Thursday, July 8, 2010

Culinary History With a Sense of Humor

Ever wondered what it was like to live in a time period when water was unsafe and people of all ages drank ale with every meal? Or have you seen illustrations of the fabulous beasts laid to rest on medieval tables and wondered just what a cockatrice actually tasted like? These are the small personal details that all of us curious foodies want to know about, but somehow those dry historical tomes that painstakingly list who ate what and when always fail to satisfy. Fear not, BBC's television series The Supersizers is here to save the day. Inspired by the infamous American documentary Supersize Me, wherein filmaker Morgan Spurlock charted the disasterous results of eating nothing but McDonald's for 30 days, The Supersizers places Giles Coren (he's a restaurant critic) and Sue Perkins (she's a comedian and radio broadcaster) in a different historic time period each week wherein they must eat, dress, and live according to the style of the chosen era for a full seven days.

Each episode begins with a trip to a physician where Sue and Giles are given a full work-up and then advised on the possible health consequences of the diet they are about to adopt. For example, when Giles and Sue travel back to Elizabethan times they are warned that the copious amounts of sugar in 1500's cuisine will likely cause them to become hyperactive, while the correspondingly high levels of protein will make them lethargic. In other words, constant mood swings. (Hmmm, maybe thats why Shakespeare wrote both comedies and tragedies...)
Likewise, they are both warned that their livers will experience some additional stress as they adapt to consuming only alcoholic drinks at meal times.

Afterwards the pair dress the part and take up residence in a period house. There they are attended by a contemporary chef who introduces them to the typical foodstuffs they will be consuming (all laid out in charming still life fashion on a table) and then attempts to recreate the exact recipes and dishes of the chosen time for each meal. You will be amused by the similar reactions between the different chefs when they have to boil an animal's head for the menu. Apparently the smell is indescribable.

At the end of the week Sue and Giles make a follow-up visit to a physician to see how they have fared. Usually their high sugar, high alcohol diets have taken their toll, but after spending a week in the 1970's they discovered that they had actually become marginally healthier. Who knew? I guess it was the aerobics that did it.

Supersizers will give you an informative crash course in food history (learning about a culture's diet allows the viewer an incredible glimpse into the overall mindset of the era), but it is also highly entertaining. The chemistry between Sue and Giles is priceless, with her deadpan delivery constantly playing off of his acerbic wit. So far I have only been able to find the episodes on youtube (where you must watch them in segments) but perhaps you will have more luck than me. Either way, the hassle is well worth it, but I warn you...this will dash all hopes that you might have had of adding accurate period appropriate meals to your next Renaissance reenactment. The real thing is simply too time consuming and too ghastly in most cases.

No comments:

Post a Comment