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The past
is another pantry
  Flour to the people! Women in Anglo-Saxon costume demonstrate how to make flour using mill stones at a re-creation event. Picture by John Millar
As Bury’s Abbey 1,000 celebrations continue with a community picnic, Kim Smith shows us how to eat like an Anglo-Saxon
An army marches on its stomach, as Napoleon once said. Or was it Frederick the Great? Whoever was the rightful owner of that idiom, have you ever wondered what King Edmund fed his men before they faced the Viking hordes? It certainly was not three Shredded Wheat, despite its stamina- promoting claims.
If you’re planning to take the family to
the community picnic in Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds on 16 July, why not literally enjoy a flavour of the era in which it was founded by trying our Anglo-Saxon recipe? Not only is it very tasty, but it is also healthy as the ingredients are, for obvious reasons, all organic.
Before you don your pinafore, though, let’s look at what an expert has to say on the type of diet that would have been available.
Cambridge University lecturer Dr Debby Banham wrote what could be the definitive book on the subject in 2004.
Food and Drink in Anglo-Saxon England
reveals that families were self-sufficient, consuming only what they could grow themselves or collect from the wild. Even the aristocracy had to rely on the fruits of their tenants’ labours. However, they could afford to supplement their meals with imported luxuries such as wine and spices.
“This book originated in my student day- dreams,” Dr Banham admits in the preface. “Sitting in lectures about Anglo-Saxon kings and bishops, I used to think, ‘Yes, very interesting, but what did they eat for breakfast before they fought the battle or reformed the church?’
“I wanted to know what it was like to be
an Anglo-Saxon, irrespective of whatever momentous events were going on at the time. None of the books I read, however fascinating, dealt with these questions. In fact, the answers still elude me, but the
first question set me off on a research career that has produced, among other things,
this book.
“Even now, it is impossible to say with any
confidence what the Anglo-Saxons ate at every meal, but I do at least know what their overall diet consisted of, in terms of crops, livestock, wild and imported foods, and I know something about the cooking and preservation techniques they had at their disposal. So progress has been made.”
Dr Banham reveals she had few contemporary accounts to draw on, apart from lists of “food rents” paid by tenants to the ruling
 West Stow Anglo Saxon Village in Suffolk

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