Naturally, three such different uses of the word intrigued me, so off to the authorities I went. To put it briefly, the various dictionaries hazard lots of guesses, but dare not get definitive. In dictionary-speak therefore, the origin of the various uses of the word is ‘obscure’ or even ‘unknown’. I did find one attempt to connect the meanings of beating and meat-basting. It is in A New Dictionary of the English Language (1844), by Charles Richardson. The author quotes a source called ‘Sk’, who ‘believed is baste – to strike; because formerly it was the custom to rub the meat with a stick covered with fat; though now the liquid is dropped upon the meat from a distance’.
The idea, of course, is to keep the meat moist, and to add flavour. So, what to use to do this? One of my favourite books, William Salmon’s Household Companion (1695)- which is written in dictionary format – has, under the heading ‘Bastings of Meats or Fowls’, the following suggestions:
(1) Clarified Suet (2) Fresh Butter (3) Minced Sweet-herbs, Butter and Claret-wine; and this last is excellent for Mutton or Lamb (4) Water and Salt (5) and especially for a Flayed Pig, Cream and melted Butter well beaten up together (6) Yolks of Eggs, Juice of Oranges, and grated Bisket: And if this be intended for large Fowl, as Bustards, Peacocks, or Turkeys, you may use the same.
There is no doubt about it - the obscure origin of the word indicates that the use (in the culinary sense) is very old – much older than Salmon’s time. The earliest OED reference is from 1509 ‘The fat pygge is baast, the lene cony is brent.’ The second is from the famous cookbook called Epulario (or, The Italian Banquet), the English edition of 1598, which instructs, in a recipe for roasted kid ‘Let it rost sokingly, basting it oft with the foresaid sauce.’
I love that loving phrase ‘to rost sokingly’, so I hereby give you the actual recipe (and a spare, with a LOT of garlic) from Epulario. You could subsitute lamb, if you like.
To rost a Kid with Garlike.
Take the kid and larde it with Garlike very well, and stuff it full of cornes of Garlike well pilled, then take Verjuice, the yolkes of two Eggs, and two cornes of Garlike well beaten in a morter, with a little Pepper, and some fat broth, mire them all together, and set it under the kid while it rosteth, and bast it therewith, and when it is rosted, put it in a dish with that sauce: the kid would be well rosted, and eaten hote.
To rost a Kid otherwise without Garlike.
Take the kid and larde it well, then take the Liver and lights and beat them well togeher with suet, that done, take seven or eight Egges sodden [boiled], and beat them with Parsely, Mint, and a little Sage, and mingle them together, putting thereto Pepper, Saffron, and a few cloves, wherewith you shall stuffe the Kid, and so lay it to the fire, and let it rost sokingly, basting it often with the aforesaid sauce, without garlike.
Quotation for the Day.
“The human body, when it freezes in eternal silence, is said to be worth about ninety-eight cents. The body of an ordinary south European, if we could devise the means for extracting the garlic from it, would be worth a bushel of gold.”
Angelo Pellegrini, 'The Unprejudiced Palate' (1948)
"...now the liquid is dropped upon the meat from a distance." Ha!
And, love the snarky comment from the "unprejudiced palate." (a garlic bigot - very uncool.)
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