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Eat, Talk, Walk

  • 05 July 2019

Caius Historian Dr Melissa Calaresu shared her fascinating research on the early modern history of the pomegranate, during a history of food walking-workshop in London on 1 July. Food and urban historians at the workshop entitled, Eat Talk Walk, gave short talks on subjects relating to eating and drinking in the pre-industrial city.

The workshop involved ten food-related stops across London, commencing at Spitalfields Market, stopping at Finbury Circus Gardens and St Paul’s Churchyard, and concluding at George Inn in Southwark. Dr Calaresu spoke in front of the Fishmongers’ Hall near the Thames, a stop that emphasised the importance of the river in transporting most foodstuffs in early modern London.

Using a pomegranate as a prop, Dr Calaresu explained that, “The pomegranate, one of the oldest fruits in the world, crossed the globe as an actual fruit but also as an important motif on a range of decorative arts, including 17th-century English ceramics, such as this clapmash bowl from the Fitzwilliam Museum.”

She described how this exotic fruit was often paired with other brightly coloured foodstuffs such as lemons and pistachios to maximise its vivid colour on platters for aristocratic banquets, but it also entered early modern material culture. Dishes such as the Fitzwilliam bowl were often given as engagement or wedding presents because of the fruit’s association with luxury and fertility.

Dr Calaresu drew on various examples for an upcoming exhibition, Feast & Fast: The art of food in Europe, 1500-1800, which will open at the Fitzwilliam Museum on 26 November 2019 and run until April 2020. The exhibition, co-curated with Dr Victoria Avery, Keeper of Applied Arts at the Fitzwilliam Museum, will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue which they are preparing at the moment. As co-curator, Dr Calaresu questioned “whether, despite its ubiquity as a decorative motif, the artisans who painted these ceramics had any real knowledge of the pomegranate itself and of how to peel this exotic fruit’.

Now that’s certainly food for thought!  


Melissa Calaresu talking at the Eat, Talk, Walk workshop in London. The shard is in the background.

Image (left):​ Tin-glazed clapmash bowl with pomegranates and grapes, English or Dutch, 1639. C.1400-1928. © The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Image (above): Dr Calaresu presenting her talk, with the shard in the background. Taken by Charlie Taverner.

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