Friday, December 30, 2011

Blood Pudding

Do not let the name of this ancient, and renowned piece of charcuterie put you off. It is a pudding made of blood. More precisely, it is a sausage made of blood, beef fat and oatmeal. To be exact, it is a sausage made of blood that is forced into a casing made from “guts.”

If the thought of eating a sausage made of blood turns you queasy, consider what goes into your regular hotlinks, bangers, and bratwurst and hotdogs. Meat, you say.

Well, “meat” is a flexible word. While it does not include fat, skin, connective tissue, lips, ears, asses, udders, and the like, it does stretch to include organs, brains, tongues, cheeks, tails, trotters etc. Non “meat” additives such as rusk (a dried bread), water, sugar, dextrose, monosodium glutamate, herbs, spices and cochineal all bulk up the sausage and help it look pink, stay fresh, retain moisture, brown nicely and taste good. The casing is either made from lamb intestines or cellulose wrapper. But the better part of your average supermarket sausage is made out of something called “MRM,” or mechanically recovered meat. Wha? you say.

MRM is a pulp produced in abattoirs using high-powered water jets to strip a carcass of every last remaining shred of flesh after the butchering for recognizable cuts has been done.

If this puts you off, then you might also want to avoid chicken nuggets. We’ll save that for another time.

Blood pudding is also known as boudin noir, black pudding, because the congealed mixture is very dark. Big slices are fried and served traditionally with one of the glories of European cooking, the “Full English.” This is a breakfast consisting of fried eggs, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, bacon, sausage, black pudding, fried bread, and sometimes, baked beans. The trick is to use only one pan, and to start with the greasiest item first, so that its rendered fat can be used to fry all the remaining ingredients, ending with the eggs.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ham Strata

Geologists date the ham strata to 1969, when similar deposits of meat product were laid down all across the country between layers of soft bread. The large, pink stratum is generally found next to a very thin mustard stratum and a few yellowish strata which scientists have suspected consist of margarine and mayonnaise. A separate group claims that one of the pale strata is in fact Miracle Whip. On occasion, a butter strata has also been detected, though this is rare.

Of interest to stratigraphers is the similarity between the ham strata and the hamburger strata, though the latter is characterized by the presence of dill pickle, onion and ketchup strata. Students of stratiography are encouraged to unearth local samples for study following their introduction to the lunchmeat strata in general before moving on to the far more complex muffeleta strata.

For those wishing to pursue stratiology at the doctoral level, the University of the Sandwich Islands offers competitive fellowships.

Ground Meat Cook Book, Better Homes and Gardens, 1969

Also from this book: Top-Notch Turkey LoafCooties EspecialHamburger Helper?Meaty Surprise!Peppy-Sauced MeatloafTangiers HashKing-Sized Balls

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Better Than Anything

The word hyperbole means to overthrow — to toss a phrase above and beyond reason. Hyperbole is a rhetorical device that is not meant to be read literally. It appeals to our desire to live vicariously through language because the notion or imagery it produces creates a far more lush universe than the one in which we live. Our language is littered with words which describe the furthest extremes of what is possible: never, always, most, none, best, worst, everything, nothing.

It is absolutely true, however, that this is the bestest, most awesome and out-of-this-world cocktail that mankind has ever invented. Ever. Ever.

The Calvert Party Encyclopedia, 1960

Also from this book: Prairie Oysters

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

One Page Fits All

Reading materials have always come with illustrations. At first, the pictures were made with woodblock prints inserted into black spaces left by the printer. When books were assembled, whole pages were devoted to carefully painted illustrations, and oversize letters within the text were extravagantly decorated. Once the Victorians invented leisure time, childhood, compulsory education, and spending money, young people enjoyed books made especially for them which included beautiful color illustrations interspersed throughout the story, as well as lively pen and ink prints that often showed a dramatic scene which was then happening in the text.

Cookery and household management books lagged far behind, only getting small, poor-quality black and white photographs of dishes every now and then. The purpose of such images seems not to be for instruction but to break up the acres of densely-packed print.

The idea that you could separate out the pictures from the text, or that you could or should use pictures to demonstrate technique or showcase a dish has been late in coming to fruition. Back in 1979, for example, book designers still used photographs sparingly, without much thought to the composition of the image.

Here, three non-complementary desserts are grouped together in matching glass serving bowls simply because all three recipes appear on the opposite page. They would never be served together in real life, and none makes any of the others look as appetizing as they would be if shot alone. One cannot, for example, imagine the apricot-based dish’s flavor when faced with the strident green of the Grasshopper parfaits which loom above. The small dish to the side is made from cheese and nuts.

The idea that you should aim to push as many dishes onto the table so they can appear in one shot dates a cookbook as much as any other element. Today’s food stylists and photographers would cringe at the thought of assembling and lighting such a mis-matched ensemble of colors and textures. Here, the photographer has opted for a one-size-fits-all approach with a warm filter and overhead lamp that does none of these dishes justice.

Fix It Fast Cookbook, Better Homes and Gardens, 1979

Monday, December 26, 2011


Have you ever eaten the dried and pulverized bodies of insects? Or perhaps painted them on your face or lips? Of course you have.

E120 is the designation of the food color natural red #4, crimson lake, or carmine. Sometimes it is called cochineal extract. This gives more of a clue as to its origins —  the cochineal is an insect that feeds on cacti. When it is desiccated and crushed, its deep red innards form the dye that, after silver, was the second biggest export from Mexico back when Europeans plundered South America for all it was worth. Then, as now, it is generally farmed near Oaxaca.

The word carmine comes from carminic acid, the source of the cochineal’s color. It has been used in dyes, all manner of make-up, lipstick, and a wide array of foods for 500 years. It has been known to induce anaphylactic shock in people allergic to it, as well as hyperactivity in children sensitive to it, but is preferred by those who wish to avoid artificial colorants.

Go on, check your food and cosmetic lables. Don’t let it bug you.

The British Perfumer, Charles Lillie, 1822

Bizet's Carmen - from Carmine - from Chochineal - from Mexico

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Chocolate Nativity

The word “Nativity” comes to us from the Latin, nativitus, meaning birth. It shares the root word with native, meaning the place of one’s birth, and natal, which refers to birth. Nature, and natural share this idea, in that something that is natural comes from nature, which was birthed directly from the earth. Nachos are a baked corn chip often eaten with a spicy goopy cheese sauce and sometimes, pepper relish. A gnat is a very small flying insect usually found in a cloud in summertime at dusk. To natter is what I’m doing right now. In Spanish, Christmas is referred to as Navidad. A Navidad is a father who spends Christmas Eve putting together children’s toys. Navigate does not refer to a scandal surrounding Christmas, but to the ability to find your way around a place that is presumably navigable. This is not to be confused with negligible, which is of no consequence. A negligee on the other hand, would make a nice gift for Navidad to give his wife. It would prove that he is not negligent, but simply a gent. Gent is short for gentleman, a courteous fellow, though one who is not necessarily gentle. Gentle is not a word for non-Jews; Gentile is. Gentility is not a genetic trait, but a learned behavior. Genetics determine who we are by mixing chromosomes from each parent when we are born. From one’s DNA we can determine maternity and paternity. The chocolate baby in this chocolate manger scene is part human woman (Mary), and part Theobroma (cocoa). The word theobroma means “food of the gods.” Which brings us back to where we started.

Merry Christmas!

Chocolate Fantasies, Verne Ricketts, 1985

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Shedding Santa

There are two props which should never be found in a food stylist’s kit: plastic fruit and hair. The aim of the game is to make the food look realistic (often despite the inedible feats of engineering and coatings that have been applied to make it look so), but the way to do that is not to contrast real food with artificial food for comparison. A plastic fruit looks like plastic fruit, no matter what kind of bowl you put it in. People in the food service industry wear hair nets for a reason: to eliminate the risk of getting hair in food. The person who styled this photo clearly thought that the presence of Santa in the pose of hailing a cab would lead the reader to conclude that what lies on the table is Santa’s hair, rather than, say, a cat’s.

But this begs too many questions: why is it that Santa is shedding so much hair? Is there something wrong with Santa? Did Santa meet with some awful accident on his travels that resulted in great big globs of his hair coming off? What will Santa look like with no hair? And didn’t Santa notice he left such a mess behind? Usually Santa just nibbles on the cookies and drinks a bit of milk and is on his way, with nary a crumb left behind. What has caused Santa’s sudden disregard for the cleanliness of people’s homes? And why is Santa’s hair on the dining table? Doesn’t Santa limit his visit to the area immediately around the fireplace and tree? What has Santa been doing roaming around your house? Is he looking for something? A hair net, maybe? Some Rogaine? Why hasn’t Santa touched the delicious looking pudding pie on the table? Is he repulsed by green maraschino cherries like normal people? Will Santa look like a regular fat bald guy after Christmas? How will we be able to tell which man is Santa when we go to the mall? Will Santa be forced to wear a wig? Where can one find a wig that looks like Santa’s real hair?

The Ideals Christmas Cookbook, Ideals Publishing Corp., 1975

Also from this book: Poinsettia Salad

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sugared Plums (Ouch)

The Christmas season is a bad time for a gentleman’s testicles.

Chances are pretty good that at some point they will be forced to attend the ballet, for one thing. This ballet will be called “The Nutcracker,” a word that sends chills up a man’s spine and pulls his own nuts right up into his body cavity for safe-keeping. This ballet features lots of mice and candy and children. Its most famous dance is performed by a fairy.

This would be the Sugar Plum Fairy, named for a vintage confection popular back when the Nutcracker was written. As you can see from this recipe, it asks you to “boil your plums.” No fellow wants to do this. Boiling sugar is combustibly scalding hot. Suggest to a man that he boil his plums “till they have cast their juice” is to castrate him with cruel words indeed.

 While the balls get skewered, the rest of a man’s wedding tackle gets to bask in the prevalence of people wanting to suck on candy canes.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s Rôti Sans Pareil!

This is a Terducken

People have always tried to impress one another with food. Whether it be Mr. Caveman plonking down a wooly mammoth and saying “what d’you think, Hon — shall we invite the neighbors over for a BBQ?” or a Roman emperor terrifying his court with feats of culinary engineering, the holidays seem to bring out the crazy in the kitchen.

The Terducken, that inelegant compilation of a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey, is perhaps our most recently famous example of excess.

But the Terducken is only the tip of the stuffed-food pyramid. In 18th century Paris, if you really wanted to amaze your fellow gourmands, you made Rôti Sans Pareil, a roast without equal. It features an olive stuffed in a garden warbler, stuffed in an ortolan, stuffed in a lark, stuffed in a thrush, stuffed in a quail, stuffed in a lapwing, stuffed in a plover, stuffed in a partridge, stuffed in a woodcock, stuffed in a teal, stuffed in a guinea fowl, stuffed in a duck, stuffed in a chicken, stuffed in a pheasant, stuffed in a goose, stuffed in a turkey, stuffed in a bustard.

The chap who committed the recipe to paper is one Alexandre Balthazar Laurent Gimrod de la Reyniére, who published it in his Almanach des Gourmands. This is the same guy who threw his own funeral to see who would attend.

They courted friends differently back then.

Gimrod de la Reyniére, Almanach des Gourmands

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


One day, after chasing about trying to kill small animals with a rock, a man sat down and sighed. He had chased game all week and none of the females were interested in having sexual relations with him because he smelled a bit ripe, and well, he hadn’t shaved. Ever. God took pity on him, and gave him an idea in the form of a bee.

The man followed the bee back to its hive, and hungry as he was — and a little stupid to boot — he plunged his hands into the hive, breaking it apart, and stuffed the broken combs oozing honey into his drinking gourd. It still had a little water in it. By the time he got back to his cave, darkness had fallen, so by the light of a fire, he picked out the waxy comb, and left the watery honey to rest against a rock.

In the night, some microscopic airborne yeasts that the man didn’t know existed because he couldn’t see them, fell into the mixture with the breeze. There, they found what they were looking for — a source of sugar — and began eating away like mad, turning the sweetness into alcohol in the process.

The man, upon waking, was so hungry he immediately set out with his rocks to try to kill something for breakfast, and was gone all day. He was so far from his cave, in fact, that he ended up sleeping around a fire he’d made to cook a small bird on. By the time he got back to his cave, the honey and water and yeast had been sitting there, fermenting for days. A scum had formed on the top. He drew this off in disgust, and because he was thirsty, he took a sip.

And another. And another. He sat down. He felt, for the first time in his life, a little giddy, a little warm. An overwhelming feeling of goodwill came over him. He felt like singing. He stood and sang out a song of what it felt like to be a man with a bird in his stomach. It wasn’t good singing, to be sure, but he didn’t care. He was drunk. He had made mead: he felt he knew the secret to life. He was certain women would find him irresistible.

Drawn by the noise, a crone approached. The man saw an angel, a woman in her lush prime, rather than the bedraggled hag before him. He was so confident and happy, he offered her a taste of this sweet nectar that had given him such joy. Curious, she took a swig. Soon enough, she had discarded her filthy animal skins and was dancing naked around his fire. This made the man want to have sexual relations with her. One thing led to another and before long, both were sleeping peacefully, mouths agape, under the stars.

God was pleased with the way man had followed his instincts, but also knew too much of a good thing was … too much of a good thing. So he made the next day dawn with a brilliant sun that struck like daggers into the couple’s eyes, waking them rudely from their slumber. Their heads felt like boulders, like crushed eggshells. They took one look at each other and recoiled, aghast. What had they done? Where did that handsome hunk go? What happened to that babe from the night before?

A hungover Neanderthal and a wizened crone, they both grunted as they gathered their paltry things to hide their modesty. As she retreated, bent and hobbling, the man held his hand up to his ear, eyes squinted tight against the rude daylight that assaulted them, thumb and pinkie stuck out, and croaked, so quietly his words were drowned out by the swish of grass and the hum of bees, “So we’re on for next Saturday, right?”

But she did not turn around. She was already pregnant, the honey having worked its magic buzzing away deep within her. Truth be told, she felt a little sick.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chocolate Hanukah

Just when you thought a chocolate menorah was pretty darn awesome, prepare to get your mind blown by the second temple recreated down to the finest detail no Hanukah celebration is complete without one of these bad boys we know it’s hard but try to prevent yourself and your children and relations from eating these glorious tokens of the Festival of Lights until the holiday is over because a nibble here and there will be very noticeable and might cause either one to fall apart which will not be very festive though you could probably get away with eating a few of the geld please be advised the chocolate dreidels do not actually work so don’t even try to spin them also turn down the temperature in your house because they might melt.

Chocolate Fantasies, Verne Ricketts, 1985

Also from this book: Chocolate Hot Tub, Chocolate Nativity, MoonPie, A Chocolate TragedyAnimal Crackers

Monday, December 19, 2011

Gingerbread House

Dear Residents of No. 33:

Several of your neighbors have reported that there is a large tuft of cotton wool protruding from your chimney. Please note that this constitutes a severe fire hazard because cotton wool is highly flammable. Should you forget that there is a giant ball of cotton wool stuck in your chimney, and you light a fire, this will result in a highly traumatic event for your house. Additionally, chances are high that tufts of burning cotton wool would float away from your chimney and settle on your neighbor’s houses, setting them on fire too.

It occurs to us that you may have pushed the cotton wool into your chimney to provide a soft landing place for Santa. We feel it is our responsibility to inform you that Santa does not, in fact, exist. This is a myth perpetuated for the enjoyment of children.

We also respectfully request that you remove the peppermint candies from your front path, as the United States Postal Service has complained about sticky feet.

Please know that we do not mean to be “party poopers” and only wish the best for your family this holiday season. That being said, if the cotton wool is not removed by the end of the day, we shall be forced to remove it ourselves, at great cost to yourselves, and risk arrest.

Merry Christmas,

Your Fire Department

All Holiday Menus, Barbara Grunes, Ideals Publishing Corp., 1984

Saturday, December 17, 2011


While it is within the realm of possibility of finding a recipe for cooking a stiff upper lip, or a recipe for balls, or one for guts, it is less common to come across one for backbone.

Yet here one is.

How courageous does one have to be to gnaw on it? How does one determine if and when it is “done”?

Kentucky Receipt Book, Mary Harris Frazer, 1903

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Marmite Effect

Marmite, that tar-like extremely savory yeast extract beloved by British people and despised by almost everyone else, is so proud of its ability to arouse such opposing passions, that it has designed its entire publicity engine around it. The website asks you to choose: Love It or Hate It? Each takes you to a different version of the site. Their TV advertising even capitalized on the strength of people’s reactions to the stuff, both pro and con. Marmite has become so well known as a polarizing product that there is something known as “the Marmite Effect” to describe something that provokes extremes.

The British like to think that you have to be raised on Marmite in order to develop a love for it. Certainly, coming to its pungent flavor late in life is not likely to result in quite the same following as a native consumer. There is no middle ground, no mild tolerance. It is so firmly embedded in the taste buds of the patriotic that it has been included in the rations of British troops from WWI on. For those living abroad in places where it can't be found on supermarket shelves, it is considered black gold, something to be devoutly treasured, with every last sticky smear scraped from the inside of the dark jar by the tip of a butter knife.

Marmite is made primarily from the sludge leftover from beer production — brewer’s yeast. It is very rich in B vitamins (including folic acid) and minerals, vegetarian, and very good for you. It is traditionally spread thinly on buttered toast, though it also makes for flavorsome stock and a hearty drink when mixed with water.

Here’s Nigella Lawson cooking Spaghetti With Marmite.

And the recipe reproduced from her book, Nigella’s Kitchen:

For Hitch, who loved Marmite, and extremes. You can take a man out of England, but you can’t take England out of the man.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Poinsettia Salad

It’s the world’s saddest display of Christmas cheer — a few slices of jelly on a glass plate spruced up with a sprig of parsley just waiting for someone to obliterate them with a spoon, or to simply dissolve quietly over time until all that remains is a brownish puddle in which swim some mangy pieces of a once-proud pineapple. A recipe on the opposite page is called “Poinsettia Salad.” It goes like this:

Arrange a few strips of pimiento on a slice of pineapple that has been placed on a lettuce leaf. Put a marshmallow in the center and top with a nutmeat. Serve with salad dressing.

Do not serve this dish. Don’t make your guests wish you’d served an actual wreath. Also, Poinsettias are very poisonous. Do not name anything edible after them. There is no such thing as a poinsettia salad. It will kill you dead. OK, it won't actually kill you but it won't taste as good as a salad made of lettuce. 

The Ideals Christmas Cookbook, Ideals Publishing Corp., 1975

Also from this book: Shedding Santa

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chanel No. 2

There’s more to making perfume than meets the nose.

First, the concoction needs a base to which the various volatile oils which comprise the perfume’s unique scent can be added. The base, or fixative, is the liquid glue that keeps these oils suspended in whatever dilutes them, while retarding evaporation.

One of the most commonly used fixatives was (and in places still is) a substance called ambergris. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? In fact, it’s a waxy mass produced in the intestines of Sperm Whales, which is passed along with fecal matter, or vomited into the ocean, where it floats around, eventually washing up on shore. Fresh ambergris reeks strongly of poo. Here’s what Charles Lillie, master perfumer, says about it in 1822: “Ambergris alone, in a lump, will give out so strong an odour, at each opening of the box or case in which it is contained, as to perfume the largest chamber, and even a whole house, if left open for only five minutes. This may be done with a piece of ten or twelve ounces in weight, every day for a great number of years, and still neither the quality nor the weight will be at all lessened.”

Due to fishing rules governing the slaughter of whales, it is no longer considered a target one can eviscerate a whale to get one’s hands on; one must stumble across a chunk of it, the whale having given it up for commercial use voluntarily. While ambergris commands a hefty price, the whale from whose guts it came is not compensated.

Melville predictably spends a lot of time talking about ambergris in Moby Dick, remarking that it’s odd that “fine ladies and gentlemen should regale themselves with an essence found in the inglorious bowels of a sick whale.” The noble whale provided 18th century society with quite a lot, as it happens, from bone for corsets to blubber for oil and everything in between.

During the deadly and misguided days of human history that marked the “smell theory of disease,” people carried lumps of ambergris with them to forestall the Plague by perfuming the air about them and thus getting rid of plaguey air. They did not survive.

These two recipes – from 1822 and 1742 respectively, both use horse dung as an incubator to brew the tincture, the vigorous microbial action providing just the right amount of measured heat to do the job. It’s rather poetic that a smelly substance produced by the gut requires another smelly substance produced by the gut in order to make sweet perfume.

The British Perfumer, Charles Lillie, 1822

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mad Men

This picture of a turkey on fire is an ad for chewing gum. It appears in a Woman’s Day magazine from December 1969.

Here’s how the pitch meeting went down.

Dick: Tom, what do we have?

Tom: Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum.

Harry: Everyone loves delicious Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum.

Dick: Very useful if you can’t smoke.

Tom: What?

Dick: Sure. Imagine if you couldn’t light up. You’d have to chew gum instead.

Harry: But where?

Dick: I don’t know. On an airplane. Or at the movies.

Tom: The hospital. The maternity ward. School.

Harry: You have got to be kidding.

Tom: You’re right, it doesn’t bear thinking about. Speaking of which . . . give me a toke of that.

Dick: Where were we?

Harry: Hey, Tom. Tommy Boy. Thomas. Sir. Pass it along.

Tom: Oh man, that’s the good sh*it.

Dick: You can’t say “shit.”

Tom: I didn’t; I said “sh*it,” with an asterisk. It doesn’t count.

Harry: I’m hungry. Remember that turkey your sister made the other day?

Dick: The one she burned?

Harry: Yeah. Let’s use that. Let’s have a turkey on fire.

Tom: For what occasion?

Harry: Christmas. We could tell people to sing “Happy Turkey” instead of Happy Birthday. It would be hilarious.

Dick: It could work. It could work. My sister better not see it.

Harry: We could adorn it with burning sugar cubes. Anything will do.

Tom: It’s the work of a lunatic genius. Three lunatic geniuses. Like the Three Wise Men. We could drape the thing with a garland of cranberries.

Dick: You understand that we are using a birthday Christmas turkey which has been set on fire to sell chewing gum, yes?

Harry: It’s mad. It’s the work of mad, mad, very stoned men.

Dick: No-one will notice. We won’t be able to get away with this sort of thing in 1970. Better do it now while we still can.

Tom: What’s happening in 1970?

Dick: Looking for a new job, I expect. Going to get kicked out of this one for sure. Might as well go out in style. Wow, I’m high.

Woman’s Day, December 1969

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sugar Cube Castle

If the wicked witch in Hansel and Gretel had lived in an apartment block in the city rather than a cottage in the woods, it would surely be in this sugar cube castle.

Chances are the starving waifs might not be tempted to eat it and thus fall into the wicked cannibal witch’s trap however, because it is not all that pretty.

It even has a lighted candle in the middle which makes it a perfectly safe Christmas centerpiece and not a fire hazard at all. This is because sugar does not burn.

It melts, which is an entirely different chemical process altogether.

Holiday Cookies, Sweets, Appetizers & Meals, Pillsbury Publications, 1986

Saturday, December 10, 2011


It is unclear at what stage of the breeding process this recipe is designed to help. Is it to make a women more fertile, to increase her libido, or make her more alluring to her mate? Or will it simply get her drunk?

And what does “accompany not with your husband” mean, exactly? Don’t drink this nasty concoction in front of him or don’t sleep with him for as long as it takes to get through the batch you’ve made? And why must the lady “be very chearful,” letting “nothing disquiet” her?

Nowadays, to promote breeding, a woman has far more at her disposal. Several Margaritas, for example. Three Cosmos and a pizza. In the north of England, half a pint of bitter and a pack of chips is rumored to work well.

Should none of these be available to you, and you’ve been having trouble conceiving, here’s the recipe:

Ale, 3 pints
Ox-backs, 3 piths
Clary, half a handful
Nep, a handful (Cat-bos will do in a pinch)
Stones dates, quarter lb
Raisins, a handful
Nutmegs, 3 whole

If that doesn’t work, you’re f*cked.

The Compleat Housewife, Eliza Smith, 1742

Friday, December 9, 2011

Mmm Mustang Sally

Victor. (Born Siberia circa 1908. Died Antarctica, Dec 9, 1911.) 
Trusted servant and companion, faithful steed. He was delicious. 

How come you can order a steak and enjoy it thoroughly, perhaps with a nice glass of wine, some fries and a salad — but only if it has been sliced from a cow? Maybe you’re a bit more adventurous and stretch your red meat possibilities to venison if you can find it. Perhaps you have a gun and a license and can shoot it yourself. But what about the OTHER red meat — horse?

There’s plenty of it to go around, and it’s very good for you. You can prepare it just as you would any other steak. It’s delicious. But but but, you say, you can’t eat a horse — horses are our friends, it’s not civilized.

Lots of civilized people eat horsemeat, all over the world. The Belgians and Japanese, for example. You might not be able to find horsemeat at the butcher or in the supermarket in America, because it’s not legal for sale. This does not mean, however, it’s not illegal to slaughter horses for food. It’s big business. There are large horse farms and horse abattoirs in the US, processing millions of tons of horsemeat every year, most of which is exported to countries where it is legal to eat.

What can you do if you want to eat horse? Develop a cozy relationship with your local pet store owner. Why? Because some of that horsemeat is sold to pet stores for feeding to pets. Maybe they’ll sell some to you. For cash. After hours. Bring a cooler.

Or you could take a day trip to Canada and order some from a bistro there.

The Kazakhs have always eaten horsemeat, and have developed a cuisine that makes use of very part of the animal. They rather throw the shade on the Western argument that one can't eat an animal you consider a "companion." 

Bowers with Victor, a couple of months before he was eaten.
Eating horses has always been a problem for the English. They only appear capable of tucking in when the only other option is to eat each other, or worse still, dogs. On December 9, 1911, as he approached the Beardmore Glacier in Antarctica on his epic journey to the South Pole, Scott ordered the last of his ponies all killed. They had been lovingly nurtured members of his team, there to do a job — haul sledges — and were known by affectionate names. Lieutenant Birdie Bowers regularly saved a precious portion of his daily ration of biscuit to feed his pony, Victor, right up until he was shot in the head, then butchered, his meat depoted for food so that the men might make use of it on their return journey. They called this place Shambles Camp, a nod to the bloody mess it made of the pristine ice.

Here’s a recipe shared by Jamie Oliver’s apprentice chefs from his restaurant Fifteen visiting Italy.

“Fifteen Go Mad in Puglia.”

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Scurvy, Scourge of the Seas

Scurvy-grass is a perennial plant of the brassica family which has a high tolerance for growing in salty soil, and has leaves rich in vitamin C. Those leaves have a peppery taste, which might explain why horseradish and wasabi were once classified as part of the same family. A near-extinct species native to New Zealand, Lepidium oleraceum, is also known as Cook’s scurvy-grass, because he took it with him on long voyages to prevent scurvy.

Dying of scurvy was (is) an exceptionally horrid way to perish. Vitamin C is essential  for the production and maintenance of collagen, the glue that keeps the human body together. Without vitamin C, you basically fall apart, slowly and steadily. Your cells breaks down causing bruising and bleeding; scar tissue opens up resulting in suppurating wounds; gums recede and teeth fall out. These initial symptoms are followed by jaundice, fever, neuropathy and death.

Long before anyone understood what caused scurvy, people understood how dangerous it was. Millions of sailors were lost to this dread disease, a deficiency, we now know, of vitamin C. While they didn’t know what brought it on, they knew how to prevent and cure it with various edibles that appeared to work — citrus fruits, fresh meat, pine needle teas, some berries and plants such as cabbage, or scurvy-grass, all of which are rich in vitamin C.

In 1740, citrus juice was added to sailors’ daily ration of grog, rum diluted with water, because it seemed to be a good preventative. (The practice of supplying sailors with grog continued until 1970.) Navy grog was a wretched drink, designed to mask the stagnant drinking water aboard ship. It was flavored with an assortment of herbs and spices, much like scurvy-grass ale. In 1723, scurvy-grass ale was common enough to be included in this recipe book by John Nott. It remained a popular drink for hundreds of years. It’s easy to see why it worked — in addition to the scurvy-grass, it includes half a dozen oranges.

In 1747, British Navy surgeon James Lind conducted the first clinical trial and proved citrus fruit prevented scurvy. He published the results in 1753 in his Treatise Of The Scurvy, though no-one took him seriously.

It’s interesting then, to see how it all went so wrong in the 19th century for British explorers who succumbed again and again to what had become an embarrassing problem. The epidemiological case of scurvy is a cautionary tale about barking up the wrong trees.

If citrus fruits — especially limes — were so good at preventing scurvy (a cure popular enough to earn British sailors the nickname “limeys”), then why didn’t lime juice produced in the Caribbean work at all? Because the variety of limes grown there were in fact far less rich in vitamin C than their cousins, and this was diminished further by being exposed to air piped through copper tubing, as copper and air destroys vitamin C.

But to the British, this seemed like evidence that citrus fruit was not the answer after all.

If meat was good at preventing scurvy, then why wasn’t all meat equally as good? How come canned meat — typically used on long voyages — had no effect? Because time and cooking destroys vitamin C.

But to the British, this seemed like proof that the cans themselves were the problem, rather than what they contained. In keeping with the new germ theory of disease, it seemed plausible that bacteria in faulty cans — ptomaine poisoning — was to blame.

Once this idea took hold, the Brits were stubborn to let go, despite all kind of evidence to the contrary, especially when it came to the competition. Norway’s Roald Amundsen had plenty of experience with which foods appeared to keep scurvy at bay, even if he had no idea why, and included them to great effect throughout his long career.

All of which draws attention to the dangers of ignoring folk wisdom that had been passed down for hundreds of generations. Why Scott of the Antarctic, possibly the last explorer for whom scurvy was a real threat, ditched it in favor of “modern” science when so much was at stake — their very lives — is  serious flaw in his otherwise commendable record of scientific achievement. Sir Ernest Shackleton, whose first foray into the Antarctic was cut perilously short by scurvy (from which he recovered), relied in his later expeditions on a far more varied diet that seemed less to do with deliberately science-based nutrition than old-fashioned comfort food (and drink), along with fresh seal meat, a good source of vitamin C, as it turns out.

The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary, John Nott, 1723

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