Forever Edinburgh: Food for thought as Gladstone’s Land launches first historical food tour

Historic tourist attraction Gladstone's Land is launching a food tour - with visitors able to try 'donkey tea' and 'parlies' linked to the historic building's past.

By Caitlyn Dewar
Monday, 7th June 2021, 12:30 pm

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Owned by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), the 500-year-old tenement building on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh was given a £1.5million restoration and has just reopened after a torrid time experienced by the heritage body during the pandemic. With its visitor attractions forced to close, the NTS suffered a massive drop in revenue and was forced to make staff redundant. However, almost 200 under-threat jobs were saved by a £3.8m government bailout.

And now, as Covid-19 restrictions continue to ease, staff at Gladstone’s Land are gearing up for what is hoped to be a great summer for visitor numbers to what is valued as one of Edinburgh’s most treasured historic buildings.

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After opening to the public for the first time last month following a £1.5m restoration, the National Trust for Scotland’s Gladstone’s Land at the top of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is introducing its first ever interactive historical food tour next week (Wednesday June 9).

Next week visitors can go on a historical food tour starting from Wednesday June 9.

The 'Tables Through Time' tour follows the lives of three women that lived and worked at Gladstone's Land, telling the story of changing tastes in food in Edinburgh's Old Town and the impact of trade, class and fashion on people's diets.

Tourists can try 'donkey tea', toast steeped in hot water, and parlies, a type of ginger biscuit named because they were a favourite with members of the Scottish parliament.

Visitors will get to taste the likes of bannocks sweetened with fruit, sugar or honey, and can try a specially created ice cream made with lemon curd and elderflower afterwards.

The ‘Tables Through Time’ tour follows the lives of three women that lived and worked at Gladstone’s Land, telling the story of changing tastes in food in Edinburgh’s Old Town and the impact of trade, class and fashion on people’s diets.

Based on specially-commissioned research from Lindsay Middleton, PhD researcher in food history at the University of Glasgow and University of Aberdeen, the tour goes from a 17th century kitchen on the first floor, an 18th/19th century draper's on the second floor and a 20th century boarding house on the third floor.

Food historian Lindsay Middleton said: "Historical food is something we are becoming increasingly interested in, whether it is history week on the Great British Bake Off or reading recipes in historical cookbooks and marvelling at strange ingredients and cooking techniques.

"Scottish food does have a rich and varied history.

"In the harsh climate, Scottish people have had to be creative with food.

"On the Tables Through Time tour, we look at three women who lived in Gladstone's Land, and how food and drink figured in their lives.

"Considering the different foods that would have been cooked and eaten within the property throughout its history will show how food, life, and work have always been linked."

Claire Grant, the National Trust for Scotland's Operations Manager for Edinburgh said: "It's impossible to think about Gladstone's Land without thinking of food.

"It has been at the centre of Edinburgh's spice and coffee trade, it's been a tavern, it's been a home.

"From the ice cream flavours served to the spices that sit in the tables in the coffee shop, we've taken inspiration from the flavourful history of the building, its residents and its many uses over the centuries, to create a place people will love."

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