Well, I hang my head in shame for taking so long to tell you about a dinner for Erasmus Darwin's birthday that we attended on 12th December 2009 but better later than never! The Erasmus Darwin House in Lichfield (above) is a wonderful museum and was originally Darwin's home between 1758 and 1781. Regular readers of this blog will know about the pleasant herb garden at the back - tucked away from view behind the Cathedral Close - and, of course, Erasmus Bunny who lives at the back of Lichfield Cathedral Bookshop. The garden is a fitting memorial to Darwin, whose interest in plants contributed to our understanding of many biological processes, including photosynthesis.
Erasmus Darwin's life and work, he was born at Elston, five miles southwest of Newark in Nottinghamshire, and he worked as a physician, first in Lichfield and later in Derby. He was a remarkable man with an endless curiosity about the world and his influence was far-reaching. He investigated topics such as physics, chemistry, geology, meteorology, plant growth, nutrition and biology; he was also a keen poet whose 1792 work Botanic Garden was much admired by the Romantic poets, particularly Coleridge. As a member of the Lunar Society, he joined with friends such as Mathew Boulton, Joseph Priestley and James Watt to develop and promote Birmingham’s new industrial technology, and - perhaps most importantly - his thoughts on evolutionary biology were the catalyst for his grandson, Charles Darwin’s, famous treatise on natural selection, On the Origin of Species.
Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum, Darwin’s house was derelict 15 years ago and - thanks to the support of Darwin scholar Dr Desmond King-Hele and Gordon Cook (now Chairman of the Erasmus Darwin Foundation) - opened as a museum in 1999 with donations from, among others, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the European Development Fund. Last year it marked its tenth anniversary with a refurbishment of several rooms, while Darwin’s birthday on December 12th was celebrated with a six-course supper of classic Georgian dishes (a fine tribute to a man whose motto was ‘eat or be eaten’).
purchased our tickets early on, so as not to miss out on the feasting, and weren't disappointed by the authentic menu which drew heavily on the recipes of that great English cookery writer, Hannah Glasse. Despite Dr Johnson's rather predictable dismissal of female cooks ('No Madam. Women can spin very well, but they cannot make a good book of cookery') the results were absolutely stunning!
Dinner At My Home, 12th December 2009.
Salmon Preserved the Jews' Way.
Salmon and scallops preserved in elderflower vinegar, dressed with pickled samphire.
Yorkshire Christmas Pye.
Containing turkey, goose, fowl and pigeon, served with mashed potato with Nasturtium berries and limes; buttered cabbage; ragout of onions; carrots dressed the Dutch way; truffle and Morel sauce.
Plum porrige for Christmas; almond soup with jugged cherries Lady North's way; sack posset.
Preserved fruit and kickshaws.
Coffee and sweetmeats.