Sugar, spice and all things toxic!

Last Thursday night, I got to taste history at a talk by food historian Tasha Marks at the House of Wolf in Islington.

the great lozenge-maker

Arriving as instructed at 7pm in the upstairs Apothecary bar, my friend and I were given black and white candy striped bags printed with the words, “NOT TO BE OPENED UNTIL INSTRUCTED”.

The venue was packed with N1 London types sporting gelled quiffs, vintage clothes and cultured smirks. We managed to find something resembling a blanket box to park our rears on and settle in for a rather cosy presentation on the unsavoury history of London’s food.

Tasha, clad in white and black treggings reminiscent of our bag of goodies, spoke knowledgeably about food adulteration down the ages, with the odd joke about the present horse meat scandal thrown in for good measure.

At certain points we were asked to delve into our bags and try the “toxic treats” Tasha had rustled up in the Animal Vegetable and Mineral boutique food events kitchen.

Chocolate covered chicory beans illustrated how easily fooled the public were into believing this cheap substitute was coffee.

My personal favourite was the Milk Sherbert dib dab to compliment the part of the talk on how chalk was added to milk and a whole host of other nasties like copper and lead were added to food to make it more attractive or bulk it out.

After the glow in the dark sweets, the last mouthful was sugar paper etched with the sketch of the great lozenge maker in edible ink (pictured above).

I have to admit I couldn’t bring myself to consume this after hearing the story behind it. The cartoon is a gory reminder of how a confectioner in Bradford managed to use 12 lbs of arsenic in a preparation of sweets, instead of gypsum. The resulting sweet was so deadly 18 people died, and more than 200 became ill.

To find out more about Tasha Marks and her business Animal, Vegetable and Mineral visit www.avmcuriosities.com.