DESTINY WAS devious in getting Michelle Berriedale-Johnson into the food business. The lively English raconteur, who recently charmed a Smithsonian audience with her tales of long-ago Londoners at the table, started out to be a historian. But helping a friend with a party led to catering, catering led to food research, and food research led back to history with a new emphasis on how every element in the social fabric of the past affected what people ate and drank.
Today Berriedale-Johnson has a dual career. Back in London, she and a partner run a catering firm that specializes in traditional British foods. In the United States, she lectures on the history of food in England, showing slides of great dining rooms, celebrated gourmets and exotic dishes, sometimes demonstrating just how a Victorian chef would arrive at Lemon Boodles Fool or mock turtle soup.
On demand, she can produce an entire period meal -- name your period. She can also create an edible replica of anything from a bowler hat to a palace. Chocolate cake, it seems, is a building material as sound for the miniature edifice as brick and stone for the colossal one. Royal icing is a mortar to match.
For Prince Charles' last birthday, Berriedale-Johnson made a model of his house in fruitcake, marzipan and royal icing -- he doesn't care much for chocolate cake, she learned. For the Prince's wedding to Lady Diana Spencer last July, it was a scale model of St. Paul's Cathedral, where the royal couple was married.
Authentic, she says, to the last pillar, even though the diminutive Queen Anne out front didn't look exactly like the statue welcoming congregations to the actual St. Paul's. Who says we've left the period when pastry was called a branch of architecture?
Catercall, the Berriedale-Johnson catering service, also turns out food for many of the BBC's historical dramas. After all, there has to be something on the plates when a set of Trollope characters gathers for a hunt breakfast, and it better not be fish and chips.
There are classes under Berriedale-Johnson's direction, too, where aspiring medievalists can learn the cooking of the Middle Ages and Renaissance buffs can acquaint themselves with the cuisine of the Elizabethan era. Often these take place in the kitchens of great country houses now held by the National Trust.
Not everything Berriedale-Johnson has to say about eating in the past would inspire nostalgia. It was colorful all right; there were those peacocks coming to the festive board with all their plumage on. Still, the modern palate shrinks from all that honey and sugar, which were reputedly responsible for the great Queen Elizabeth's black teeth.
Certainly, no one who shares contemporary consumers' concerns about dangerous additives in food could have enjoyed a tranquil mouthful in the bad old days of the 18th and 19th centuries. As Berriedale-Johnson tells it, there is documentation from about 1750 of horrendous adulteration of English food.
With no Ralph Nader and no Food and Drug Administration to attempt to keep them in line, food merchants tried to prolong the shelf life of their products and, at the same time, stretch quantities by putting alum in flour, chalk in milk and pulverized bones in bread.
They extended cocoa with earth and mutton fat. They dried out used tea leaves and resold them. They put red lead in cheese to make it a pleasing orange and copper in pickles for greenness.
Small wonder that there was so much interest in herbs, which were supposed to have medicinal properties that promised to make the diner feel a little better. According to Berriedale-Johnson, this explains how salad became a standard part of an Anglo-Saxon meal. Everybody suffered from flatulence, and everybody believed in herbal remedies for most physical problems. Nobody differentiated between what we think of as herbs today and the rest of the edible plant world.
Herbs and spices from the East had been concealing the taste of rot in English food since the Crusades. Their numbers increased as the explorers of the 16th and 17th centuries traveled more widely. Decay, however, had its uses. The loaf of bread baked on Good Friday was kept in the kitchen all year as a kind of blessing. When it was conspicuously moldy, it was good for gunshot wounds.
Michelle Berriedale-Johnson's new book, "Olde Englishe Recipes" (Platkus, $12), can be obtained through the Smithsonian bookstore. A collection of "receipts," as they used to call them, for dishes eaten in England at various times over the last thousand years, it won't tell you how to poultice your gunshot wounds with home-grown penicillin, but it will reveal the secrets of such ancient delights as these.
APPLEMOY (6 servings) 1 pound apples, peeled, cored and sliced 1 tablespoon cornstarch 1 tablespoon ground almonds 1/2 teaspoon allspice 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 1 tablespoon honey 1 1/2 cups milk 1 tablespoon cinnamon, for top 3/4 cup whipping cream
Simmer apples in water until soft, drain fruit and blenderize or push through a sieve to pure'e. Place the cornstarch, almonds, spices and honey in a deep saucepan and add a little milk, stirring until smooth. Gradually add remaining milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Simmer 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in apple pure'e. Serve either warm or cold, strewing cinnamon on top and garnishing with whipping cream.
ARNOLD BENNETT OMELET (4 servings) 8 eggs 4 tablespoons water Salt and pepper, to taste 1 1/2 cups cooked smoked haddock 1/2 cup swiss cheese, grated 1/2 cup whipping cream 1 tablespoon butter
In a bowl, beat eggs with water and season well. In another bowl, flake the haddock and mix in the grated cheese and half the cream. Heat butter until sizzling in a large omelet pan. Pour in egg mixture and start to cook as for an omelet. When eggs are half cooked, scrape them into a preheated oven-proof dish. Spread cheese and haddock mixture over the egg, pour over the remaining cream and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. Put dish under a hot broiler grill for about 4 minutes to heat and finish cooking eggs. Serve immediately.
HAM AND APPLE PIE (4 servings) 1 tablespoon butter 1 cup onions, chopped 1 cup parsnips, sliced 3 cups cooked ham, diced 1 cup apples, peeled and sliced Salt and pepper 1 teaspoon brown sugar 3/4 cup cider Pastry for single-crust pie 1 egg Melt butter in a saucepan and fry onion and parsnip until lightly colored but not burned. Put a layer of this mixture in the bottom of an 8-inch pie pan. Cover with half the ham and then with the apple. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and sugar. Cover the apple with the rest of the ham and then with the rest of the onion mixture. Pour in cider. Top pie with pastry and brush with beaten egg. Bake at 375 degrees 25 minutes or until pastry is golden brown.
BOYLED GARLIK (4 servings) 2 tablespoons butter Pinch each of saffron, mace and salt 1 teaspoon cinnamon 2 cups water Cloves from 12 heads garlic, peeled 4 slices toasted whole-wheat bread, buttered
Put butter and spices in a small saucepan, add water and bring to a boil. Add the garlic cloves and simmer 7 minutes or until garlic is easily pierced with a fork. Drain. Serve garlic on freshly toasted and buttered bread.
ELIZA ACTON'S CARROTS (6 servings) 2 pounds carrots 1 tablespoon butter 1 tablespoon flour Handful parsley, chopped 3 tablespoons light cream Juice of 1 orange Salt and freshly ground pepper
Peel, trim and slice carrots thinly. Put them in enough boiling salted water to cover and cook until tender (5 to 10 minutes). Soften butter in a large bowl and mix with flour, parsley and cream. Drain carrots, reserving 1 cup of cooking water. Add this liquid to butter and cream mixture, stirring well to maintain a smooth texture. Add carrots and return to saucepan. Cook for a couple of minutes to thicken the sauce. Add orange juice, black pepper and salt to taste and serve at once.
CHARLES II'S CIDER SYLLABUB (4 servings) Juice and rind 1 lemon 3/4 cup cider 1 tablespoon sugar 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg 3 tablespoons whipping cream 3 tablespoons light cream
Put lemon rind in cider and let stand overnight. Remove rind and put cider in a tall container. Add sugar and nutmeg and stir well. Mix the creams and lemon juice and pour slowly into cider.
Whisk mixture by turning whisk backward and forward between palms of hands. When mixture is thick and spongy, pour into 4 glasses and let stand several hours before serving. Cider in the bottom of the glass may be drunk after foam is eaten with a spoon.