Friday, June 15, 2007

Calf’s Head and Pig’s Face.

Today, June 15th

“We had for Dinner boiled Calfs Head and Pigs face, a Piece of rost Beef and a Gooseberry Pudding’.

The English Parson James Woodforde recorded his dinner, as he often did, in his diary on this day in 1792. Most of us would have passed on the animal faces and gone for its rump, if we were time-travelled back to this meal, I suspect. Our modern sensibilities prefer that the parts of the beast that might smile back at us (and require a lot of fiddly preparation) be served up in anonymously in sausages or meat pies (you didn’t think all those snouts and ears and smiles were just sent for dog meat, did you?).

In the good Parson’s day, when a beast was killed, it was eaten nose to tail without qualms. The parson had expressed some distaste for cow’s udder when he was served it at Oxford in 1763, but perhaps that was a reflection on the College cooks as it appeared on his own table regularly over the next three decades.

Often, as on this day, the Calf’s and Pig’s heads were simply boiled, but there were other ways of presenting these delicacies. Hannah Glasse in her Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747) gives recipes for many parts of the pig and cow that are spirited away to be turned into a ‘product’ today, and do not reach the butchers’ shops. She gives several recipes for Calf’s Head – boiled, baked and hashed (two versions), and in a very elegant pie. In the pie recipe she also answers the question you were all afraid to ask: “What about the Eyes?”

To make a Calf’s Head Pye.
Cleanse your head very well, and boil it till it is tender, then carefully take off the Flesh as whole as you can, take out the Eyes and slice the Tongue; make a good Puff-paste Crust, cover the Dish, lay in your Meat, throw over it the Tongue, lay the Eyes cut in two, at each Corner; season it with a very little Pepper and Salt, pour in half a pint of the Liquor it was boiled in, lay a thin Top-Crust on, and bake it in an Hour in a quick Oven. In the mean time boil the Bones of the Head in two Quarts of the Liquor, with two or three Blades of Mace, Half a Quarter of an Ounce of whole Pepper, a large Onion, and a Bundle of Sweet Herbs. Let it boil till there is about a Pint, then strain it off, and add two Spoonfuls of Catchup, three of Red Wine, a Piece of Butter, as big as a Walnut, rolled in Flour, Half an Ounce of Truffles and Morels; season with Salt to your Palate; boil it and have Half the Brains boiled with some Sage, beat them, and twelve Leaves of Sage chopped fine; Stir all together, and give it a boil; take the other Part of the Brains, and beat them up with some of the Sage chopped fine, a little Lemon-peel minced fine, and half a small Nutmeg grated. Beat it up with an Egg, and fry it in little Cakes of a fine Light brown, boil six Eggs hard, take only the Yolks; when your Pye comes out of the Oven, take off the Lid, lay the Eggs and Cakes over it, and pour the Sauce all over. Send it to Table hot without the Lid. This is a fine Dish, you may put in as many fine Things as you please, but it wants no more Addition.

Monday’s Story …

Turtle Season.

Quotation for the Day …

There are few articles of cookery more generally liked than relishing pies, if properly made. Mrs Rundell, in A New System of Domestic Cookery (1806)


Lapinbizarre said...

Yesterday's NYT had a piece entitled "Fat, Glorious Fat, Moves to the Center of the Plate", but the accompanying reader blog - basically "disgustingly fat things I have eaten in the past", now past 330 entries, contains some of the most entertaining food reading I have encountered since Calvin Trillin's "American Fried" first came out in the mid-70's.

This text
is a link to a page on
the World Wide Web.

One lady who had worked at a London restaurant, sang the praises of Bath Chaps:

"When I worked at St John in London my favorite dish was ‘Bath Chap’…the cheeks are cut from a large pig’s head then out under the chinny chin chin, they are all rolled up together, brined, poached in stock, then thick slices are slowly fried to render the fat and become all crispy. Wow-wee!! Like pig-toffee…who’d of thought?"

"Pig-toffee." There's a memorable expression,

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Roger - I love it! Pig-toffee. Wish I'd thought of that. I did make brawn once from a pigs' head - an interesting exercise but an awful lot of fiddly work.
I'm going to be in the UK in late August/September, and I have a list of foods I want to revisit or try for the first time. Bath Chaps are on the list.

Lapinbizarre said...

Late to be posting again to this one, but did you know that an English Republican society supposedly met to dine annually on 30th January, the anniversary of the execution of Charles I, and that the principal dish, in mocking reference to the execution, was a dressed calf's head? The group was called the Calf's Head Club. It seems to have existed - if it existed - from the Restoration until well into the 18th century.

Lapinbizarre said...

Much more info when I change the spelling:

Anonymous said...

For many years, our church has cooked hams and chickens and a hog's head for ceremonial use at the annual 12th Night Feast. If properly prepared, it can offer surprising treats. Firstly, I recommend basting the tongue, so that can be savoured first when the head is ready. Baste the entire head evry 30 minutes during the roast: about 5-6 hours at ca. 130 Centigrade. When the jaw moves freely, the head is thoroughly cooked and ready to decorate (or eat). Enjoy the tongue first, slicing thinly. As for the rest of the head, the jowls are my favorite. Is the brain ready to eat? Probably, but I've not gone that far, yet.

Anonymous said...

I learned of this "delicacy" reading a novel called "Gideon the Cut Purse" and thus had to check this out for myself. I have been properly nauseated.

WR Kendall