Oliver Twist gruel recreated


13 January 2009

Gruel, the meal for hard times, of which Oliver Twist famously wanted more, will be served to the public in London on Tuesday morning. 

Oliver holding dish

The barely-palatable meal composed of water, oats and milk, plus an onion, has been recreated from the novel and other old sources by the Royal Society of Chemistry to offer passers-by on Piccadilly the day before the great musical Oliver!, starring Rowan Atkinson, opens in the West End. 

The revival of Victorian workhouse gruel is the first step in the Royal Society of Chemistry's 2009 theme of food, and the meal's reappearance comes a week before a major RSC report "The Vital Ingredient: chemical science and engineering for sustainable food" is due to be published with a launch at the House of Commons.

The gruel will be prepared by French chef Fabian Aid in the Royal Society of Chemistry kitchen in the basement of Burlington House, a building with which Charles Dickens would have been familiar. 

Beadle Mr Bumble will slop the legendary stomach-turner into pewter dishes at the entrance to Burlington House on Piccadilly and a food nutritionist will be on hand to comment.   

Dickens, in his second novel, wrote that the workhouse board: "established the rule, that all poor people should have the alternative of being starved by a gradual process in the house, or by a quick one out of it. With this view they contracted with the waterworks to lay on an unlimited supply of water; and with a corn factor to supply periodically small quantities of oatmeal; and issued three meals of thin gruel a day, with an onion twice a week, and half a roll on Sundays." 

Royal Society of Chemistry chief executive Dr Richard Pike said: "The part that food plays in our lives has perhaps never been more memorably portrayed in literature than in the workhouse scene. Thankfully in Britain matters have improved tremendously but it remains a daily threat in many parts of the world. This year we will be looking closely at food sustainability and the part that science and engineering play in this. Even in the UK we have to prepare for the future." 

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