A peek at some of this year’s Open Cambridge events

A peek at some of this year’s Open Cambridge events  

Food on checkout. Credit: National Diet and Nutrition Survey 

Food on checkout. Credit: National Diet and Nutrition Survey 

Open Cambridge, one of the region’s most popular free annual festivals, has revealed some of the live and digital events everyone can enjoy this coming September.

A series of fascinating insights include the revelations of what and how the Churchills ate, a look back at the ever-changing history of Indian restaurants in Cambridge, a walking tour full of stories including the ‘great meat scandal’, and a fun, foodie history hunt.

These are just a few of the many events on offer at Open Cambridge, which runs from 10th – 19th September. The aim is to highlight the city’s culinary heritage and culture under this year’s Heritage Open Day’s theme ‘edible England’. 

The renowned food historian, Dr Annie Gray reveals what the Churchills ate during, The Cook, The PM, His Wife and Their Foodways: archival adventures concerning the Churchills and their food. The talk is followed by a conversation with Allen Packwood, Director of the Churchill Archives Centre.

A self-declared lover of beef and butchers’ meats, and a man who well knew the publicity value of a good meal, Winston Churchill was a keen eater, drinker and bon viveur. Dr Gray discusses what and how the Churchills ate – ranging from exhaustingly long Edwardian menus, through to the pared-back light lunches of WWII. 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.

Dr Annie Gray is one of Britain’s leading food historians. She works as a broadcaster, author and consultant, and has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s The Kitchen Cabinet, and cooked Victorian pies and Tudor stuffed boars’ heads on BBC2. Her books include The Greedy Queen: eating with Victoria, Victory in the Kitchen: the life of Churchill’s Cook, and the forthcoming At Christmas We Feast: Festive Food through the Ages. Annie is also a consultant for the award-winning English Heritage YouTube series, The Victorian Way, as well as working widely across the heritage industry.

Dr Annie Gray. Credit: Kirsty Noble Photography

Dr Annie Gray. Credit: Kirsty Noble Photography

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.

Bengal restaurant on Mill Road. Credit: Cambridgeshire Collections

Bengal restaurant on Mill Road. Credit: Cambridgeshire Collections

Speaking ahead of her event, Shahida said: “The first Indian restaurant opened in 1810 by the King George IV's shampoo surgeon, Sake Dean Mahomet, called the Hindoostani Coffee House in London. In the years between World War I and World War II, the Indian restaurant community started to expand beyond London. As the number of Asians entering Britain increased so did the demand for more Indian restaurants and so business within the Indian cuisine market gathered momentum.

“It was during the 1950s and 1960s, when a large influx of Punjabis, Bengalis, Kenyans and Africans migrated to Britain that the Indian restaurant concept started to spread even further throughout the UK – which now boasted around 500 Indian cuisine eating establishments. A handful were established in Cambridge. One of them being my late father, Abdul Karim, who established the New Bengal Restaurant in 1963.”

The Mill Road History Society, in partnership with the Friends of Mill Road Cemetery, presents another event, The Great Meat Scandal and Other Stories from Mill Road Cemetery. Local expert researcher, Claire Martinsen, takes visitors on an hour-long walking tour of one of Cambridge’s lesser-known places of interest: the Mill Road Cemetery.

Along the way, she discusses the food fraud scandal that rocked the University of Cambridge and reached the national newspapers in the late 19th century. The tour will also visit monuments of others connected with the food or hotel trade in Victorian Cambridge where business boomed for many as the town expanded rapidly.

Mill Road Cemetery. Credit: Claire Martinsen

Mill Road Cemetery. Credit: Claire Martinsen

The city of Cambridge’s rich culture of feasting is vividly brought to life again during the Feasting Histories Hunt. During this event, visitors can explore a selection of places, from Parker’s Piece and Pembroke Old Court to King’s College Drawing Room and the Fitzwilliam Museum, and find out stories related to the history of communal dining in Cambridge. People can choose to visit specific venues at their own pace by following a downloaded digital map. After scanning a QR code on display at each venue, a story unfolds as a short video on mobile devices.

Trompe l’oeil plate of fruit (possibly figs); Alcora Factory, Valencia, Spain, c.1765 – 85. Credit: The Fitzwilliam Museum

Trompe l’oeil plate of fruit (possibly figs); Alcora Factory, Valencia, Spain, c.1765 – 85. Credit: The Fitzwilliam Museum

Further events tipped to be popular this year include:

What does the UK eat? The national diet down through the decades – dietary assessment experts, Angela Mulligan and Dr Toni Steer from the MRC Epidemiology Unit, present an interactive online session that goes behind the scenes of the National Diet and Nutrition Survey. Viewers can learn about how the Survey has played its part in dietary guidelines and our health, muse on the trends in foods and fads that have come and gone, raise their eyebrows at the level of detail, and chuckle at the funny bits: even dietary assessment has its light-hearted moments! There is also some do-it-yourself dietary assessment.

Horticulture at a Memorial Site – the 30 acres of ground that make up Cambridge American Cemetery includes fine lawns, formal and informal planting, ancient woodland and over 1,000 roses. Head Gardeners, Paul Hinchley and Alex Shore take visitors on a walking tour around the gardens. Along the way, they describe the original landscape architect’s vision and share their experiences, and those of the grounds-keeping team, regarding the maintenance of this diverse site. 

Cutting the fine lawn at the Cambridge American Cemetery. Credit: Cambridge American Cemetery

Cutting the fine lawn at the Cambridge American Cemetery. Credit: Cambridge American Cemetery

Mobile Teaching Kitchens: Empowering women for a sustainable food system – visit the Mobile Teaching Kitchen and meet the University of Cambridge researchers working with communities in India to find out how learning through storytelling around food is a powerful tool for improving health and livelihoods. This event involves live cooking demonstrations, with the chance to taste the finished meals.

Our Community Allotment Open Gardens – a short tour around the community garden run by and for local homeless and vulnerably housed people. The project coordinator and some of the group members discuss the therapeutic community and show visitors around the site including their beach-themed show garden, wildlife area with ponds, secret bramble walkway, vegetable plots, bee keeping area and lots more.

The Community Garden. Credit: Whitehill Allotment Society

The Community Garden. Credit: Whitehill Allotment Society

A Land Drained, A Nation Fed: The Fens since 1600 – today's Fenland landscape is the creation of the past 400 years. The efforts of successive generations created the geometrical landscape we see today, which has a rich hidden complexity. Throughout the period, agriculture has adapted: this talk explores these changes, and what the Fens have produced in the past and are producing today (30% of our nation's green vegetables and 20% of our potatoes, sugar beet, flowers and bulbs).

The power of steam: Stretham Engine (1830). Credit: A Kirby

The power of steam: Stretham Engine (1830). Credit: A Kirby

Cambridge central mosque: healthy living in Islam – what does Islam teach about eating well and looking after ourselves? Cambridge Central Mosque present an online discussion about the Islamic perspective on physical health.

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 tours, walks, films, talks and a host of activities that bring together local people and visitors to celebrate the unique heritage, culture and community of Cambridge. The event is part of the national Heritage Open Days scheme, which is designed to offer special access to places that are normally closed to the public or charge admission.

The full programme will be available from Monday 16th August.

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A butterfly resting in the Trumpington Community Orchard. Credit: Trumpington Community Orchard

A butterfly resting in the Trumpington Community Orchard. Credit: Trumpington Community Orchard