Open Cambridge: a feast for culture lovers

The hugely popular heritage festival, Open Cambridge, kicks off next week with over 65 free in-person and online events across 10 days.

Cambridge Central Mosque  credit Sir Cam

The annual Festival, which is part of the Heritage Open Days scheme, runs from 10th – 19th September. Visitors will be spoilt for choice with an array of events that showcase the City’s culinary heritage under the Heritage Open Day’s 2021 theme ‘Edible England’.

Through a series of walks, talks, tours, drop-ins and online events, everyone will have the opportunity to explore what and how we ate spanning hundreds of years. And it is not just limited to those living in the city or the region. With a host of online events to choose from, anyone, anywhere in the world can enjoy the Festival.

One event, seriously not to be missed, takes place at the incredible Parker Library, Corpus Christi College. Visitors can discover Six Centuries of food at Corpus Christi College by visiting the drop-in exhibition in the spectacular Wilkins Room in the Parker Library or by checking out the online exhibition. The event explores how food is depicted in some of the medieval manuscripts and early printed books, shares objects from the College Archives, including a turtle shell from 1913 and an ostrich egg goblet, and reveals treasures from the Silver collection, such as the famed auroch drinking horn given to the College on its foundation in 1352. The exhibition also shows how the food served to Corpus Fellow and students has changed over the years, from medieval specialities such as jugged hare to elaborate Victorian menus for Commemoration of Benefactors Dinners – and of course, complaints by undergraduates, particularly during the war years when the whale meat dinners were deemed particularly unpalatable.

Books and manuscripts on display include the so-called Parker Cookbook, a very special early printed cookbook perhaps owned by Margaret Parker, wife of Matthew Parker, our celebrated 16th-century Master and Archbishop of Canterbury, an illustration of a medieval imperial wedding feast of Emperor Henry and Matilda (showing what appears to be a very early illustration of a medieval pretzel on the table), and the 1621 lease for Cambridge’s beloved pub The Eagle (which has been in College ownership for centuries) requiring the rent to be paid in ‘fat gammon’.

In terms of online events, highlights include a talk about what the Churchills ate, the history of Indian Restaurants in Cambridge, a look behind the scenes at the Zoology Museums rare and extinct bird collection, a tour of Homerton College Gardens, an Indian cookery class, and a chance to ask questions of the oldest student geological club in the world.

The renowned food historian, Dr Annie Gray reveals what and how the Churchills ate – ranging from exhaustingly long Edwardian menus, through to the pared-back light lunches of WWII – during her talk, The Cook, The PM, His Wife and Their Foodways: archival adventures concerning the Churchills and their food in association with Churchill College. Dr Gray not only paints a picture of the changing dining habits of the Churchills themselves, but also reflects on wider trends within food in fashionable society. She shows how the Churchills (or more precisely, their cook) managed the ration (spoiler: a lot like everyone else, but with a great deal more venison and useful friends abroad) and considers the reality of their everyday eating in comparison with the image they so carefully cultivated.

Britain’s relationship with Indian cuisine has a long history, dating back over 400 years to the 1600s. In Mill Road History Presents: The history of Indian restaurants in Cambridge, Shahida Rahman explores how the curry industry started and how it has led to decline today. She also discusses the history of these restaurants in Cambridge, including the Kohinoor, which opened on Mill Road in 1943, and the story of her father, who established two restaurants in the 1960s and 70s.

Enthusiastic ornithologists, amateur or otherwise, can take delight in watching the Museum of Zoology’s fascinating look behind the scenes at their bird collection during Behind the scenes tour of the Museum of Zoology Bird Room. Dr Daniel Field, the new Curator of Birds at the Museum of Zoology, shares some of the treasures of the Museum’s bird collection, from rare and extinct species to birds with fascinating tales to tell of evolution and environmental change.

Keen gardeners, or anyone who simply wants to take a peek at one of the most gorgeous gardens in Cambridge, can delight as Emeritus Fellow Stephen Tomkins takes viewers on a tour during his film Homerton's Gardens: A Summer Tour. From descriptions of the many stunning trees to banks of fragrant roses, he explores the garden, which are at their most beautiful in the summer months, focusing on the senses while adding interesting anecdotes and considerable knowledge to his tour.

History buffs should definitely watch Graptolites Pudding: The Sedgwick Club Archive to discover more about the oldest student geological club in the world and its archive, a rich resource for geological and social history.

Further online events for the curious include:

In addition to the online events, there are scores of in-person drop-in events. Visitors can discover what life is like as a firefighter and what it takes to become one at the Cambridge Fire station open day. They can enjoy a day of activities including garden tours with professional herbal practitioners offering foraging forays and healthy eating tips, and taste homemade seasonal dishes and preserves at Explore Edible England in the Madingley Hall Gardens. Or discover more about local farming and traditional and favourite family recipes during Edible Cambridgeshire with Cambridgeshire Libraries and Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire Family History Society.

Open Cambridge, run by the University of Cambridge Public Engagement team and supported by the Cambridge BID, has extended its usual three-day run to 10 days of events that bring together local people and visitors to celebrate the unique heritage, culture and community of Cambridge. The Festival is part of the Heritage Open Days scheme, which is designed to offer special access to places that are normally closed to the public or charge admission.

For further information or to browse the full programme visit the website here.

Keep up to date with the Festival via Twitter: @OpenCambridgeUK | Instagram: @CamUniFestivals

Image credit: Sir Cam

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