The agronomist Louise Fresco recently posted about the implications of adding traditional cuisine to UNESCO’s world heritage listings (she writes in Dutch, so apologies to English-only readers). She rightly warns against the assumption that traditional recipes are fixed, and that there is one particular dish that can be designated as the ‘official’ one. Cuisine, like any other form of heritage, is always subject to change, and that change doesn’t necessarily make it less authentic.
That post reminds me of historic interiors, which are also often read as definitive and fixed. Of course this impression is partly caused by the sincere efforts of the owners or curators, who have done their best to make all the elements fit together into a convincing whole, just as a chef tries to harmonise all the flavours on the plate.
The Hall at Hanbury Hall is a salutary example of how radically the look of an interior can change over a hundred year period. The top image shows the fabric of the Hall unchanged since the house was rebuilt in 1701, but resplendent with Victorian clutter. The bottom image shows an attempt to recreate an eighteenth-century look by the National Trust. Both images can justifiably be called either ‘true’ or ‘untrue’. Taken together they also tell us something about our constantly changing perception of the past.