Today, November 30th ...
A two month siege of Rochester Castle in Kent ended on this day in 1215. The rebel barons who had siezed it were finally defeated by King John in a campaign that used an ingenious tunnel-and-burn technique. The very hungry besieged inmates were by this stage eating their remaining horses (no, I am not going to give you a horsemeat recipe), and their nostrils must have been particularly agonised by the King’s choice of accelerant for the flames – pig fat.
When the tunnels were finished, the king commanded “ … that with all haste, by day and night, you send to us 40 bacon pigs of the fattest and those less good for the eating to bring fire under the tower". The timber lining the tunnels was coated with the pig fat and set alight, taking the fire into the foundations of the south tower, which eventually crumbled.
It was almost 500 years too soon, but King John would have found William Salmon’s
“Family Dictionary and Household Companion” (1695) very useful. It had consecutive entries on Gammon and “Gangreen” – both useful topics on this particular battlefield, particularly as any leftover pig-fat could be recycled in the gangrene remedy. We are not mindful of the risk of gangrene in our households today, and Jamie, Delia, et al completely omit recipes for its treatment, so I give this one for you to keep as a standby. Any leftover Cataplasm could be recycled into a delicious bread pudding.
When the part afflicted with this Malady has been lightly scarified, apply, as hot as can be endured, a Cataplasm of strong Brandy and Crumbs of White Bread, shifting it three or four times a day, or as often as you find it convenient; or for want of this, take a boiled Turnip, mash it with Hogs-lard, and lay it to the place.
The dictionary also had a recipe for a “Bacon Froise” which could have been useful for the battlefield quartermaster. A “froise” was a kind of thick pancake, which typically contained - slices of bacon!
Take eight Eggs well beaten, a little Cream and a little Flower, beat them well together, like other Batter, then fry very thin slices of Bacon, and pour some of this over; then fry it, and turn the other side, pour more upon that, so fry it, and serve it to Table.
Tomorrow … Liquid Lunches.