Housekeepers and cookbook writers of olden times were much more pre-occupied with preserving food than they are today. Every item of food was much more hard-won and the attitude to waste was very different. Did I read somewhere recently that one fifth of all the food purchased in Britain is thrown out? That would have been an unthinkable idea once upon a time. Of course, some of the ideas in old cookbooks seem quite scary today – and many are unsafe.
Our sixteenth century source from yesterday (The widowes treasure …) has this interesting idea for preserving venison.
To keepe Venison fresh a long time.
Presse out the blood cleane, and put it into an earthen pot, and fill it with clarified Honey two fingers aboue the fleshe, and binde a Leather close about the mouth that no ayre enter.
Honey had been used in this way for since ancient times, and there are stories of its use as a preserving agent for the human corpse too. The Greek historian Herodotus claimed that the Babylonians and Assyrians buried their dead in honey. The kings of Sparta were said to be buried in this way too. It is commonly said that Alexander the Great’s body was preserved in a crock of honey (or in some stories a golden coffin) and kept for three years as it was returned to Egypt (or 300 years in some stories). This is likely apocryphal, but as his burial place is not known, the story will have to remain mysterious. It is possible that his body was only anointed with honey, but the amount got magnified as the centuries wore on!
Another story that is also trotted out when burial in honey is mentioned took place in the early 1800’s when some archeologists (or treasure seekers) were exploring some eight hundred-year old tombs in Egypt. They found a crock of honey and were amazed to find it still eatable – so they dipped into it. During their snacking moment, one adventurer found some hairs in the honey – and further investigation discovered an infant fully preserved in the bottom of the pot. Meal discontinued abruptly.
The exclusion of air was known to be important in preserving food for centuries before germ theory was proposed in the mid-nineteenth century by Louis Pasteur, as was the use of a lot of sugar – but was there more to this method than that? Honey is reputed to have anti-bacterial properties, and there has been a huge resurgence of interest in its external use for wounds and ulcers in recent times.There is clearly more to discover on this topic – so watch out for future posts.
Quotation for the Day …
History: an account mostly false, of events unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.