Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Great and Terrible Waste.

We in the lucky parts of the world are told that we waste about one fifth of the food that we buy, and that when we waste food, we also waste the resources that went into producing that food. It is a serious accusation, but does it point to a modern problem?
Often, in magazine articles and suchlike, we are pointed to the wisdom of our housewife-ancestors, who wasted nothing in their kitchens for reasons both moral and economical. I have referred to this ‘waste not, want not’ attitude of our predecessors, and included some of their practical hints to utilise every last scrap of food, in a number of blog posts over the years.

Waste is not just a sin perpetrated in the kitchen, however. An article in The Food Journal: a review of social and sanitary economy, and monthly record of food and public health (1874) reported the following:-

This year, in the markets and slaughterhouses of the city of London alone, the inspectors have condemned 195,522 lb. of meat as being unfit for human food; 189,390 lb. in the New Meat Market, 5,084 lb at Aldgate, and 1,039 lb. at Leadenhall. 74,463 lb of it was diseased meat, 102,050 lb was putrid meat, 19,009 lb was the flesh of animals that had died from accidents and other causes which rendered it unwholesome. The returns embraced 913 sheep and lambs, 108 calves, 380 pigs, 736 quarters of beef, 2,760 joints of meat, besides 3,149 plucks, 12 baskets of kidneys and melts, 1,572 kidneys, 51 hams, 190 sides and pieces of bacon, 4 barrels of pork, 17 pigs chaps, 35 tongues, 35 ox-tails, 2 goats, 12 fawns, 100 quarters and pieces of venison, 142 hares, 5 boxes and cases of rabbits, 644 rabbits, 2,146 head of game, 1 box of plovers' eggs, 2 hampers of eggs, 200 eggs, 29 cheeses, 1 cask of turtle, 1 barrel and 1 pad of fish, 1 basket of plaice, 1 barrel of cods' roes, 27 mats of dates, 6 boxes of grapes, 2 boxes of pears, 2,500 oranges, and 106 cocoanuts. At Billingsgate and Columbia Markets were seized about 287 tons of fish, consisting of about 232,945 herrings, 171,826 plaice, 167,749 haddocks, 142,270 whitings, 129,050 smelts, 66,660 dabs, 2,900 gurnets, 8,586 thornbacks, 3,457 codfish, 9,105 soles, 19,300 of various descriptions of fish, 7,907 lobsters and crabs, 205 bushels of sprats, 338 bushels of whelks, 216 bushels of mussels, 60 bushels of cockles, 9,603 gallons of shrimps, 21 bushels of oysters, 235 bushels of periwinkles, and 8,879 lb of salmon and eels.

Note that this estimate only applies to the city of London, which had a population of 3,254,266 in 1871. Food inspectors in other large cities in Britain presumably condemned similarly large quantities of food.

This large-scale waste was attributable to a number of issues. Clearly, the actions of unscrupulous butchers and slaughterhouse-men who put up the flesh of diseased beasts for sale were partly to blame, but the larger culprit must surely have been the lack of refrigeration?

On Monday, I said that the word ‘burnt’ in relation to a recipe did not sit comfortably with me. I am also uncomfortable with the idea of cooking ‘fawn’ – although venison is very fine with me. Such is the emotional power of words. In recognition of the twelve fawns whose great sacrifice was wasted in 1873, I give you the following recipe:

A Fawn.
Skin your fawn, and make a stuffing in the following manner: rub the crumb of a penny loaf through a cullender, pick and chop half a pound of beef-suet, pick and chop a handful of parsley, some lemon-peel and sweet herbs chopped fine, seasoned with pepper and salt, and half a nutmeg grated, break in two eggs, and mix them all up together; put it in the belly, sew it up, truss it, spit it, roast it before a good fire, and baste it well all the time it is roasting; (a middling-sized one will take one hour and a half, a large one two hours) when it is done baste it with butter, sprinkle some salt on it, and dredge it with flour; take it up and put it in a hot dish, with gravy in the dish, and mint sauce in a boat.
N. B. A young kid is roasted in the same manner.
The English Art of Cookery, According to the Present Practice (1788)  by Richard Briggs.


SometimesKate said...

I had to do some digging to find out what a melt was, because I'd read about them in a bit of Victorian literature. It's either a spleen or a pancreas, and allegedly a skirt is part of the diaphragm. Allegedly, the dish 'melts and skirts' was popular with the London poor during that time.

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Kate: the terminology can be confusing, cant it? the pancreas is also one of the 'sweetbreads' (the other being the thymus gland). I must look into 'skirts and melts' - dont think I have posted on that before.