Thursday, July 17, 2008

High and mighty tasty?

July 17 ...

I have never quite understood the desire to eat decomposing flesh, even when it is referred to as ‘well hung’ or ‘high’ rather than half-rotten. Call me plebeian if you wish. It seems however that I am in good company.

The poet John Keats and his friend Charles Armitage Brown wrote a joint letter from Bedhampton in the south of England to ‘Mrs Dilke’ in January 1819 – Keats writing in black ink, Brown in red.

“ … Keats is much better, owing to a strict forbearance from a third glass of wine. He & I walked to Chichester yesterday, we were here at 3, but the dinner was finished; a brace of Mure fowl had been dresse; I ate a piece of the breast cold, & it was not tainted; I dared not venture further. Mr. Snook was nearly turned sick by being merely asked to take a mouthful. The other brace was so high, that the cook declined preparing them for the spit, & they were thrown away. I see your husband declared them to be in excellent order: I suppose he enjoyed them in a disgusting manner, - sucking the rotten flesh off the bones, & crunching the putrid bones. Did you enjoy any? I hope not, for a woman should be delicate in her food. ”

The muir-fowl (or moor-fowl) is a Scottish red grouse, I believe. Or it may be the ruffled grouse, or a ptarmigan. Usage seems to overlap, and it certainly overflows my intelligence on the topic.

In the early nineteenth century a leisurely trip from the moors of Scotland to the south of England might have been sufficient for it to be quite enjoyable (for those inclined to tainted flesh) by the time it arrived.

Here is Mrs. Rundell’s method for potting Moor Fowl – a nice trick if you have an embarrassing supply of them, as they should keep nicely this way. You are making a confit, really, and it does not matter whether you have the grouse or the ptarmigan or any other small bird for that matter. She only wants them ‘pretty high’ in the spicing department, which is quite acceptable to me.

To Pot Moor Game.
Pick, singe, and wash the birds nicely; then dry them; and season, inside aud out, pretty high, with pepper, mace, nutmeg, allspice, and salt. Pack them in as small a pot as will hold them, cover them with butter, and bake in a very slow oven. Whon cold, take off the butter, dry them from the gravy, and put one bird into each pot, which should just fit. Add as much more butter as will cover them - but take care that it does not oil. The best way to melt it is, by warming it in a basin set ii a bowl of hot water.
A New System of Domestic Cookery. Maria Rundell. 1814

Quotation for the Day …

“Ham: 40 days in salt, 40 days hanging, in 40 days eaten … Pork at walking pace, beef at a trot, game at a gallop.
Joseph Delteil, La Cuisine paleolithique, 1964

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