Today I have been doing some experimental archaeology. This may conjure up an image of being outdoors in a field somewhere, but I have actually been in my kitchen!
Today’s idea came from a conversation with colleagues about trying recipes from prehistoric times. We thought that if the recipes used cheap and easy to source ingredients, they could make great educational activities for children learning at home. (Or just interesting for grown-ups to do!) The recipes like the one below will form a new digital resource that we can share with you soon. Great for supporting key stage 2 History ‘From Stone Age to Iron Age’ without having to leave the house. Also great if you are a bit older and doing Food Tech at secondary school and want to try something new.
So what is experimental archaeology? This is where archaeologists test ideas about the past to replicate artefacts or technology. Cookery is just one example. The challenge about prehistory cookery is that our ancestors did not leave any written records. The only evidence comes from animal bones, charred grains from rubbish dumps, traces of food from pots and the stomach contents of human remains found preserved in peat bogs. We know that a wide range of foods grew in the wild, were hunted in the early stone age or farmed in the late stone age onwards. The prehistoric diet would have been rich and varied.
So where did I get my inspiration? It came from an excellent book called ‘Prehistoric Cooking’ by archaeologist and academic Jacqui Wood. Jacqui does experimental archaeology at her world-famous research settlement in Cornwall http://www.archaeologyonline.org/
She also worked on the Ice Man artefacts for the museum in Italy where he is displayed, making the grass cloak and shoes for the exhibit. She also made a copy of the oldest garment excavated in Britain, the Orkney hood for Orkney council. Jacqui has kindly given permission for the recipe below to be reproduced.
What did I make? I decided to keep it simple and choose ‘Sour Cream Cheese’. There are variants such as ‘Beer Cheese’ and ‘Vinegar Cheese’. There are only 2 main ingredients: 1 litre of whole milk and 250 ml of sour cream. You could use fresh cream instead but leave in a warm place for a day or two first.
The method is as follows: Put the milk into a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil. (Children must be supervised!) Remove from the heat. Spoon in the sour cream and stir. The curds (the lumps) will separate from the whey (the liquid). After a few minutes of stirring, leave to cool for 5 minutes. Then pour into a sieve over a bowl. The curds will stay in the sieve, but leave the whey to drip through for about an hour. Congratulations, you have made prehistoric soured cream cheese! Mine tastes very rich. You may like to add a little salt to taste or some herbs such as chives, thyme or mint. These herbs grew wild here in prehistoric times. Don’t throw the whey away. You can use it as a substitute for milk or water in other cooked foods such as rice or pasta.
I’m glad this simple experiment worked well as it has given me insight into the foods that prehistoric people ate. I served mine in a replica Bronze Age pot that I made a few years ago. If you have enjoyed this post, let us know. More recipes coming soon!