Yield: 1 servings
ARCHAEOLOGIST LEARNS TO BE A BRONZE AGE GOURMET London--Stinging nettles aren't everyone's cup of tea, but archaeologist Mike Corbishley says they make a pretty good soup.
He studies the food that Europeans ate during the Bronze Age thousands of years ago. He gathers the raw ingredients, cooks the dishes and eats them.
"Nettle soup is delicious and tastes like spinach, but the bread made without yeast is rather bland," he said.
An intriguing aspect of the long-ago diet is that the ingredients are still around. The wild plants growing in prehistoric Britain are still here, like nettles, sow thistle, sorrel, dandelion and lady's smock.
Evidence about foods comes from the work of archaeologists digging up graves and settlement sites to study the Bronze Age peoples who inhabited Europe from the Caspian Sea to the Atlantic coast of Spain from about 2500 to 700 B.C.
It's called the Bronze Age because in that period tin and copper were widely alloyed to make bronze for tools, weapons, pots and jewelry.
The Bronze Age people had no writing so all we know about them is what comes out of the ground.
The Bronze Age diet was highlighted at a conference put on in late October by the Council of Europe at the British Museum in London.
From its headquarters in Strasbourg, France, the council's cultural committee has begun a two-year campaign to widen knowledge of the Bronze Age because it sees in that period the first common pursuits of early Europeans. They had a network of trade routes and olive oil and wine were among the products traded in the later part of that era.
Corbishley, 50, a former teacher and archaeologist, is head of education at English Heritage, the state body responsible for preserving historic and architecturally important buildings, ruins and sites.
"To help children to better understand the past we talk to their teachers about what we have discovered of daily life. The good thing about food is that everyone is interested in it," he said in an interview.
"We find seeds or fruits preserved in boggy ground, sea shells, fish and animal bones and clues to how meat was handled by looking at butchery techniques showing in the bones. The bones also show traces of cooking and splitting to extract marrow." Corbishley said a number of recipes have survived into modern times in remote places like the Shetland and Orkney islands off the northern Scottish mainland where life is harsher.
"Even in the late 20th century people have gathered and cooked the same sorts of raw materials," he said.
One recipe still in use is nettle puree, a sort of thick soup.
"At demonstrations people have quite a shock when they see us grab handfuls of stinging nettles, although we put gloves on," Corbishley said.
Andrew Hamilton, press officer at the British Museum, said he had tasted the puree. "It's very good, like soup made from lettuce, but the nettle leaves must be young." Bronze Age bread is another story.
"I quite like non-yeast bread, but it wouldn't suit everyone," Corbishley acknowledged. "The barley gives it a strong taste." ~-Inland Valley Daily Bulletin November 24, 1994 Submitted By TIFFANY HALL-GRAHAM On 12-02-94