Pieter Bruegel the Younger, “Spring”, c. 1600
So Richard got up one December morning, and thought, “By all the saints, I fancy some asparagus today.” Er, sorry, sire, it’s the wrong time of the year. Hmm, the royal taste buds are well and truly thwarted. Being king didn’t quite get you all you wanted.
Today we take it for granted that we can go to our local store/supermarket/hypermarket/market and buy the food we want. It can be fresh and in season in England, or in season somewhere far away and brought to us. It can be frozen, and also come from all over the world. In short, we can get what we want, when we want it. We don’t have to wait for asparagus or strawberries to be harvested in our own country, because we can have it from someone else’s country. We are spoiled rotten, and take it for granted.
But I can remember that when I was a child, there was huge excitement when the runner beans were ready, or the peas, broad beans and so on. Yes, we still rush to buy the fresh fruit and vegetables when they appear, but we don’t have to wait for them.
My grandmother, Edith Lewis, had a cookery book called “The Complete Home Cookery Book”, by Mrs. Stanley Wrench, M.C.A., published by Associated Newspapers Ltd. There is no publishing date inside, but Edith signed it in July 1938. The book passed to my mother, and then to me. I little thought how useful it would be to a writer of historical fiction. Among many other curious and fascinating details, it contains a list called ‘Foods in Season’. Maybe the 1930s aren’t that far back, but compared with the present day, that list of foods is almost quaint. Certainly a great number of the things listed would have applied in the 15th century. But there again, some had yet to be introduced back then, and perhaps the ‘closed seasons’ of today didn’t quite apply back then. At least, they probably did, but with subtle variations – or not so subtle, as the case may be. It rather depended upon who happened to be lord of the manor. But the discerning present day reader will be able to spot any anomalies..
I have scanned the list and it follows in three pictures. Hopefully it will be of general interest, but may be very useful to the fiction writers among us.