Culinary tourism is a hot travel trend that shows no signs of weakening.
The Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance defines it as “… the pursuit of unique and memorable eating and drinking experiences. By combining travel with these edible experiences, culinary tourism offers both locals and tourists alike an authentic taste of place …”
As Chef Emeril Lagasse might say, we have the opportunity to kick culinary tourism up a notch by creating programs that introduce authentic tastes of the past.
The following event description is from The Castle, a historic museum house in Marietta, Ohio. They developed the program in conjunction with the culinary staff of The Cook's Shop, a boutique that offers high-end cookware and kitchen gadgets as well as cooking classes.
"Enjoy samples of three teas popular circa 1800 and an abundant three course meal utilizing recipes dating back as early as 1788 from Marietta's Centennial Cookbook published in 1887. Complimenting your meal will be presentations on the research behind the tea and the food, a discussion by the chefs about what it was like to use 100+ year old recipes. You will also learn about the cookbook and the cooks behind the recipes."
In order to create your own historic dining and drinking experience, you need recipes and other information. The event designers in Marietta had a vintage local cookbook to guide their menu planning. That certainly made their job easier but it’s not required. You can build a successful event without food and drink background material specific to your location. Select a time period that interests you and start exploring. Here are a few possibilities.
1890s - The Victorian Sunday dinner
1912 - Downton Abbey tea party
1920s - Great Gatsby cocktails and appetizers
1940s - Homefront meals and rationing during World War II
1950s – Recipe disasters – think Jello molds and Spam
1960s - Mad Men cocktails and appetizers
1970s - Groovy fondue party
Once you settle on the era and the menu, customize your event by incorporating vintage photos of local people and places and descriptions of what was happening in your town or area at the time.
There is an abundance of information on historic food and drink online. Take a look at Food Timeline for starters.
For further inspiration check out the site for the PBS television program A Taste of History.
Visit Amazon and enter “historic cookbooks,” “retro recipes” or “vintage cocktails” in the search bar. Click on the titles that interest you and browse their tables of contents for more ideas.
Of course, nothing beats a trip to the good old public library where you will likely find an astounding array of cookbooks, including many historical and vintage titles.
Finding a Dinner Partner
Kitchen shops and cooking schools are not the only possible partners for historic food and drink themed events. Hotels, restaurants, bars, breweries, wineries, distilleries and caterers are also good candidates.
Depending on the time period you’re exploring, you may want to add a non-food and beverage partner to the mix. If you’re doing a Victorian dinner, ask an antique shop to provide several examples of period silverware, dishes and glassware. This would add yet another hands-on element for program participants.
These sorts of programs tend to be very popular and can expand your audience by attracting foodies and as well as history buffs. Make sure to take lots of pictures of people tasting your historic food and drink. Post them on social media and use them to market future food-themed events.
One final note: Don’t forget to check your local regulations regarding sale and consumption of food, beverages and alcohol.