Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ethical Eating, 1841.

Yesterday I gave you some extracts from a recent Google Books find - Popular Errors Explained and Illustrated (John Timbs) published in London in 1841. It reminded me that subjects such as sensible, seasonal eating are not new issues. In fact, these were not new issues in 1841 when Timbs wrote his quirky, opinionated book, they had already been fodder for food writers for several centuries.
Timbs’ book also proves that ethical eating is not a twenty-first century (or even twentieth century) idea. Here is his exposé of those who would do harm to shellfish, and his refutation of the argument that a cruel death results in tastier meat.

It has been satisfactorily proved, by the experience of Mr Saunders, a respectable London fishmonger, that driving pegs into the claws of Lobsters, instead of tying them, is an act of unnecessary cruelty. The custom of boiling Lobsters alive to improve their flavour, is also found to be as erroneous as it is cruel. The best method is, before boiling, to deprive the Lobster of life by putting it into fresh water - the hardest pump-water answers best - in which the fish will live but a short time. Lobsters thus dressed have been declared to be improved rather than deteriorated in their quality: the tail will be found to lose much of its hardness and indigestibility; the watery taste is equally common to those dressed in the usual way, which arises from the fish having been sickly and diseased. The preceding observations apply to Crabs, Shrimps, Prawns, &c. The horrible cruelty of dressing Shell-fish alive is the same as if another fish, which does not possess their amphibious property, but soon dies when taken out of the water, were to be instantly conveyed out of its native water either into the frying pan or the saucepan.
Fish may be crimped* nearly as well a few days after death as when alive. A question, however, occurs why the epicure should give the preference to Fish after it has parted with a considerable portion of its rich and soluble parts in boiling water, as in dressing crimped fish?

*Crimping is “to cause (the flesh of fish) to contract and become firm by gashing or cutting it before rigor mortis sets in.”

From John Timbs’ contemporary, and yesterday’s recipe source, I give you an idea for your humanely-killed lobster. Recipe fashions come and go – surely this one is due for revival? Although on second thoughts, anything with ‘butter’ in the title or the ingredient list might have a hard time of it today in any shape or form – more’s the pity, I say.

Lobster Butter.
Pound to the smoothest paste the coral of one or two fine lobsters, mix with it about a third of its volume of fresh butter, and the same proportion of spices as are given in the preceding receipt**. Let the whole be thoroughly blended; set it by for a while in a cool place and pot it, or make it up into small pats and serve them with curled parsley round the dish or with any light foliage that will contrast well with their brilliant colour. The flesh of the lobster may be cut fine with a very sharp knife and pounded with the coral.
A New System Of Domestic Cookery, Formed Upon Principles Of Economy by Maria Rundell (1840)

** ‘a high seasoning of mace and cayenne, and a small quantity of finely-grated nutmeg.’

Quotation for the Day.

A woman should never be seen eating or drinking, unless it be lobster salad and Champagne, the only truly feminine and becoming viands.

Lord Byron.

1 comment:

Marcheline said...

I'm with Lord Byron. Oh, waiter.....