by Joanne Gray, Learning Development Officer (Communities)

While The Box is under development, the most frequent question I get asked is, “So, if the museum is closed what are you doing?”

My initial reaction to this is complete surprise! I don’t think those people who ask again if they could see the army of staff working flat out behind the scenes to ensure The Box is a success when it opens. The question should really be, ‘What aren’t you doing?’

For the Learning and Engagement team that I’m part of, there’s a great deal going on. As well as writing, designing and preparing a fleet of new resources and services, a major part of our work sees us venturing out and about to engage with local communities.

Over the last couple of months, we’ve been talking a lot about our ‘Your Recipes, Your Heritage’ project which is using food as its focus. I can honestly say that during the ten years I’ve worked in Plymouth this is proving to be one of my most enjoyable projects to date. People love food – they love talking about it, eating it, sharing it and, if they’re generous enough, they’ll pass on their favourite recipes.

Your Recipes, Your Heritage - Food glorious food recipe donations

In my ongoing quest to unearth local recipes I’ve already hit upon a fondness for junket (a sweetened, set milk pudding made with rennet) and a popular potted herring dish, slow baked with vinegar and bay leaves.

People tell me tripe and onions was once a weekly staple along with babies heads (steak and kidney pudding), and that war babies ate everything and wasted nothing. This sentiment gave rise to a host of inventive baked goods including, another local favourite, Nelson’s squares- a tart made up of leftover bread.

However, nothing appears to divide a Plymothian’s opinion more than the humble pasty! Which is best – short crust or puff pastry? Do proper pasties contain carrot? Has a curried vegetable pasty pushed what is acceptable too far? Do we crimp the side or the top?

As well as having fun with this project we’re also using food to help bring people together. Throughout March, we’re working in partnership with Age UK Plymouth and CaterED to put on a series of events called ‘Blast from the Pasties’. These are designed for older people, mostly living on their own, and will help us to explore and collect feedback about how an institution like The Box can make its collections and work relevant to this audience from 2020 onwards.

A black and white photograph of a group of people eating pasties.

One of our ‘Blast from the Pasties’ events will be a big public event on Saturday 23 March. We’ll be at Moments Café in the city centre from 10am-3pm for a fun few hours filled with live cookery, ‘Can you crimp it?’ demonstrations, a fascinating talk on food heritage from Dr Claire Pettinger, food-related memory joggers and space to meet with some of our staff and share your favourite recipes with us.

Please come along! We’d love to hear your food memories. Why, in a city by the sea, do we eat so little fish? Did you ever eat in a ‘British’ restaurant? Do you know anyone who worked in the Farley’s factory? In return, you can try some junket and perhaps some of our 400-year-old Devonian pasty recipe at the tasting table!

You can stay up-to-date with our ‘Your Recipes, Your Heritage’ project here. Keep your eyes peeled for a new, locally-inspired recipe book too!