A new food shop is offering people a chance to step back in time and experience culinary secrets of bygone years. Zoe Chamberlain reports.
THE air is filled with exotic spices and the shelves are lined with packets of 18th century curry mix, decadent hot chocolate powders and jars of 1788 marmalade.
A sign on the wall reads “Thieves Will Be Deported, By Order of the Magistrate”.
The Copper Pot shop, in Bewdley, Worcestershire, is something of an apothecary of bygone herbs, spices and traditional foods run by Nick Trustram Eve, who greets shoppers dressed in full 18th century costume.
“I love the stories behind the foods, that’s what I find so fascinating,” says Nick, who also has historic games and magazines in the shop for visitors to play and peruse.
“People relate to food, it’s a really good way of engaging them.”
It all began when Nick worked as a footman in the kitchens of Wordsworth House in Cumbria, the place where William Wordsworth lived in the 1770s.
“I have an archeological background,” explains Nick, 47, who lives with his partner Suzi, 31.
“But I’ve always been interested in the social side of things.
“At Wordsworth House, I became intrigued by food and, in time, I took over the kitchen there.”
Last year, Nick heard the Bewdley cottage his mother grew up in was being sold, and the couple decided to buy it and renovate it.
He stumbled upon a studio in Bewdley Museum that had just become available and thought it an ideal place to open an 18th century shop, where he could demonstrate traditional cooking methods.
He says: “I have lots of props in the shop just to get people talking, such as wooden hoops hanging on the walls which people would traditionally line with brown paper and tie with string as early baking tins.
“I use a Mexican heated grinding stone to grind cacao beans into chocolate, and I offer lots of tasters.
“There was spice which was called grains of paradise, which was very popular in the medieval period.
“It was said to have come from the Garden of Eden. It was pure marketing, of course, because it actually came from the west coast of Africa and was part of the ginger family.
“Lots of these old-fashioned spices still survive in ethnic communities, you can still buy them.
“I don’t really know why they are not around any more in our culture. It’s a great shame.
“Herbs and spices used to have very specific uses. I sell hyssop that was traditionally used to break down fat so it’s helpful when cooking fatty meats like mutton or goose.
“You can’t buy that from spice shops anymore, only garden centres.
“When I worked at Wordsworth House, I used to walk round with tansy in my shoes as it was said to help with the waterworks!
“But you have to be careful as something like one in 10 people are allergic to tansy.”
Various events take place at The Copper Pot, such as talks on the origins of gingerbread men and period chocolate and pepper-tasting.
“We sometimes host Tudor dinner parties. Back in the time of King Henry VIII, people used to eat a diet of around 75 per cent meat. And the rest wasn’t made up with fresh vegetables or fruit, it was cream and sugar “I really like looking into the development of foods.
“For example, we sell two hot chocolates – a Spanish one from 1685, flavoured with chilli and orange, and an 18th century English one, flavoured with long pepper, cinnamon and cardamom, which really changes the taste.
“Gingerbread recipes dating back to the 18th century used actual breadcrumbs and red wine. We sell mixes where you can just add butter to make traditional gingerbread.”
Nick also teaches in schools, where he often likes to surprise as much as educate his pupils.
“I like to add a little gold into the cooking in schools as gold is edible, and the children love the fact they’ve eaten a bit of gold.
“I also make them nettle soup. They ask if it’s going to sting them when they eat it.”
There is a playful nature to The Copper Pot. Nick launched the shop at the end of March with a “jelly and cream day”, complete with 18th century 10-inch tall jellies in big domes.
He takes reference from the earliest cookery book which was written in the 1400s for King Richard II and is called The Forme of Cury.
“People get confused that it is about curry but ‘cury’ meant cookery back then,” he says.
“A lot of cookery books from the past are about feasts because the poor people never wrote their recipes down.
“In the 18th century there were often flamboyant jellies on the upper class dinner tables, made to look like fruit bowls or bird’s nests made entirely out of jelly.”
* Demonstrations regularly take place at The Copper Pot, which is open every Thursday to Sunday until the end of November. Entrance is free. To find out more, visit www.thecopperpot.co.uk.