29 March 2017

Breakfast with Forebears

I have never much liked porridge, or cornflakes, or any other sort of breakfast cereal for that matter.  I prefer bread, butter and cheese and a cup of tea to begin my day.  I may have a piece of fruit with my cup of tea, or not.  Sometimes, I like an egg on toast.

You may know the story of Goldilocks and her porridge-eating experiences.  I would probably eat porridge too if I was very hungry.  If I had a choice between cold porridge, excessively hot porridge and a bowl of it at just the right temperature, I know which I would prefer.

This blog post is, of course, about forebears not three bears.  When I was growing up, I rarely felt like eating breakfast.  It was too early in the day for me.  I was not an early riser.  Getting me out of bed was almost as much of a struggle for my mother as attempting to untangle my hair and tidy it sufficiently before school.

My husband prefers a healthy, organic muesli for breakfast, full of different grains, seeds, fresh fruits and dried fruits.  I prefer different grains, seeds and dried fruits to be in cakes for afternoon tea.

The bathroom scales indicate I should cut back on my cake-eating interludes.  At least I no longer drink tea in the afternoons.  The caffeine keeps me awake at night.  I do my best to maintain a moderate approach to life.

I like to be up and about for at least an hour before I eat anything.  Luckily, I can now eat when and what I please although fewer calories would probably be a good idea.  I am not sure if the same would apply to my forebears.
Do you like porridge?  Have you ever experienced a Goldilocks economy? Do you know much about the history of breakfast?

Unlike in my earlier years, I now find it easy to get up early in the mornings.  That may mainly be because I wake up early with ideas I want to write down before I forget them.  If I stay in bed, the ideas disappear and I spend all day trying to think of them again.

If I had breakfast with my forebears, what would they think of me?

My maternal grandmother often spoke about food rationing.  I learned to appreciate food through my grandparents' appreciation of it.  They were never extravagant eaters.

My paternal grandmother worked as a caterer when I was a child.  She spent much of her life organising meals at home and in her job, as did her mother.

Good food is often the spice of life for many people, with or without spices. Even so, my grandparents rarely ate spicy foods.  They were all quite keen on crystalised ginger, especially my paternal grandmother.  My maternal grandparents liked it in marmalade.

My maternal grandmother had a very sweet tooth.  She loved bread and jam.  She called it 'a piece of jam'.

My maternal grandfather was especially concerned about digestive health and 'bowel movements' in later life.  He was not interested in trying different foods.  Having grown up in comparative poverty, buying strange foods was something he would have considered wasteful, especially if they did not taste very nice to him.

He often reminded me to 'masticate' my food properly.  He preferred a high-fibre, high bran packaged breakfast cereal

What did my Flemish ancestors have for breakfast?  Maybe they had waffles rather than porridge.  I would much rather have waffles if given the choice though they are a bit too sweet for my taste.  And I tend to prefer savoury foods.

What do you usually have for breakfast?

What did your forebears have for breakfast?

Have you often had a full breakfast or do you prefer to leave that sort of meal to fools?  What is a foolish breakfast in your experience?

What sort of breakfast do you consider to be unbearable?

Forgive me if I waffle on, but a full breakfast should really only be served with Staffordshire oatcakes.

I am not sure what my great grandparents in west Belfast had for breakfast.  Do you?

I do not think much of the traditional foods of Northern Ireland, especially if provided through the take-away outlets over there.  Nor do I think much of the quality of food throughout the rest of Ireland.  Even the vegetables and fruits in the supermarkets often looked past their best when I tried shopping there.

It seems something of a misnomer, therefore, to call Irish food cuisine, especially when comparing it to French food, or even Belgian food.

I did not think much of Scottish food when I lived in Scotland.  Too much porridge there, probably.  And Scottish oatcakes are not at all like the Staffordshire ones.

I am quite keen on Welsh food.  That may have something to do with my childhood family holidays in north Wales.  It may also have something to do with the fact that many of my mother's Shropshire ancestors had Welsh surnames.

Do you know much about Medieval cuisine?  I am not sure whether dietary habits in the 21st century are going backwards or forwards.  In Medieval times, apparently, it was considered immoral to have breakfast too early.  Parents and teachers should take note.

What really is traditional British food?  Is there such a thing?  How far back do the traditions of English food actually go, and where did they originate?

My great grandmother in London worked as a nippy in a tearoom in Edwardian times with her sister.  I am not sure if they served breakfasts there as well as other meals.

Nor am I sure what my husband's Italian forebears may have had for breakfast.  Are you familiar with Italian cooking at all?

In the Veneto, they are likely to have had polenta porridge.  Are you familiar with the foods of the Veneto?

In Lombardy, they may have had polenta porridge, too.  Are you familiar with the foods of Lombardy?

In Basilicata they may have had horseradish omelette.  Many cultures have omelettes of one sort or another.

How do you locate traditional knowledge?

Do you enjoy hearty traditional peasant foods?

When he was young, my husband had a semolina porridge for breakfast.  His father would always have nothing but black coffee and brandy for breakfast.  He lasted to the age of 90 on that!

My husband's maternal grandmother, his nonna, would have an egg flip, made of raw egg whipped with sugar and brandy or grappa. She also lived to her 90s.

Although I am certainly not a food blogger (it would make me feel far too hungry to write about food very often) I do like to search for trustworthy information and safe, nutritious food.  Who already knows what you have had for breakfast?

Today's pictures:

Girl eating porridge

Poor man's breakfast

Apples, grapes and flowers

Woman eating porridge

Renaissance waffles

Victorian porridge

Baroque porridge

Medieval porridge

Venetian polenta

04 March 2017

The Smell of Ancestral Worlds

When thinking about your family history, you may give most consideration to one or more of the following:

a) Your memories of family life

b) Tracing your family tree back further than your memory

c) Attempting to understand the experiences of life ancestors encountered

I have long been interested in identity across the centuries.  What have been the changes in your sense of identity as you grow older, suffer illnesses, have changing fortunes, have changing attitudes and beliefs and learn more about your family history and heritage?

I have also reflected on the influence of superstitions and traditions on family life, motivations and personal ambitions.  How have your sense of identity and view of the world been influenced by beliefs and attitudes passed down to you?
Are there ever any unpleasant smells in your life at present?  Were any of your ancestors in London during the Great Stink of July and August 1858?

Smells play a big part in our memories.  Many of my paternal grandmother's ancestors in London in the middle of the 19th century would probably have experienced the Great Stink.

How did the streets and waterways of London smell in those days?

How did other cities and towns smell?

How did the houses smell?

Even though scientific knowledge of diseases was only just beginning to develop back then, civil engineering projects, such as the Thames Embankment, were changing many aspects of life.

What is your attitude towards unpleasant smells?  Do you prefer to mask them, wash them away or consider an engineering solution to the problem?

In much of the world, pollution is still not prevented adequately, even here in Australia.  The science says pollution is dangerous yet governments frequently fail to act appropriately.

When you survey your family history, do you think about how surveyors directly and indirectly influenced their existence?

How did engineering affect their lives?

How did engines affect their lives?

One of my great, great grandfathers in Shropshire was described in census records as a stationary engine driver at a coal mine.  What would have been the smell and sound of his work?

The Great Stink of London was remedied through environmental engineering - and a considerable amount of money.

My paternal grandmother associated her teenage years in London with the smell of spices.  I associate her with the smell of cigarettes.  I associate my maternal grandmother with the smell of soap.  My mother associates me with the smell of roses.

I currently feel most at peace when I cannot smell anything much at all.  And I hope no-one would ever complain that I smell.

02 March 2017

Ancestors and a Glass of Water

If you went back in time and one of your ancestors offered you a glass of water, would you drink it?

How will you know whether cholera is or is not present?

How will you even know that the glass is clean?

How has contaminated water affected your family history?

What do you know about cholera and other waterborne and foodborne illnesses?

Cholera is still a problem in the world today, as are many other diseases.  Before visiting areas where cholera tends to be prevalent, I have been vaccinated against it.

There were many cholera outbreaks in Europe in the 19th century, including Britain.  Even the wealthy were affected.  There were several cholera outbreaks and pandemics.

Before 1854, people often assumed cholera was caused by contaminated air.  Medical science was still in its infancy then.

Do you ever take science for granted?

Do you ever take hygiene for granted?

Do you ever take medical advances for granted?

Do you ever take history for granted?

Do you ever take health for granted?

I briefly mentioned cholera and other diseases in a blog post of a year or so ago:

Finsbury Park and London family history

I have wondered whether my London relatives were affected by the cholera pandemic of 1863-75.  I still have no idea why most of my great, great grandmother's family died in the space of just a few years.

An orphan in the family

Her granddaughter, my grandmother, loved a cup of tea.  I loved having a cup of tea with my grandmother. 

Boiling the already purified water through the convenience of electricity would have been amazing to many of our ancestors.  Having that water supply in the house itself would have been beyond belief to them.  Yet cholera travelled along trade routes, including those bringing tea to Britain.