 1792
Planted 100 of cabbages, in ground well dunged, to stand the winter.

Could one man eat 100 cabbages? Well we wouldn’t want to be around if he did! But the likelihood would be that vegetable and fruit from Gilbert’s garden would have been passed around the village, given to friends and much of it preserved so that it would last. Gilbert White was a bachelor however the house would have constantly been full of relatives, friends and servants, Gilbert was feeding a household and a village with his garden not just himself. Gilbert also was an pioneer in the fruit and veg world of Selborne Village. He introduced the potato to the area, and described a way of growing melons (a very exotic treat) in hotbeds (which we still do today). During the summer of 1763 Kitty Battie and her sisters visited Selborne and were treated to a melon party hosted by Gilbert White up on the hanger!

museum week food

But Gilbert White was of course not a vegetarian despite his wonderfully productive garden, White’s diaries and accounts show that he was a great fan of veal, beef, lamb and mutton and fish. He often in later years enjoyed having preserved meats sent to him from London where many of his relatives lived.

January 19, 1788
Received from London a quarter of an hundred of Salt fish.

But what about drink? We are currently in the process of restoring Gilbert White’s brew-house so we know he made his own beers on February 10th 1791 his diary simply states ‘brewed strong beer’ and it was a family hobby as his youngest brother Harry (Henry) who lived locally also seems to brew beers at home, and let Gilbert try his various attempts. Gilbert seems to have imported his wine from Southampton, but also he would have made wine from fruits left over from the summer. One tale is that the barrel in which the original wine-pipe seat was made from was emptied by White and his neighbour Rev. Etty. Two clergyman enjoying good wine, probably sharing stories from the parish.

museum week food

This week we are going to investigate what herbs Gilbert White and his neighbour Jane Austen would have used, as part of Regency Week in Alton. We know that Gilbert White owned a copy of Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery: Plain and Easy, so we have an idea what was being prepared here at The Wakes whilst Gilbert White was living here. The recipe book, plus our knowledge of what Gilbert White was growing here gives us an idea on how these herbs were being used in the Kitchen. Our expert David Standing will be talking on Friday afternoon on uses of Herbs in the late eighteenth century for food, but also for household products and medicines.

museum week food
And if you’d like to know more about growing and cooking with herbs, then why not join our Family Hampshire Herbs Day coming up!