This is not the year I’ll finally get to the Idaho Potato Museum, or see the Cup Noodles collection in Osaka. The almond paste Princess Diana at the Szamos Marzipan Exhibition must wait; even the Cork Butter Museum feels too far away. But happily, the UK has some food-related tourist attractions of its own open this summer.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for an island nation, there’s a fair few fish-related sights. The Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther is well worth a morning of your time, before a trip to William and Kate’s favourite chippie next door (don’t let that put you off, it’s good). And you can admire displays of coracles, nets and knots in Hull, Grimsby, Great Yarmouth, Folkestone, Hastings, Brighton and the National Museum of Wales, among others. The tiny baby crustaceans at Padstow’s National Lobster Hatchery get rave reviews; you can even adopt one (which doesn’t, I must stress, mean you get to eat it further down the line).
The star exhibit at the new River Tweed Salmon Fishing Museum at Kelso Town Hall is a carving of the biggest British salmon for which there is credible evidence, a 69¾lb (31kg) fish caught by the Earl Home in about 1735. Across the water you can book a guided tour of the largest wild eel fishery in Europe, at Lough Neagh in County Antrim.
There are plans to transform the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket into a national food museum, but it is currantly, if you’ll excuse the pun, hosting an exhibition exploring our relationship with fruit and sugar. On the same theme, the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale in Kent offers guided orchard tours – or you can combine the two at the Wilkin & Sons Jam Museum in Tiptree, Essex, which is an engaging combination of old jars, family history – and the obligatory two-headed animal beloved of so many small museums. A chick, in this case.
Reading’s museum features a Huntley & Palmers gallery devoted to the biscuit behemoth, and Melton Mowbray’s includes, along with the inevitable two-headed calf, displays on pork pies and Stilton cheese. The cheese museum at Yorkshire’s Courtyard Dairy may be closed for refurbishment, but across the Dales the Wensleydale Cheese Experience is very much open, as is Somerset’s Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company visitor centre.
[See also: How Brexit is already changing what we eat]
Those with a sweet tooth may fancy York’s Chocolate Story, Birmingham’s Cadbury World, or Brixton’s Chocolate Museum, though I’m bookmarking John Bull’s World of Rock in Bridlington, where you can roll your own stick of seaside rock and gawp at people making kola kubes.
Finally, two glorious oddballs. First, the Museum of Brands in Notting Hill, which has a fascinating assortment of packaging and marketing material from the Victorian era onwards. It’s amazing how excited people (ahem) can get over an old packet of Monster Munch or an enormous tin of beans. Which leads us on to the world’s only Baked Bean Museum of Excellence, run by Captain Beany himself (formerly known as Barry Kirk) from his Port Talbot council flat. Since spending 100 hours in a bath of baked beans for charity in 1986, he has dedicated his life to bean-related exploits, raising more than £150,000 for good causes in the process. This collection of memorabilia is part of that effort – though it sounds like the saucy Beany himself is the star turn. Booking essential, and I’m first in line.
Next issue: Alice Vincent on gardening
This article appears in the 28 Jul 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Summer special