Pig’s haslets, roasted chickens, fish, lobster, oysters, sheep’s head, small ale, coffee and wine are some of the things that diarist Pepys consumed. One day in February 1661 he says emphatically, “I drank wine upon necessity, being ill for want of it, and I find reason to fear that by my too sudden leaving off wine, I do contract many evils upon myself.” His logic may not have been absurd: water was polluted and undrinkable, and his wife died of typhoid.

Someone’s character is defined, in part, through their food preferences. It’s the same with fictional characters. When the first Godfather movie was made Coppola said, if nothing else, the audience would see how to make a really good tomato sauce. The dinner preparation scene in Goodfellas is a stand-out sequence and shaving garlic with a razor blade a good tip.

Pepys was omnivorous although vegetables are rarely recorded due the era’s views on food grown in the ground. More of the type of diet he enjoyed, is in this documentary. The week long immersion in 17th century England plays havoc with the two presenters’ constitutions making them sluggish, smelly and permanently woozy. Starting the day with a beer is not easy.

Three hundred and fifty years since the Restoration and with the huge advances in science, medicine and public health it would be reasonable to expect a different experience. Perhaps not.

As this film shows feeling enervated and expanding the waistline is somewhat inevitable today simply by consuming many standard product lines. Eschewing junk makes no difference.

While some of the elements in Pepys’s diet may sicken people now he was a light eater; and though people lie about such things, he was painfully honest about his other indiscretions, so we may take him at his word on that. He was also very active, often walking from Whitehall to the City and all that activity may have preserved him to a full seventy years. Boiled sheep’s head with tongue, coxcomb and cheek of salmon, anyone?

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2015. All Rights Reserved.


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