Monday, November 07, 2005

Elephant (not) on the menu

Today, November 7th …

Today in the U.S.A is Republican Elephant day, which commemorates the political cartoon drawn by Thomas Nast for Harpers Weekly in 1874. Nast represented the Republican voter as an elephant, and although it was not meant to be complimentary at the time, the party itself adopted the elephant as its symbol, for its size and strength.

What has this got to do with food, you ask? I remember a story about canned elephant meat omelette being served as a publicity stunt at a Miami restaurant during a Republican convention in the 1960’s – a politically incorrect act of astonishing proportions by today’s standards, but one which nevertheless made me wonder what elephant flesh would actually taste like. Absolute abhorrence at the thought of actually eating it does not do away entirely with simple curiosity, so I was forced to look at the reports of others.

Gordon Cumming, great white hunter in Central South Africa in the 1840’s, was enthusiastic: “the feet, thus cooked [in a pit] are excellent, as is also the trunk, which very much resembles buffalo’s tongue.” Dr David Livingstone in 1867 – even extremely hungry - was not:

We get some elephants' meat from the people, but high is no name for its condition. It is very bitter, but we used it as a relish to the maëre porridge … not one of us would touch it with the hand if we had aught else, for the gravy in which we dip our porridge is like an aqueous solution of aloes …

If you read French, and have no conscience, I refer you to Alexandre Dumas’ “Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine” for a recipe for elephants feet. Otherwise, I offer one for athe “other” pachyderm - cooked hunter’s style to give the illusion of adventure - as described by the French gastronome Baron Brisse in “366 Menus and 1200 recipes” (1868)

Fillet of boar au chasseur.

Soak the fillet for at least two days in olive oil and salt, drain, and simmer in a stew-pan lined with slices of bacon, carrots, onions, a bouquet of mixed herbs, salt, pepper, and equal quantities of stock and white wine; when sufficiently done, drain the fillet, glaze it, and serve with piquant sauce, to which you have added a little of the liquor in which it was cooked, after passing it through a tammy and reducing.

Tomorrow … Food for cowboys and popes ...

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