Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Food for cowboys and popes

Today, November 8th …

Today commemorates the admission in 1889 of Montana as the forty-first state of the USA. They breed them tough in the mountains, but not so tough that they don't use a euphemism for their biggest culinary specialty. “Rocky mountain oysters” are beef testicles, and the big event of the year in Montana is the “Annual Testicle Festival” (a.k.a “The Testy Festy”) at which two tons of the battered and deep-fried delights are served to hungry aficionados.

Testicles (from a culinary point of view, that is) probably have a greater number of “nice” names than any other food. Even the French sanitise them (slightly) by calling them rognons blancs (“white kidneys”). If you saw bulls’ jewels, cowboy caviar, Montana tendergroin (ouch!), or swinging beef (they gotta be joking!) on a menu, would you order first and ask afterwards?

For obvious reasons, testicles have a reputation as aphrodisiacs, which of course has nothing to do with why Bartolomeo Scappi, the personal cook to Pope Pius V included a recipe for “Pie of Bull’s Testicles” in his collection.

Boil four bull's testicles together with salt. Cut into slices and sprinkle with salt, pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon. Then, in a pie crust, place layers of sliced testicles alternated with mince of lamb's kidneys, ham, marjoram, cloves and thyme.

In recipe books from the days when nothing could be refrigerated, and nothing was wasted, animal testicles were usually called “stones”, and all sorts were used, including those from cockerels, which presumably then were no longer cockerels. They were included in many dishes, particularly pies and fricassees - the traditional repositories of kitchen odds and ends. Here is a recipe from “Receipts of pastry & cookery: for the use of his scholars” by Edward Kidder, a cookery teacher in London in about 1740.

A Lambstone and Sweetbread Pye
Boyle blanch & slice them season them with savory spice lay them in your pye with slicd
artichoke bottoms lay on butter & close your pye [with] A Lear [a thickened sauce, often poured in after a pie was cooked].

Tomorrow … All Hail the apple trees.

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