Tomorrow night is the anniversary of the infamous attempt by Guy Fawkes to blow up the British House of Parliament in 1605. It is commonly known as ‘Guy Fawkes’ Night’ or ‘Bonfire Night’, or the night of ‘Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot’ (or ‘Gunpowder, Treason,and Parkin’, if you want a foodie spin on the name.)
I thought that a gunpowder theme might be fun for the occasion. There is ‘gunpowder tea’ of course – a form of green tea in which individual tea leaves are rolled into tiny balls that, to early aficionados, resembled the black grains of gunpowder. There is also ‘gunpowder pie’, which is nothing less than a pie of leftovers, heavily peppered to disguise the unappetising contents. I wanted something a little more authentic for the night however, and kept searching.
There are historical reports of actual gunpowder being used as a salt/pepper seasoning substitute in various extreme military situations, and this makes sense, as gunpowder is essentially a mixture of sulphur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate (saltpetre.) I was of a mind to relate one of these stories to you today, but then I came across this gem:
Tongues, to cure. No. 1.
Take two fine bullocks' tongues; wash them well in spring water; dry them thoroughly with a cloth, and salt them with common salt, a quarter of a pound of saltpetre, a quarter of a pound of treacle, and a quarter of a pound of gunpowder. Let them lie in this pickle for a month; turn and rub them every day; then take them out and dry them with a cloth; rub a little gunpowder over them, and hang them up for a month, when they will be fit to eat, previously soaking a few hours as customary.
The lady's own cookery book, and new dinner-table director (1844) by Lady Charlotte Campbell Bury
No doubt Lady Campbell Bury’s gamekeeper supplied the vital seasoning for this recipe, but for most of us it will be impossible to recreate in our own kitchens. For certain, I myself have never seen gunpowder in the spice section of the supermarket or delicatessen in any of the towns I have ever visited.
Quotation for the Day.
It would be nice if the Food and Drug Administration stopped issuing warnings about toxic substances and just gave me the names of one or two things still safe to eat.