In my last post, I discussed the possibility of spices as an addition to a time traveler’s wealth. Since they are fairly shelf stable, they are a good option for a currency alternative. If refrigeration or existent technology were not issues, there are plenty of other foods that hold value in history. Some are somewhat valuable even in relatively modern times. Even foods that can be canned or are pantry items, have a surprising amount of value simply because of the labor required or a shortage of the item.
Jello/gelatin is a food that is something that a modern person rarely thinks of as special. We might have it as a fun treat (both alcoholic and not). Historically, gelatin was a show of wealth or power, even up to about the 1950s. In Tudor times, gelatin required boiling animal parts and straining the liquid to ensure a clear set. This would require people taking the time to do this instead of other tasks; thus wealth and power. The requirement was similar in Victorian times. However, with the advent of ready to buy gelatin packets (the kind we have now), the requirement was reduced to being able to chill the gelatin until set. Thus the housewife with the new technology of the home refrigerator that not everyone could necessarily afford right away, was able to show off how wealthy her family was. Packets of gelatin, especially ones of the older brands, are surprisingly valuable for the time traveler.
Citrus also tends to be a food that modern taste buds accept as normal. We view is a regular part of life, especially orange juice. However, historically speaking, citrus was somewhat difficult to acquire and expensive. In various points of history, slices of citrus–especially oranges– were used to show off wealth. Even up until the age of refrigeration, having an orange or lemon was unusual if you didn’t live where they grew. They tended to be a thing around the holidays. Whether that was from the weather itself keeping the food cold or that being the time that they ripened, I’m not sure. Regardless, oranges could be useful for the time traveler, depending on the era of destination and length of stay desired.
Chicken, again a food that few think of as special, was once a rarity unless you were eating an older bird. This was mainly because the chicken was worth more alive laying eggs than raised for meat. The cost of chicken didn’t really go down until modern breeding and raising practices, especially with electricity which made keeping the chickens warm a lot easier. Therefore, chicken meat was historically a food for the wealthy or at least the better off in society. While this meat would require refrigeration or almost immediate use, it could be used to make an immediate impression in different eras, especially Tudor times. The time traveler without a means of storage should probably avoid this food item but if refrigeration is available in the destined era then it could be a valuable addition to the time traveler’s cache of food.
Finally, going beyond chicken, any type of meat and many other foods are incredibly valuable in very specific time periods: wars. This is especially true in WWII across Europe. Late war Germany, flour was important; fat, dairy, and sugar were restricted items across the UK (and the US). These foods items are plentiful in the modern world but are scarce in times of war. Different foods were hard to get in war no matter the war time frame and location. While a time traveler should be certain to exercise caution when entering war-zones or times of civil unrest, foods of calorific and nutritional value often possessed a high economic value. A word of warning however, the local authorities may be wary of unexpected food items.
Food items do not necessarily have to be shelf stable to be a value to the discerning time traveler. However, it is highly recommended that the traveler compares the food’s requirement to the historical context. Foods that spoil quickly are recommended to be restricted to refrigerated eras and areas. Pantry items such as gelatin powder may need to be repackaged for era appropriate use. The time traveler bringing food backwards in time needs to consider the context of the food just as much as they would their clothing and language. That doesn’t mean however, that the time explorer cannot bring back souvenirs from their temporal travels. What foods would you bring backward or forward in time? Please comment below and thanks for reading.