Monday, 11 March 2013

An education: Animal Vegetable Mineral's 'Toxic Treats'

Image: Bradford Observer, November 4th 1858
'Humbug Billy' - responsible for accidentally killing
20 children with arsenic infected sweets!
"Have you watered the treacle and arsenic'd the sugar?"

Last week I attended what I can only describe as an awesomely educational and entertaining talk by food historians Animal Vegetable Mineral. Hosted in the very fitting and beautiful apothecary bar at House of Wolf, the evening focused on the grizzly history of Victorian sweets, more aptly described as 'Toxic Treats'.

Natasha Marks' opening line controversially turned the audience's preconceptions of Victorian cuisine on its head: "Mrs Beeton was a liar". As the evening commenced we learnt about the demon grocers of Victorian London, 'hokey cokey' ice cream 'penny lick' sellers (who routinely infected children with cholera), bakers adding alum, chalk and even sawdust to bread to make it white and unscrupulous 'costermongers' - who took advantage of the poorest Victorians - disguising and trading rotten food! Very grim indeed. But fascinating.

We learnt about the pioneers of food safety, who shockingly fought against the government to prevent the routine poisoning of Britain's poorest. Throughout the talk, we also got to enjoy a goodie bag of 'toxic treats' - each introduced with a ghastly story of Victorian falsification (although we were thoroughly assured that none of the sweets we were given were poisoned, phew!).

The bag of toxic treats - not to be opened until further instruction
My favourite treat - the 'toxic tonic sweets' taste like pear G&T
- oh, and they glow under UV light!
House of Wolf
The apothecary bar at House of Wolf
AVM curiosities

Animal Vegetable Mineral has a series of up-coming events which I won't want to miss:

Sacred Tarts is an alternative Easter celebration, where AVM will exhibit alongside some of the UK's top bakers (free to attend, 30th March)

Edible Art Class - Lick-able life drawing and sugar graffiti? What's not to like?! (tickets £10 each, 9th April)

Maybe I'll see you there?

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