The Wellcome Collection, Euston
12th November, 2011

A Feast to Cure Melancholy was a collaborative project with the Wellcome Collection and event producer Pigalle Tavakkoli of Contemporary Vintage. As part of the series Recipes and Remedies Wellcome hosted events exploring Robert Burton's 1621 Anatomy of Melancholy, a text for the betterment of health.

Through exploratory exercises, interactions with performers and finally our menu, guests learnt about the four humours – the prevailing ideas of the physiology of the time, and the key ideas set out by Burton. The four humour imbalances leave the patient melancholic, choleric, phlegmatic or sanguine, and it was our job to design food that would restore them to health by counteracting these complaints.

Helen Wakely, director of the Library, arranged a seminar with experts in literature and in the history of science in which we viewed original texts held by the library, and learnt more about the Anatomy of Melancholy. Each humour has an associated humidity and temperature. Choleric is hot and dry, phlegmatic is cold and wet, sanguine hot and wet and melancholic cold and dry.

We created dishes that reflected these characteristics, which would be used to treat their opposite imbalance. One would eat choleric food if feeling a phlegmatic imbalance, and vice versa. We tried to adhere to methods of cooking that reflected the humour's characteristics.

_________________________________________________The Menu

Potted Wild Boar, hay, 'Pompion' (squash), pea shoots

Grey Mullet steamed in paper, wheat beer
spiced potatoes, spring onions

Seared wild mallard, wheat raisins and dittander

Fresh cheese, prunes, medlars, endives


All pictures by Mike Massaro