Friday, February 01, 2008

Very Wild Meats.

February 1

When Charles Darwin was in deepest darkest South America, he was eating supper one night and was suddenly ‘struck with horror at thinking I was eating one of the favourite dishes of the country, namely a half formed calf, long before its proper time of birth.’ He was somewhat relieved to find that his supper was in fact another local delicacy – puma. Funny, how puma was acceptable to him but unborn veal was not. As Dr Samuel Johnson said ‘It is not easy to fix the principles upon which mankind have agreed to eat some animals and reject others; and as the principle is not evident, it is not uniform.’

A butcher-man called Thomas Farrington De Voe wrote a wonderfully detailed and fascinating account of the public markets of the city of New York in 1867, and it is one of the treasures of the Feeding America site (look for The Market Assistant). Mr. de Voe noted that the advance of agriculture had played its part in the extermination of many of the wilder species of game, and that in earlier times, when ‘anything unusual’ appeared, it was generally noticed in the press. He gives as an example an advertisement that had appeared several decades before, in the Commercial Advertiser, on February 1, 1823:

"WILD MEATS. Our markets are not only well supplied with every variety of domestic meat and fowls, but there is a great variety of wild meats and wild game. Mr. Sykes (who kept the New York Coffee-house) has a fine bear (weighing two hundred pounds), which he is soon to serve up to his friends; and we yesterday saw, at Fulton-market, two wagons, from Sullivan County, N.Y., the one filled with white hares and partridges, and the other with venison. On the top of the bucks, which were stowed closely, stood a fierce-looking panther, almost eight feet long, as if to guard the buck-tailed tribe. The panther was killed in Sullivan County, about two weeks since."

The big cats, even if it when it was not ethically incorrect to eat them, were never regular and common items of diet for relatively modern humans. Carnivorous beasts do not seem to be favoured fodder for the human omnivore. We prefer our food to have taken its food from green pastures (or at least we like the myth that they do.) Another limiting factor in the consumption of big cats is obviously the danger inherent in hunting them, and most of our information about the taste of the meat comes from adventurers like Charles Darwin, who said ‘the meat is very white, and remarkably like veal in taste’, or fearless frontiersmen who have described it as being ‘excellent eating, ‘a good deal like mutton’, having ‘a sweet and cattish taste’, and certainly better than ‘wolf mutton’ (coyote meat).

I don’t know if there are panthers anymore in Sullivan County N.Y. If there are, it is surely and rightly prohibited to hunt and eat them. Clearly I cannot give you a recipe for panther meat, so instead offer one of the ‘out-takes’ from my book on the history of the pie. It is a Hottentot pie – a brief culinary mystery of the eighteenth century, perhaps named for its exotic mix of ingredients.

Hottentot Pie.
Boil and bone two calf’s feet, clean very well a calf’s chitterling, boil it and chop it small, take two chickens and cut them up as for eating, put them in a stew-pan with two sweet-breads, a quart of veal or mutton gravy, half an ounce of morels, Chyan [cayenne] pepper and salt to your palate, stew them all together an hour over a gentle fire, then put in six force-meat balls that have been boiled, and the yolks of four hard eggs, and put them in a good raised crust that has been baked for it, strew over the top of your pie a few green peas boiled as for eating; or peel and cut some young green brocoli stalks about the size of peas, give them a gentle boil, and strew them over the top of your pie, and send it up hot without a lid, the same way as a French pie.
[The Experienced English Housekeeper; Elizabeth Raffald; 1769]

Monday’s Story …

An explosive cocktail.

Quotation for the Day …

The most basic rule of survival in any situation is "never look like food”. Park Ranger, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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