I start with the instructions on the Australian ‘native method’ of catching and preparing snake from a book which today has a very un-PC The Uncivilized Races of Men in All Countries of the World, by J.G. Wood (1882)
Although the idea of snake eating is so repugnant to our idea that many persons cannot eat eels because they look like snakes, the Australian knows better, and considers a snake as one of the greatest delicacies which the earth produces. And there is certainly no reason why we should repudiate the snake as disgusting while we accept the turtle and so many of the tortoise kind as delicacies, no matter whether their food be animal or vegetable. The Australian knows that a snake in good condition ought to have plenty of fat, and to be well flavored, and is always easy in his mind so long as he can catch one.
The process of cooking is exactly like that which is employed with fish, except that more pains are taken about it, as is consistent with the superior character of the food. The fire being lighted, the native squats in front of it and waits until the flame and smoke have partly died away, and then carefully coils the snake on the embers, turning it and recoiling it until all the scales are so scorched that they can be rubbed off. He then allows it to remain until it is cooked according to his ideas, and eats it deliberately, as becomes such a dainty, picking out the best parts for himself, and, if he be in a good humor, tossing the rest to his wives.
Snake hunting is carried on in rather a curious manner. Killing a snake at once, unless it should be wanted for immediate consumption, would be extremely foolish, as it would be unfit for food before the night had passed away. Taking it alive, therefore, is the plan which is adopted by the skilful hunter, and this he manages in a very ingenious way.
Should he come upon one of the venomous serpents, he cuts off its retreat, and with his
spear or with a forked stick he irritates it with one hand, while in his other he holds the narrow wooden shield. By repeated blows he induces the reptile to attack him, and dexterously receives the stroke on the shield, flinging the snake back by the sudden
repulse. Time after time the snake renews the attack, and is as often foiled; and at last
it yields the battle, and lies on the ground completely beaten. The hunter then presses
his forked stick on the reptile’s neck, seizes it firmly, and holds it while a net is thrown
over it and it is bound securely to his spear. It is then carried off, and reserved for the
next day’s banquet. Sometimes the opossum-skin cloak takes the place of the shield, and the snake is allowed to bite it.
The carpet snake, which sometimes attains the length of ten or twelve feet, is favorite
game with the Australian native, as its large size furnishes him with an abundant supply
of meat, as well as the fat in which his soul delights. This snake mostly lives in holes at
the foot of the curious grass-tree, of which we shall see several figures in the course of
the following pages, and in many places it is so plentiful that there is scarcely a grass-tree
without its snake.
One compelling reason for eating snake is hunger. In a situation of necessity, when unappealing protein substitutes are all that is available, the disappointment (or disgust) can be eased by re-naming. This is in the hope that the nostalgia triggered by the name will fool the tastebuds. Snake, in some parts of the world has, when being used for culinary purposes, been re-branded (as we would say today) ‘Hedge Eel’ or ‘Bush Eel’ (or anguilles des haies, if you want to be French about it.) This, of course, was in a time when eel was a desirable dish – I can’t see the real thing being much more popular than the substitute in our more fussy age, when folk reject eels because they look like snakes..
Vipers were once highly sought after for medical use, and in a previous post I talked about viper wine. Another way of preparing the snake for therapeutic purposes was in soup. I discuss this in the chapter on Medicinal Soups in my book Soup: A Global History, which you can buy, if you wish. Here, to tempt you (to buy the book, not to make the soup) is the recipe from the book.
TAKE Vipers, alive, and skin them, and cut off their Heads; then cut them in pieces, about two Inches in length, and boil them, with their Hearts, in about a Gallon of Water to eight Vipers, if they are pretty large. Put into the Liquor a little Pepper and Salt, and a Quart of White Wine to a Gallon of Liquor; then put in Some Spice, to your mind, and chop the following Herbs, and put into it: Take some Chervill, some white Beet-Cards or Leaves, some Hearts of Cabbage-Lettuce, a Shallot, some Spinach-Leaves, and some Succory. Boil these, and let them be tender; then serve it up hot, with a French Roll in the middle, and garnish with the raspings of Bread sifted, and slices of Lemon.
The Lady's Assistant for Regulating and Supplying the Table, Charlotte Mason, 1787
Quotation of the Day.
Edible, adj.: Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.